Friday, April 10, 2015

Mario Buatta, Curtain Master

Curtains in the Dillon Room of Blair House
decorated by Mario Buatta. 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Granted, there are many other examples that would better prove Mario Buatta's skill in curtain design, but this one illustrates several valuable lessons.  While it is admirable that the form of the curtains acknowledges the form of the window (or doorway), it is not critical that the form be absolutely followed.  Windows with a rounded head do not necessarily require rounded head curtains.  (As with any rule, there are exceptions and I will contradict myself in a future post, but let's stay with this for the moment).

The Dillon Room at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta, 1988.
Photo from Southern Accents.
Identifying the gilded, pierced element of the valance (or pelmet) as the curtain cornice, note how that feature gives grace to the large opening.  The curtain cornice allows the striped silk taffeta fabric of the valance and panels to just simply hang; the volume of the fabric along with lining and interlining as well as the correct dimensions keep the ensemble from looking limp.  Although the center of the curtain cornice rises to a height above the cornice (or crown molding) of the room, note that the attachment of this treatment is made to the wall.  Curtains should never be attached to the face of the cornice of the room.  (And that is one rule for which I can think of no exceptions).

Another view of the Dillon Room, Blair House.
Photo from Architectural Digest.
While many might know that Blair House is the official guest house of the President for visiting foreign dignitaries and their entourages, some may not realize that it is actually four houses; two face Pennsylvania Avenue and two face Jackson Square adding up to over 100 rooms.  The 1984 to 1988 renovation dealt with architects John Mesick and John Waite restructuring the interconnection of the interior spaces and other functional issues with an $8.6 million grant from Congress.  But an additional $5 million was raised by private donations for the décor by the Blair House Restoration Fund headed by Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt (Chief of Protocol from 1982 to 1989 and wife of Theodore Roosevelt's grandson) and Clement Conger (who was the force behind the White House decoration of public rooms from Pat Nixon until Nancy Reagan).  Half of those funds was used for decoration and half was reserved for an on-going acquisition and maintenance fund.  The responsibilities for the interior design were divided between Mario Buatta and Mark Hampton, each among the top "name' decorators of the time.

The Queen's Bedroom at Blair House
as decorated by Mario Buatta in 1988.
Bunny Williams redecorated the room in 2011.
Photo via The Washington Post.
In 2011, Bunny Williams, one of the top talents today, was brought in to redecorate three bedrooms, two by Mario Buatta and one by Mark Hampton, which had discontinued fabrics that made it not feasible to reproduce the original scheme. The curtains, however, were still in a condition suitable for re-use and sent to be auctioned in September, 2011 by the Potomac Company in Alexandria with proceeds to benefit the restoration fund.  The  headboards and associated hangings along with the curtains, all in a discontinued Lee Jofa chintz, were given a pre-auction estimate of $400 to $800; the results are not known.


  1. The Potomac Company has great auctions here in town -they're worth keeping track of! Loving this series -I've never been a 'curtain' guy but I'm learning a lot and they're growing on me!

    1. This auction house sold the curtains from Patricia Kluge's Albemarle; they fetched a tidy sum though I am sure a mere fraction of what the Kluges paid. Thanks, S.H.

  2. When I first saw the photographs of this room I was astonished at how beautiful it was and I kept the pages for years. The curtains and pelmet are remarkable – surely the best of all that were made in the 1980s.

    1. The Chinese wallpaper existed and was restored. Buatta's choice of fabric was particularly complimentary, I must say. Thank you for commenting, B.

  3. Stunning mastery with curtains. I for one am looking forward to more designers skipping the "empty window" look and returning to the lush, delicious yards and yards of beautiful silk or fabric at windows. A delightful blog post, merci beaucoup!


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