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Publication Date: 2013-07-08

House Tours

​John Saladino’s Repeat Performance

Barbara King sits down with a couple who called upon their favorite designer and old friend, John Saladino, to create their ultimate urban oasis after their kids moved out.

Tina and Jeffrey Bolton met renowned American decorator John Saladino 42 years ago, when they were weekend neighbors in Connecticut, introduced by a mutual friend. The Boltons were newlyweds, working on Broadway and in television—Tina a dancer, Jeffrey an actor and dancer who was just transitioning to the investment business. “When I met them they were a sweet couple very much in love,” says Saladino. “And they’re still a couple very much in love. You’d have to be to sleep in a double bed. It’s the first one they ever owned, and it goes with them wherever they go.”

Over the years, Saladino decorated the Boltons’ country house twice. “He made it warm, inviting, and casual,” Tina recalls. For 21 years, their Manhattan home was a three-story, brick-walled Carnegie Hill townhouse where they raised two children. But with their daughter and son grown and gone, they were looking for something different, a little less informal. They were ready for a little glamour. “All of a sudden, we were a couple again,” says Tina. Whom else would they turn to, other than Saladino? “We’ve always loved what John does—the old-world artistry and the luxurious minimalism,” says Tina. “I told him, ‘It’s time for a grown-up apartment.’”

In 2006, the Boltons bought a seven-room apartment in a gracious, prewar building on New York’s Upper East Side. So trusting were they, that they actually went on vacation in Italy two years later when Saladino was ready to install their new interiors. Nonetheless, they weren’t prepared for the emotion that overtook them as soon as they walked in. “It took our breaths away,” says Tina. “We felt as if we were stepping into another time, another world. The atmosphere was dramatic and sensual, but it was also instantly calming.”

“A room is a failure if you’re not moved,” the designer explains. “I would like to think your blood pressure has gone up here, and then you have to pause in the entrance hall and observe. I have arrested you for a moment. Some people get very excited and then get quiet. Some get quiet right away. You have left the madding crowd of New York City and entered an environment of tranquility, a walk-in still life.”

He designed the entrance hall with walls of scratch-coat plaster and exaggerated doors of weathered wood, to suggest the outdoors and to create a heightened contrast with the bright polish of the living room. “I’m preoccupied with juxtapositions,” Saladino says. “I like to put dark next to light, rough next to smooth, humble next to rare, and handmade next to technological.” Another preoccupation—or signature—is nuanced, elusive color. “They’re metamorphic colors that change according to the time of day—gray to celadon, beige to taupe,” the designer explains. “They’re always implicit, never explicit. I never do anything obvious.”

The simple furniture shapes and solid-color upholstery that Saladino believes to be timeless can be found in every room. “I don’t like a lot of curves—all that modern furniture that looks like a collection of marshmallows,” he says. “So much decorating today is in-your-face—the wow factor. I like holding back. I’m more interested in what you leave out than in what you put in. These rooms have a lot to do with putting together disparate pieces while respecting the ways colors move across them, and also respecting, more than anything, scale.”

Not that everything is evanescent. The designer never loses sight of practical considerations. One of the couple’s favorite rooms is Jeffrey’s office, which doubles as a guest room. The sprawling sofa is actually two adjacent twin beds on casters that can be swung around and pushed together, so that they can create a king-size bed or be used separately as singles.

Only a few pieces of furniture remain from the Boltons’ previous life, including an antique table inherited from Jeffrey’s mother that serves as the bar in the living room. But their ever-expanding collection of art stayed. “We started buying from flea markets when we really didn’t have any money,” says Tina. “We just bought what we could.” They’re particularly drawn to figurative art and to period pieces that reflect a sense of time and place, like WPA prints.

Their latest obsession is glazed pottery. “We buy not for the name, but simply for what we like, what turns us on at the moment,” she adds. She rotates artworks as the mood strikes, although she hangs them sparingly. An empty wall, she thinks, has its own kind of beauty.

As for their sentimental old mahogany double bed, “I don’t think it would have been John’s choice to keep it,” Tina acknowledges with a laugh. “But he let us bring ourselves and our personalities to the space. This is the story of who we are—the story of our lives as a couple. And, oh, do we feel grown-up.”

This article originally appeared in ELLE DECOR. Article by Barbara King. Photography by William Waldron. Styling by JC Garcia-Lavin.


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