The Prince of Chintz under Pressure

The very first old house which enchanted me–and still does–is the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont, where I lived as a child. It’s a pink Gothic Revival confection, perfect in every way, and perfectly preserved. Here in Salem, we have several notable Gothic Revival houses, including conspicuous examples that were captured by Walker Evans when he passed through town and an Andrew Jackson Downing design that I walk by every day on the way to work. And then of course there is the gothicized Pickering House. All of these houses are very well-maintained: people who buy Gothic Revival houses really have to make a commitment to their preservation because the style is characterized by intricate exterior and interior detail and for the most part they do make this commitment, with the very notable apparent exception of Mario Buatta, the famous New York interior designer nicknamed the “Prince of Chintz”. In 1992, Mr Buatta purchased a very prominent Gothic Revival house located in a very prominent historic district:  the William H. Mason House (1845) in the midst of the Thompson Hill Historic District in Thompson, Connecticut. After some initial renovations he abandoned the project and the house, and its very prominent deterioration ensued. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation placed the property on its Most Endangered list in 2004, and last summer an online petition was launched. Things heated up last month: with the cancellation of a scheduled appearance by Buatta on March 6 by Historic New England and an article in the New York Times in which one Thompson neighbor called the designer a “New York interior desecrater” and Buatta threatened to sell the house to a funeral parlor if the complaints don’t cease and desist. Closer to the scenethe Hartford Courant has published an article today which discusses the legal remedies open to preservationists (very interesting–involving environmental laws). “Demolition by neglect” has always been incomprehensible to me, except in situations of hardship–which clearly this is not. This particular case is even more difficult to understand: surely this notoriety is bad for Mr. Buatta’s business as well as his reputation. And this is a man who has served, or continues to serve for all I know, on the board of New York City’s Historic House Trust. Let’s hope that he comes to the decision to sell or save the Mason house soon.

Demolition by Neglect

Demolition by Neglect 1986-001

Demolition by Neglect Buatta

The William H. Mason House today and in 1986 (Hartford Courant and Gregory Andrews for the National Registry of Historic Places, 1986; a watercolor sketch of Mr. Buatta lounging in a Gothic-esque bed, Konstantin Kakanias for the New York Times (pinched from this great post at the Down East Dilettante).

6 responses to “The Prince of Chintz under Pressure

  • Michelle

    A Gothic Beauty. This is my favorite style! Another lovely one (and fairly early in the history of the style here) is the Sutton-Pierson House in Peabody, now part of the Peabody Historical Society:

    There’s also one that always intrigued me at 82 Central Street in Peabody. It’s clearly visible on Google Street View, though I haven’t been successful in getting a direct link to work. Classic early Gothic styling with two high gables in front and much intact trim; it’s not as lovingly kept as some but it seems to be not much impacted by time, as far as structure goes.

  • daseger

    Thanks Michelle–I’ll check them out; I always tend to overlook Peabody’s historical houses.

  • hudsonvalleygardens

    Lovely house. The story of neglect reminds me of a similar building in my town. After years of neglect it burnt down. Now a local group has banded together to preserve it, thank goodness. Sadder still a lovely victorian house was recently knocked down to make room for a large parking lot for an ugly dirty diner. Shame!

    • daseger

      You have so many great houses in your area! It’s always sad when houses are abandoned or torn down, but when someone with resources buys a house and then just lets it rot—that’s a whole other level of destruction.

  • Michelle

    The second one is still in private hands, I think. It could really use some love – it’s on the borderline of neglect.

  • downeastdilettante

    In the last couple of months we’ve lost a couple of lovelies up here due to demolition by neglect. It completely unnerves me. But bravo to Historic New England for taking a stand (doubly admirable considering Mr. Buatta’s previoius donations to Beauport).

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