A Study in Contrasts
Two top interior designers: Mario Buatta and Vicente Wolf. And, two descriptive sobriquets. ‘King of Chintz’ is often ascribed to the former; ‘Prince of White’ could easily refer to the latter. The two designer have very different approaches to interior design in terms of ‘style’. And very different approaches to the use of color in room interiors. The contrast is particularly evident in the two room examples juxtaposed below:
Mario Buatta has been referred to as both the ‘King of Chintz’ and the ‘Prince of Chintz’, the two similar sobriquets earned, naturally, for the designer’s frequent use of chintz, the glazed cotton fabric printed with large, colorful floral patterns typically on a white background. The designer’s passion for color and floral pattern were developed at an early age.
Regarding Vicente Wolf, I know I’ve seen the sobriquet ‘Prince of White’ used to describe New York designer. But it seems that, as much as the ascription stuck in my mind, I may have only seen it once and am unable to reference it again. The ‘nickname’ is certainly fitting as the designer is known for his use of white: typically for walls, often for draped fabrics, frequently for furnishings, fabrics, as well as window coverings. Even for entire floors. I doubt the designer would object to being referred to as the ‘Prince of White’.
Aside from employing good design principles, with abundant dashes of creativity, their portfolios couldn’t be more diverse.
A Selection of Rooms and Quotes
“If you don’t like chintz, don’t come to me,” Mario Buatta has been quoted as saying in a recent Elle Decor interview. The designer’s background influence is English traditional, and chintz has a long history in English interiors. The designer, however, transforms the look with a casual flair, creating very livable interiors.
Vicente Wolf, on the other hand, eschews patterned fabrics on upholstered pieces. One rarely sees a patterned fabric in the rooms he designs; only very occasionally on a throw pillow or two. Speaking in a House Beautiful interview the designer responds to a question about pattern, using the sofa in the room as an example: “…if that…sofa had a pattern on it, it would be wrong for me. It would be taking a…sculptural element and decorating it. I’m not a big fan of decorating.”
“White is glum and beige is boring,” say Mario Buatta, who adds “I’m Italian.”
Vicente Wolf, Cuban born (translates: ‘Latin’ heritage as well) couldn’t feel more differently. Says Wolf in a House Beautiful interview: “White expands the space, it creates the sense of having no boundaries.” “White makes a strong foundation. It creates stability. Too much color and pattern feels nervous to me.”
Vicente Wolf is not opposed to using color, but it shows up, with few exceptions, in muted tones. The designer often uses neutral ‘colors’ like, tan, camel, grays. In an Metropolitan Home interview Wolf commented, “I always use Benjamin Moore’s Super White as the foundation and match colors to it that are very mercurial – a blue-green or a gray-blue…usually colors that are indefinable.” I’ve have noticed that the designer has used Benjamin Moore ‘Patriotic White’ on walls once or twice, perhaps since the time of that interview.
Mario Buatta uses color in his interiors with little exception and says “Color is a mood setter.” Regarding color palettes: “Every room should be a different color. Each space should have its own mood.”
Indeed, color is the largest influence on the mood of a room. A neutral palette, as well as muted tones, can be relied on to create a calm mood. The use of more vivacious colors creates a livelier space. These are individual preferences.
So, as mentioned, two very different approaches. But each is consistent within their overall design philosophies, creating unified interior spaces that appeal to different clientele.
Both designers are known to combine antiques and contemporary pieces, but the ratios and the styles, combined with the difference in approach to color, result in very different looks.
While patterned fabrics are rarely employed by Vicente Wolf, one at times finds Oriental carpets in his room interiors as shown in the next example. Buatta has restrained the use of chintz in this room example.
These dining rooms are starkly different in style and color. The room elements in the room by Buatta are unusually neutral and muted for the designer, but serve to provide a backdrop for the colorful mural wallpaper. The room by Vicente Wolf is nearly all white with brown wood tones:
Two library/den areas by each designer exemplify their two contrasting styles and usage of color.
These two seating areas couldn’t be more diverse in style and color concept.
Two lovely bedrooms, one colorful, the other in white and neutrals.
Mario Buatta, who has designed homes of the rich and famous (and continues to do so) has recently celebrated 50 years in the interior design business. Among the honors being received by the designer is the renaming of the materials library at the New York School of Interior Design. The new name: Mario Buatta Atelier. Read an entertaining interview with the designer regarding the 50-year celebration at the New York Times.
Vicente Wolf attended, in March, an event honoring Mr. Buatta in celebration of the 50-year milestone. Mr. Wolf was asked to design a table for the event. For his design he used some chintz fabric and remarks in his blog: “I even used chintz and am surprised to report that I didn’t break out in a rash.”
Designers appreciate the work of other designers, even when it is a style they would not be comfortable working in.
What’s Your Color Style?
We all have, just as the two designers highlighted in this post, different color sensibilities and reactions. Since color is such a powerful component of a room interior, deciding on a direction will typically be the first step: 1) will the room have an underlying neutral scheme (a scheme that can be great as a backdrop for more colorful art) — as in the rooms by Vicente Wolf on the right below? Or 2) will identifiable colors – soft, lively, bold or otherwise – play a major role in some combination of walls, furnishings, fabrics, etc, as in the rooms on the left by Mario Buatta?
Color approaches can of course cross styles — a traditionally-styled room can be done in neutrals as seen in the room by Ginger Barber from House Beautiful:
Or, a contemporary space can be colorful, as is the case in this room by Jonathan Adler: