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By age 11, I had bought my first antique, an English, 18th-century lap desk with a wood inlay and painting on the front.

It was , and I bought it on the 50-cent-a-week layaway plan.

I was not allowed to bring it into the house, because it was secondhand. I love old wood, painted furniture; I love that old things have a patina.

“I like a place that looks lived in—magazines and books everywhere, pleasing decay,” declares celebrated interior decorator Mario Buatta. I love to have objects around me.” A champion of clutter, Mr.Buatta has spent his life gleefully rebelling against the aesthetic impulses that led to the fanatically clean house with all-white, modern interiors where he grew up on Staten Island.Known as “the prince of chintz” for his devotion to that most cluttered of prints, Mr.Buatta built his 50-plus-year career on English country-style interiors that delight in old-fashioned abundance: cabbage rose-covered couches and canopy beds, paintings hung by sashes and bows, chinoiserie, big vases of flowers, brightly colored walls, bibelots and books.His rooms are vibrant, colorful and specific, a rejection of the tasteful dreariness of gray, white and beige interiors found in so many homes.

The aesthetic appeals to both old money and new money that wants to look old—he counts Barbara Walters, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger and Mariah Carey among his clients.

The , a 432-page overview of his work that he playfully dubs the Buattapedia.

Alas, he declined to be interviewed in his apartment on East 80th Street. ” he exclaimed, citing clutter and dust that were excessive even for his tastes.

What are the first things you take into consideration when you start decorating a house for a client?

You have to create a background for them, a stage for them to play out their lives. You want to make your rooms happy, and it’s good to have night colors and day colors. My mother was a neurotic, and she hated dust—I think of dust as a protective coating for my furniture!

I could never live in an all-white house, because I was born in an all-white house. If you lit a cigarette, she’d start cleaning out the already-clean ashtrays. My father, who was a musician, would often come home late, and she could tell whether he was there or not by the footprints in the carpet. My aunt Mary—her house was all English chintz, Duncan Fyfe, Chippendale-style furniture, chinoiserie.