The designer Franklin Salasky has spent most of the 40-plus years of his career creating elegant interiors for wealthy clients, in the rarefied precincts of Park Avenue, the Hamptons and New York’s tonier suburbs. As a partner for 35 years in B Five Studio, and now a partner, with Kellie Sirignano — a former B Five employee — in Kellie Franklin Design, Mr. Salasky has mastered the art of luxurious domesticity.
But that doesn’t mean he is one of those designers who lives as lavishly as their clients. Instead, he has occupied a series of cleverly designed but relatively modest Manhattan apartments, as well as a small weekend house in East Hampton that he transformed from a nondescript box into a cottage that oozes charm.
This knack for doing more with less took on particular significance in 2013 when Mr. Salasky and his longtime partner, Billy Gallo, a retired talent agent and casting director, sold their apartment in the East 20s and bought a three-story townhouse on Decatur Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, for which they paid $725,000.
“The maintenance on our co-op was only going to go up,” Mr. Salasky explained, “and with a house, we could have income from a rental apartment,” which they created on the building’s ground floor.
The house, which Mr. Salasky said dates from around 1910, needed a thorough renovation. His goal was to beat what might be considered a baseline number for a custom-designed interior gut renovation: $400 per square foot. That includes new electrical, heating and air-conditioning, and plumbing systems. “These are not things you see, but I wanted them to be of high quality,” he said.
That didn’t exactly leave a princely sum for the interiors; budgets for the kind of projects Mr. Salasky usually works on can quickly run north of $1,000 per square foot. And while the house’s original entry and stair balustrade were intact, the ceilings, floors, moldings and window frames all needed replacing.
But the designer’s ingenious use of inexpensive materials, particularly plywood — as well as his sense of proportion, color and texture — produced rooms that include a nod to the funky loft aesthetic of the 1960s and ’70s in their comfortable, stylish mix. They embody a space in old-house renovation between interiors that are lock-step traditional and those that use historical architecture as a foil for starkly minimalist furnishings.
You sense the balance when you walk in the front door. The entry and stairwell’s original woodwork is painted a charcoal gray, and the walls are covered with a black-on-white wallpaper, by the New York artist and designer Jill Malek, with a web of connected lines that are meant to evoke flight map networks. Houses of this period, Mr. Salasky observed, “scream for wallpaper, because the walls of the stairwells are so high.”
From this space, double pocket doors, their raised wood panels replaced with textured wire glass — a reference to the industrial-chic craze that produced Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin’s influential 1978 book“High-Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for the Home” — open into the living room.
Here, Mr. Salasky’s way with plywood is immediately apparent, in the two-foot-square floor panels, painted with a sky blue porch and floor enamel, and in the window frames, which are stained with Monocoat, a floor-finishing product, in a warm gray. Even the living room ceiling is plywood, stained with white paint to bring out the grain. (Jane Krupp, an artist, designer and color consultant, helped choose the paint colors.)
But it’s the chunky bookshelves — each shelf is made of two three-quarter-inch-thick lengths of plywood that are laminated together, then mounted on hardware-store brackets and standards — that steal the show, creating a sort of Minimalist-sculptural counterpoint to the carved wood fireplace and its morning-glory tiles. While Mr. Salasky was attracted to plywood for its low cost and loft-living vibe, he credited Michael Andaloro, the project’s construction manager, who “guided me, wisely, to a more substantial rendition that was more finely detailed.”
Against this backdrop, Mr. Salasky arranged a variety of 20th-century modern furnishings, including a 1941 Ectoplasmic coffee table by Gilbert Rohde for Herman Miller, a Model 32 sofa by Florence Knoll covered in an Alexander Girard fabric from Maharam and a pair of square Paul McCobb stools upholstered in Pendelton blankets.
A wood cabinet, designed in the 1950s by Merton Gershun for American of Martinsville, sits under a pair of contemporary posters by the London graphic designers MuirMcNeil; Mr. Salasky is particularly fond of the cabinet because it was made in Virginia, his home state. Nearby, a full-length portrait of Mr. Salasky, painted in the 1980s by Jack Ceglic, the artist and designer who was one of the founders of Dean & DeLuca, leans against an adjacent wall.
In contrast to the living room’s cozy clutter, the kitchen seems cool and cavelike, and just as welcoming. Mr. Salasky exposed the ceiling joists, raising the room’s height to 10 feet, and stripped the walls down to the bricks, which he painted a deep blue. “Using a dark color in a darker room,” he said, “is counterintuitive, with dramatic results.”
A wall of windows, with alternating lights of clear and textured wire glass for a bit more privacy, adds light and warmth to the room’s deep tones. The plywood that covers this wall, as well as the kitchen island’s frame and counter, is stained with Monocoat in a similar tone; Mr. Gallo did all the Monocoat staining in this room, the living room, and the powder room and master bathroom.
He made two requests of his partner: a front-loading washer and dryer “big enough to accommodate comforters” that occupy one corner of the kitchen and a ceiling fan in his study upstairs. A pair of Eames storage units stands next to the washer and dryer; Mr. Salasky said their shelves were shallower than those of most kitchen cabinets, making it easier to reach their contents. A vintage white dining table by McCobb sits on the black-and-white hexagonal-tiled floor.
Upstairs, the master bedroom has another wall of plywood bookshelves, while Mr. Gallo’s study, with its drawing table and overflowing bulletin board, also has a luxurious-looking bed for late-night binge-watching, napping or a guest. Next door, a narrow room serves as Mr. Salasky’s dressing room, complete with hooks for his shoulder bags and his own bulletin board. An existing small, square skylight in the master bathroom was made more dramatic when Mr. Salasky dropped the ceiling and carved a larger, circular opening into it.
The two men love their house and its more-for-less aesthetic. “I’ve always said that I like the most expensive and the least expensive,” Mr. Salasky said. “And this is the least expensive.”