Two Auctions from Stair Galleries Prove Continued Demand for Mario Buatta Collection

James Ardis
Published on
Mario Buatta in a room he decorated. Photo by Ted Harden and Courtesy Rizzoli.
Mario Buatta in a room he decorated. Photo by Ted Harden and Courtesy Rizzoli.

The first antique Mario Buatta acquired cost him $12, an 18th-century lap desk he bought at the age of 11. His father made sure the piece was fumigated before it entered the family home. “[Collecting] relates to your childhood,” Buatta told Architectural Digest many years later. “It’s about insecurity, and it’s about wanting more.”

From Architectural Digest to MTV Cribs, Buatta’s lifetime achievements in interior decorating are well-documented. Though he passed in late 2018, his legacy and collection remain in the spotlight via a string of successful auction events. The first was Sotheby’s “Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors” in January of this year. Next came Stair Galleries’ “The Collection of Mario Buatta” event in March. Each of the 989 lots offered in the latter event was sold, for a total of around USD 2 million, which was more than double the high estimate. 

Last week, Stair followed up the success of their March event with two more auctions centered around the interior designer’s collection: “Ceramics from The Collection of Mario Buatta” on April 16th and “Objects, Treasures & Trifles from The Collection of Mario Buatta” on April 17th. While Auction Daily awaits the overall numbers from both these events, the majority of lots either met or exceeded their high estimates.

Nine Dodie Thayer porcelain lettuce mugs. Photo by Stair Galleries.
Nine Dodie Thayer porcelain lettuce mugs. Photo by Stair Galleries.

On Thursday, Stair brought nearly 200 ceramics from Buatta’s collection to auction online. Despite worries around the industry as auction houses pivot from in-person to online bidding, four out of the five lots Auction Daily listed as featured lots for the Stair event went above the high estimate. Among the highlights were nine Dodie Thayer porcelain lettuce mugs, which sold for $3,200 (Estimate: $500-$700). Subtlety was never Buatta’s primary concern, as these mugs are a testament to. “His rooms were emotionally appealing, and people felt happy and comfortable in them,” said former Editor in Chief of Architectural Digest, Paige Rense Noland, of the designer’s aesthetic.

The event the following day found similar success. 299 pieces of fine and decorative art, furniture, and collectibles from Buatta’s collection were on offer. One of the featured lots was a Cappelli umbrella stand by Piero Fornasetti. Hats of various sizes and colors decorate the stand. After ten bids, the piece sold for more than double its high estimate for a final price of $2,048. Also highlighted were three pairs of Chinese porcelain dogs, which went for $1,664 after 16 bids (Estimate: $200-$300). The diversity and quantity of lots brought to auction from both Stair and Sotheby’s in 2020 is a testament to a man who, in his lifetime, embraced the title of “the original hoarder”.

Cappelli umbrella stand by Piero Fornasetti. Photo by Stair Galleries.
Cappelli umbrella stand by Piero Fornasetti. Photo by Stair Galleries.

The success of Stair Galleries’ Buatta events is particularly welcome news to many because of the years-long friendship the gallery’s founder, Colin Stair, had with the interior designer. According to the Stair Galleries website, after meeting Buatta first while working for Sotheby’s, Colin Stair “found [himself] in houses that Mario was working on…including Malcolm Forbes and the Johnsons.” Then, when Stair founded his gallery in 2001, Buatta became one of his first and most loyal customers, despite constantly demanding print catalogs. Colin Stair even worried that Buatta may be bidding too much. “Towards the end, I would say to him ‘Mario, are you sure you really need this?’ And he would always say ‘yes, of course I do.’”

Located in Hudson, New York, the Stair Galleries team primarily services the New York City metro area and the Tri-State Region. Their online bidding platforms, though, allow bidders around the world to benefit from the gallery’s offerings. Their next event is The Fine Sale on Friday, May 15th, and Saturday, May 16th.