As part of an exercise, Mariah Carey's drama coach once asked her to get in touch with her past, to think back to a place in which she really felt safe. Carey thought and thought and came up empty. There had been no such place. Not only had she grown up poor, she had also been harassed and ridiculed by her Long Island neighbors because her mother was white and her father was black. "I couldn't think back to a place that didn't give me a feeling of shakiness or some negative memory," she said.
That was then; this is now. Now, after a decade in which Carey has been the world's most popular female vocalist, her albums and singles selling more than one hundred and fifty million copies; now, after a new contract with Virgin Records that will bring her nearly one hundred and twenty million dollars for her next five CDs; now, after the September opening of her first movie, the semiautobiographical Glitter; and now, after completion of a spacious triplex in Tribeca that harks back to an era Carey dreams about the golden age of Hollywood.
It is hard to imagine anyone feeling shaky in the glamorous surroundings Mario Buatta has arranged. "I wanted to create a background for Mariah's own glamour," he says. "She exudes glamour and sex appeal, too. She has incredible charisma." So does her new apartment, which is unabashedly opulent. "Mariah loves luxury," says Buatta, and he has designed an apartment that is luxurious throughout: luxurious from the large entrance hall, with its silver-colored doors and lacquered peach walls, to the exercise room, with its seven machines and racks of free weights, to the steam room, with its white-marble floors and walls and inviting double bed. Carey works almost nonstop a practice that contributed to her recent, much-publicized breakdowns and she has to baby both herself and her multimillion-dollar pipes.
The heart of her new apartment is a long room that, through Buatta's clever design, is divided into three separate spaces: a living area, a dining area and an intimate, after-dinner conversation area. Defining the living area is a long coromandel screen, in front of which is a Turkish-style banquette that extends along the adjoining wall and offers enough seating for a sultan's harem or for Carey and her band.
Though the apartment, which occupies the top three floors of a onetime office building, has unobstructed sunlight, the long room is really designed for night, when the insomniac Carey sees her friends and does her work. Disliking bright lights, she keeps the wattage low enough to create an almost mysterious atmosphere, as in a room lit only by candles.
Separating the living and dining areas is Carey's treasure a white baby grand piano that belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe is one of the singer's icons, and Carey reportedly paid six hundred thousand dollars for this somewhat larger-than-life memento. The Monroe white stands out next to shades of chocolate, the predominant color in the dining area. Carey prefers small dinner parties to large ones, and the table seats only six. A mirror on the interior wall reflects the view through the windows, bringing inside the Hudson River, midtown Manhattan and two permanent guests the elegant Art Déco spires of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. "It's magic," says Buatta, and who could argue?
In an apartment dedicated to glamour, the prize for most glamorous probably belongs to Carey's bedroom. Since she prefers light, solid colors she rejected any dark fabrics Buatta showed her the Prince of Chintz resolutely avoided his trademark. In accordance with her wishes, he chose lavender for the bedroom walls, pink for the ceiling, apricot for the bed hangings and white for the carpet.
Carey has her own trademark, however butterflies and her passion for one of nature's most beguiling creatures sent Buatta into what he calls a butterfly frenzy. "We put them wherever we could," he says. "There are butterfly handles on the cabinets in the bedroom, and butterflies are woven into the bed hangings. They're even on the soap in the bath and on the tiles in the kitchen. There are so many butterflies in this apartment, you don't even notice them. But Mariah does."
If her bedroom represents glamour, Carey's bath is pure luxury. Thirty-eight feet long, longer than most Park Avenue living rooms, it is a place to relax and linger, with a huge tub, a flat-screen television and a chaise longue covered in peach fabric. The luxury does not end there, however. From the bath, Carey can walk to her clothes room no one would dare call such a large space a closet to pick out the evening's outfit. Like a boutique, it has everything on view, with all her outfits arranged by color and type.
From the clothes room, she can saunter into the shoe room no one would dare call it a closet, either to choose what she will put on her feet. Back in the "then" days of her childhood, Carey had only one pair of shoes, with holes, she says, "that caused my feet hell in the cold winter months." Now she has hundreds of shoes, more, she admits, than she will ever wear. And not one has a hole in the sole.
It took Buatta less than a year to turn three empty floors into digs fit for a demanding diva. His only problem was not with Carey but with her schedule, which left her little time to pause and ponder colors, fabrics and furniture. "She works very hard and travels constantly," Buatta says, "and it's difficult to get her attention for very long." When he did get it, however, there was an instant connection. He recalls that Babe Paley, goddess of high style in the fifties and sixties, said that a room needs glitter that a room without it is like a woman without jewelry, incomplete. Mariah Carey's rooms pass the Paley test. Her triplex has as many sparklers as Tiffany's. "Most clients don't understand glitter," says Buatta. "Mariah does."