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My Oblivious Mentor - John Saladino

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


After 30 years, John Saladino still makes me swoon. This New York architect and designer doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall. Nonetheless, he was, and continues to be, my mentor.


As I was finishing my studies in design many years ago, I poured through countless editions of Trade magazines. I soaked up breathtaking images and delved into articles discovering the intent behind the designers’ creations. I realized that while my academic degree gave me important basics, I had to develop a personal philosophy on my own. The classroom had taught me color theory, space planning, blueprint and perspective drawing, fabric science, and oh-so sexy electrical plans. I even took a year-long course covering the evolution of furniture and architecture of the past 5000 years! But John Saladino taught me “style.”


I don’t mean personal style or any one design style such as Contemporary or French Country. I mean something more general - an approach to design and how to execute it successfully no matter the particular category.


Whether interior or exterior, a Saladino space never failed to catch my eye. What was the attraction? Texture. A combination of layered, juxtaposed, unexpected, and subtle textures. For example, he’d lay a tumbled travertine floor set in an intricate, old-world pattern. The stone provided a tangible texture while the pattern, itself, added another dimension.


He’d often use a neutral, monochromatic color scheme creating a visual tone-on-tone texture. He’d add tactile texture with a variety of natural fibers – plush cotton chenille or velvet upholstery, an heirloom wool rug, and generous, linen draperies. (By the way, had this not been a monochromatic scheme, such layers of textures would have been a busy mess.). He’d bring it all home with a worn leather bench, aged iron wall sconces, a flea market crystal chandelier, and Venetian plastered walls.


But wait, there’s more. I could always count on John Saladino to throw a curve ball, a change-up, something unexpected. A modern and colorful abstract painting. A lone pop of color in a pillow. A Japanese tansu. A silver-leafed animal sculpture. His unexpected was always expected, and like the prize in a cracker jacks box, finding it was always a treat. And to me, it was always genius.


Back in the day, my mentor did not have a website. Out of curiosity, I wanted to record my memories of him before looking at it for the first time. How well did my memories serve me? Let’s just say that church bells rang and arias exploded in high notes. Mr. Saladino remains awe-inspiring. The following are a few direct clips and quotes from his “Saladino Style” website:


“I employ rare furnishings with humble…corroded surfaces next to polished ones…recycled ancient materials are always present…classical principals and Vitruvian proportions…I strive for serenity…manipulation of scale… drama…layered lighting…nuanced and elusive color…I studied minimalism, but history is the well I drink from.”


I don’t have a favorite design style as I appreciate them all. Some more than others. I’ve designed a lot of spaces, inside and out, since first discovering my self-appointed mentor 20 years ago. No matter the style, parameters, or budget, if given the opportunity to channel my inner John Saladino, I can always rely on spectacular results!

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