LAST JANUARY, shortly before the who declared covid-19 a pandemic, Sotheby’s in New York put together what was supposed to be a modest auction of a dead interior decorator’s things. Mario Buatta rose up in the 1980s as “the Prince of Chintz,” having decked out the homes of some of America’s wealthiest families (Doubledays, New houses, but also celebrities like Mariah Carey) in the manically floral, overstuffed country- house style of the early nineteenth-century English Regency. If the Regency had steroids and disco, it might have looked more like Buatta’s version of it. At any rate, when he died, in 2018, he left no will, only five storage units and two homes stacked to the ceilings with the types of finds one might imagine belonged to a man who slept on a Chinese four-poster bed crowned by an Ottoman-style dome near columns carved to look like windswept palm trees.
The auction was expected to attract a small crowd of insiders: establishment interior designers, ancient gentry with subscriptions to Town & Country — essentially, the sorts of people who might remember Buatta’s era of more-is-more excess first-hand. Instead, the auction turned into a two-day international selling frenzy. There were feverish bidding wars for just about every item: a dolphin-shaped Venetian grotto stand, a painted tole shell-form purdonium on wheels. An imperfect porcelain tureen shaped like a bunch of asparagus, estimated at between $2,000 and $3,000, went for $25,000 (all figures US).
“So much for minimalism,” said attendee Blaine Trump, Donald Trump’s ex-sister-in-law, to the New York Times. But the thing about the Buatta stampede was that nobody really knew where all these mystery bidders were coming from. Some were minor style bloggers. Many were, surprisingly, under fifty. Still, everyone at the auction seemed to feel the same thing: like a lid had been lifted, revealing years of pent-up desire for the full, the festive, the flagrantly jouissant. “Clearly, there’s a lot of people fed up with monochromatic interiors,” Sotheby’s Dennis Harrington told the Times, “and newly excited by Mario’s maximalist style.”
STYLE IS A PENDULUM, and it likes drama in its swing. This minimal-to-maximal shift is happening not just in New York but everywhere and at every price point. If, over the pandemic, you did any houseware shopping — be it at Walmart or a more high-end retailer — you may have noticed that the items you purchased had a bit more colour, a bit more pattern, a bit more eccentricity than the ones they were replacing. And you may have also noticed that this pop of energy pleased you.
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