Designing superstars

Interiors: Want refinement, glamour or a fling with architecture? Then you must call in one of the leaders: Nina Campbell, Sally Sirkin Lewis or John Saladino.

March 05, 2000|By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub | Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Nina Campbell. Sally Sirkin Lewis. John Saladino. This trio is as different as Cuban coffee, latte and espresso.

Campbell, the Old World classicist. Sirkin, the sleek modernist. And Saladino, the romantic minimalist who bows to tradition.

Their common thread? They are all high-profile interior designers whose work has a major influence on home design trends.

Maybe we can't all afford to hire them or buy any of the home furnishings they design for the high end of the market, but we can take home some of their design philosophies and apply them to our own homes.

John Saladino

John Saladino has earned a reputation as the designer's designer. He's the one that pros most often say they would hire to decorate their homes. His look is clean-lined but comfortable, up-to-date but timeless.

A graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, he worked in Rome with architect Piero Sartogo before returning to New York to open his own design and architectural firm in 1972. One of the things he does so well is mix architectural references, such as Greek or Roman columns, with furnishings based on geometric forms. As a result, both traditionalists and modernists love him.

The man House Beautiful once dubbed the "unrepentant sensualist" is as much at home designing gardens as he is doing buildings and interiors. "Yards are only for convicts to exercise in," he says.

Q. What is your design philosophy?

A. I practice architecture and design as a fine artist. By nature, I'm a romantic. By training, I'm a minimalist. And, by choice, I'm a classicist. I love corroded surfaces and nuanced color. I see furniture placed with discretion of a still life. I believe that what you leave out is as important as what you put in.

Q. What is your personal style at home?

A. My philosophy is very much a part of the environment. My California home has a lot of white, periwinkle blue and cool platinum gray. My Connecticut house has warmer colors [taupe in the drawing room and faded red in the living room] because of the colder climate. My New York apartment, which I designed after my wife died, is my most masculine environment. It's also the most formal, with a palette of murky greenish-gray and browns.

Q. What one item describes your personal style best?

A. My high-back sofa. I like sofas that shelter you emotionally. It makes a room within a room and protects your flanks from marauders and enemies.

Q. What do you look forward to in the 21st century as a designer?

A. The new synthetic yarns are amazing. There are fabrics you would swear are silk, but they are polyester, at 1/16th of the price. They are easier to clean and have a longer life.

Q. What is your best design tip?

A. You have to bring a room down to human scale to make people feel more human. Think of a living room as a mall where people gather in twos or fours to have conversations.

Nina Campbell

Say the name Nina Campbell, and what comes to mind is refined English good taste. She designs warm, elegant and practical rooms that look as if they have come together over generations.

Campbell, the London designer affectionately known as "Lady Tassel," was selected to decorate the first royal residence built in England this century and has been presented with the prestigious American Fashion Award for "the woman who has most influenced style internationally."

The author of two books, "Elsie de Wolfe: A Decorative Life" (Clarkson Potter) and "The Art of Decoration" (Clarkson Potter), she also creates fabric and wallpaper for Osborne & Little.

Q. What is your design philosophy?

A. Design should make people feel unselfconscious. We are living in a time when people are insecure. ... They fear they are going to make an expensive mistake or that their friends are going to say, "Have you seen Susie's house? It's awful." The design has to make the person who lives in the home feel comfortable.

Q. What is your personal style at home?

A. My house looks lived in. The living room has two separate seating areas that can allow up to 12 people to sit comfortably, and the dining room is a library. I love down cushions, plenty of photographs and the 1930s furniture of Andre Arbus.

Q. What one item describes your personal style best?

A. A wicker chair (circa 1870) bought in 1970 for 70 pounds at a shop in London once owned by the late Ross Hamilton. It was my first purchase for my first home from a friend. The chair has been used at my desk, and it's now in my dressing room.

Q. What do you look forward to in the 21st century as a designer?

A. Foil wallpaper, but not the shiny foil that was so ubiquitous in the 1970s. This new paper gives an antique mirrored look to the walls.

Q. What is your best design tip?

A. Don't rush into anything. Take it home, look at it and ask for a big sample. Decide on a budget and spend your money wisely.

Sally Sirkin Lewis

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