John Saladino gives his choices for the best and worst designs

March 10, 1991|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Certain images spring immediately to John Saladino's mind when asked to list some of the best designs of all time:

*A Queen Anne pull-up chair.

*A simple English garden bench, probably designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

*A Mies van der Rohe coffee table.

*A Biedermeier pedestal table.

*"My glass cylinder lamp, which I've been making for 22 years; it's usable anywhere and inexpensive; simplicity makes it timeless."

*Natural linen -- either as a wall covering, window treatment or slipcover fabric.

*The classic temple shape. It was revived in the architecture of the Renaissance, and in our own country through the architecture of Thomas Jefferson and later in the Federalist style.

Nor does Mr. Saladino hesitate to put down what he feels are the worst designs:

*"All the design and architecture from the whole absurd school of Memphis" (the Italian-based design collective known for its flamboyant style).

*Overscale California style, which he described in HG magazine as "10-foot sofas, 7-foot-square granite coffee tables that have to be hoisted into the house, pillows that a small child could suffocate in. The scale is not human. It's lobby."

*The work of architect Peter Eisenman, who fractures and puts in absurd elements just for the sake of being absurd.

*The vulgarity and pomposity of Denning and Fourcade (a New York design team known for exuberant, lush interiors). "I can't imagine using three fabrics on a sofa and 12-inch-high fringe that probably cost $130 a running inch."

*The Philippe Starck chair with one leg in the back. "When something becomes so contrived, such a statement, it cannot live with other things."

*"There's entirely too much glass in modern architecture, such as in the houses of Richard Meier. You have to put white dots on windows and doors so people won't walk into them. You have to sit in the living room with sunglasses on. The worst development in modern houses is contractor Palladianism" (he refers specifically to the semicircular window typical of this 16th century Italian style).

"Snap-in windowpanes offend me, as do a lot of the shortcuts such as aluminum siding. These are not things that age with grace. The reason we run to Europe all the time is to admire corroded surfaces; natural materials of stone, brick, wood. The patination of time is a wonderful way for us to enjoy the point when nature and man-made merge."

*"There's no real sense of entry in some contemporary homes. The 20th century mind demands instant gratification. So many stories we watch, like 'Twin Peaks,' have no beginning or end. They're plotless. The front door has become a useless symbol."

*"American front yards are useless. People admire them at 55 miles per hour. Look at the houses of Pompeii -- walled homes with gardens in the front center or rear, all used as outdoor rooms."

*Overly coordinated powder rooms where everything matches, including the toilet tissue. "Rigor mortis! I'm against people not using their imaginations. They shouldn't buy a packaged deal. Good design should challenge. Why not put a wooden floor in a powder room? Or a small Oriental or beautifully woven modern wool rug?"

*"Fake flowers don't do anything but collect dust. I can't think of anything more depressing."

Above all, Mr. Saladino is consistent. The idea that he had, early in his career, of the home as a living still life hasn't changed.

"The home should represent a time continuum," says Mr. Saladino. "It should respect the intelligence of its occupants. A room should never be finished. The whole point of a house is its becoming alive: replacing flowers that wilt with new ones and bringing back objects from travels. There should always be valid change."

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