June 26, 2008

INTERIOR design is so much more than pushing around furniture. John Saladino, one of the profession's most verbal practitioners, would say that it is, above all, a matter of calculation. Precise manipulations in the service of refining a space might be considered the most contemporary way to achieve a well-made room.

At first, an Upper East Side prewar apartment would hardly seem to need improvement. Yet Saladino felt that the grandeur of this one could use some embellishing. According to the designer, perfecting scale and proportion is the key to translating an empty space into an engagingly beautiful one. He enlarged the opening between the foyer and the living room, heightening the sense of ceremony. In the designer's opinion, the living room's narrow crown molding wasn't substantial enough. He added a second molding 10 inches below the first, filling the space between with silver leaf (oxidized so as not to look shiny new). The effect, says Saladino, is of "a wonderful belt of blurred color." To disguise some unsightly beams in the wall, he devised niches for either side of the fireplace. He lined the back of each with panels wrapped in watered silk, adding immeasurably to the luxe of the space.

The sensuous materiality and warmth of the living room give way to a lighter mood in the dining room. Here, the tone is all elegant caprice, thanks to the 18th-century pattern of the white-on-taupe wallpaper. ("So much more interesting than painting the walls white," Saladino says.) The wallpaper's urn-and-swag motif is echoed by the filigree of a chinoiserie mirror, by the sweep of the draperies and by a spray of dogwood in a porcelain vase. Saladino actually attached the fabric to the wall rather than the window frames, creating the appearance of taller openings.

The designer reconceived the private quarters of the apartment entirely, reorganizing a maze of bedrooms into a master suite of subdued splendor. The tour de force is a dressing-room hall with a false perspective: using a centuries-old trick involving a canted floor and a half-column set into a mirror, Saladino made 15 feet of mahogany cabinetry appear to go on forever. JULIE V. IOVINE