A Note on the Decoration of Carolands

by Mario Buatta

I saw Carolands for the first time in 1991, almost ten years before the Johnsons bought it. The unoccupied building was being used as a designer show house to make money for a local charity. I was able to look past the temporary decorating schemes to see the remarkable though ramshackle Beaux-Arts architecture behind them all. I couldn’t believe that a house of this caliber – a true château – had been left behind to vandals, crumbling for want of maintenance. I wondered: would Carolands remain standing until someone sufficiently romantic and resourceful came along to return it to its original splendor? I hoped so, but I never dreamed I would one day be asked to decorate probably 50 (I never counted) of its rooms.

When Charles and Ann Johnson summoned me to Carolands in 1998, they were ready to take on this noble near-ruin back to its 1917 glory. I was overwhelmed with the scope of restoration work ahead of them but honored to be asked to help with the ultimate decoration. Fortunately I had well over a year to plan ahead, well over a year before a single wall could be painted or a curtain hung.

The ballroom, whose finishing stages were interrupted by the First World War, had been left with bare walls instead of the planned paneling. With the apricot glaze we applied to the newly paneled walls, the ballroom was at last an inviting space. Robert Jackson, the well-known New York decorative artist, came west with six assistants, and was responsible for several of the beautiful new wall finishes at Carolands. No wall at Carolands was simply given a few coats of fresh paint. I brought my team of four fine painters from New York to glaze every space that was not decorated by Jackson or was not some bit of precious bare wood boiserie Mrs. Carolan’s architect had brought from France before the First World War broke out. Also from New York came all the curtains and upholstery, produced in my workrooms.