By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
Dear Mario: I have no doubt that you are in the heavens, advising the angels about new color schemes and fabric designs. I called you last Friday but did not get an answer from you — actually, I called twice to see how you were feeling.
Then Sebastian, my son and your friend, called me to tell me the news of your death.
I shall miss you here on Earth, as will our mutual friend, Margie Wilpon, with whom you grew up on Staten Island, as well as your ever-so-trusted friend, Hilary Geary Ross.
You told me at our last dinner at La Grenouille in New York how much you appreciated all that Hilary did for you during your illness.
Yes, lots of folks will be missing you.
I bet Harold, your plastic pet cockroach, would be missing you, too, if he could. You loved taking him to showrooms and to opening night events with you, even though he had to hide in your coat pocket.
Mario, you and I had been friends since the early 1960s, when you worked for Elizabeth Draper and I worked for Dorothy Draper. We met at the Armory Decorating and Design Show when we both were in our 20s. It doesn’t seem like so long ago, does it? My wife, Suzanne, and I admired you then and particularly your get-up-and-go spirit.
You may have been a Staten Island-born baby, but to me you were always that English country gentleman who loved the style of John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler in London. You liked interior decorating from the early age when your late aunt, Mary Mauro, took you under her wing and you shopped the antique stores with her.
You always loved clutter with a historical bent, and any surface on a table you filled with some magical accessory you would find. Your eye for beauty was never equaled. You and I often compared notes about collecting, thanks in part to our affinity for Staffordshire dogs, those white-and-black or henna-and-black dogs manufactured by England’s potters, that we both liked to place on pedestals or hang on walls in our decorating jobs.
You felt that a beautiful home is made and created the way a flower garden grows — by adding a little more to it, day by day. I believe people who plant a garden believe in tomorrow – and your decorating style certainly showed how a beautiful room could become even more beautiful over time.
You brought so much beauty to the world. So many of us still admire how you decorated, in 1988, Blair House in Washington, D.C. You collaborated with our late contemporary Mark Hampton on the residence, which hosts official guests. Your chairmanship of The Winter Antiques Show in New York, from 1975 to 1991, was a herculean project. You deserve lots of rest — something you never really did in life. I hope you are now with your late parents, Olive and Felix, and with Aunt Mary. Your dad, I know, would be telling you how much he admired your work in life. He might even play his heavenly violin for you, perhaps a tune from when he was part of the Rudy Vallee orchestra.
Mario, my friend, you and I saw the design industry change a lot. I shall miss chatting with you about who is who in the decorating world of today. Your contributions to our field are forever, along with doyennes of design, the designers from whom we got our start, Elizabeth and Dorothy Draper.