Tour a South Carolina Farmhouse Designed by Mario Buatta

Down a velvety dirt lane in South Carolina’s horse country is Toad Hall, a picture-​perfect 1930s white clapboard house, complete with stables and carriage house. All were in various states of neglect in 2004 when the owners acquired the property, originally designed by distinguished local architect Willis Irvin. There was much to do, but the couple had a secret weapon. Legendary interior designer Mario Buatta had worked with them on their Virginia horse farm, including the decoration of his first (and only) barn, and he was signed on for this as well. This would be one of his last projects before his death in 2018.

Buatta was all about the “collected” interior and creating rooms that looked lived-in and added-on-to over generations. Toad Hall’s interiors illustrate this philosophy perfectly. Their mixture of traditional antiques, paintings, and other furnishings suggests a long-lived pedigree even though most everything was newly acquired over a few years rather than centuries. And yet it’s all just a bit too stylish and glamorous to have come together by accident. Fabric and color were the designer’s two biggest tricks to crafting an instantly layered room. Notice how he mixed different upholstery fabrics in the entrance hall, for example, so it doesn’t look as if it was furnished all at once. Also see how he strategically placed colors and patterns around a room to create visual balance: In the dining room, he deftly mingled shades of green, gold, and red, all of which find their way together in the rug florals.

mario buatta south carolina farmhouse library

Scott Frances

Buatta was an absolute genius colorist, fearlessly glazing and lacquering walls in bold aubergines and clear apple greens. With color the designer could enhance a space’s architecture, create a mood, and even set off a client’s complexion in a most becoming way. One might therefore find the soft wall shades of these principal rooms out of character, but there is logic to the pale palette; much as a refreshing sorbet, it creates a cooling effect to the sun’s intensity in the Southern climate.


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The entrance hall, papered in a cream-on-buff Regency stripe, serves as the hub of the house with wide doorways leading to the shell pink living room and celadon green dining room as well as a capacious covered terrace where luncheons and casual dinners are served. Buatta took advantage of its charming irregular shape and off-center placement of doorways in every direction to furnish it like a small sitting room, with a neoclassical recamier anchoring the seating group.

At the husband’s request, Lee Jofa’s now iconic Hollyhock was central to the design of the living room, and the Prince of Chintz was only too happy to oblige. It covers a corner banquette opposite a grand piano and a love seat at the other end of the room. Buatta ingeniously planned the furniture to be comfortable for groups large and small.

Down a hallway is the peacock blue library, its rich color a counterpoint to the pastel rooms, the molten chocolate cake after the salad course. Everything, from cornice to baseboards, is painted in the same color to create an enveloping cocoon. Quadrille’s lush Les Indiennes print dresses the curtains and several chairs, helping visually expand the small space.

Throughout, the curtains—a Buatta signature—have a lot to say. In addition to working in tandem with the architectural elements, they announce each space’s mood: In the dining room, they are stately and historic, copied after those hanging in a Federal-era period room in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing and well suited to the formal candlelight dinners hosted here; the entrance hall’s are lighter and more casual, hinting at the transitional space, while the living room’s deep salmon silk panels feel modern and luxurious.

The most important room of all, according to Buatta, was the bedroom, and here, the owners’ sanctuary has all his signatures: a lavish canopy bed, painted floors, and plenty of lounging furniture. It is romantic, cozy, and as close to waking up in a garden as paint and pattern can make it. The designer drew out the colors from a Brunschwig & Fils tulip chintz and applied the apricot, Delft blue, and lettuce green liberally.

Paramount to Buatta was the belief that rooms were portraits of their owners and, even if he was helping shape a house from scratch, they must reflect interests and experiences. Toad Hall is no exception. The owners’ love of horses, dogs, and the South (along with the occasional toad) whispers through the rooms, for a house designed not just for living but also for living beautifully. The embodiment of Buatta’s legacy is hard to miss.

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Featured in our January/February 2023 issue. Interior Design by Mario Buatta; Photography by Scott Frances; Written and Produced by Emily Evans Eerdmans.