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Meet the Minds – Michael and Sean Saladino

July 18, 2018
Michael and Sean Saladino

Photos: Recent Projects

The influence of hospitality and design groomed brothers Michael and Sean Saladino from a young age. As founders and owner of Miami-based , their vibrant, enticing, and effective aesthetic can be credited to a love of hospitality from an early age. Michael studied hospitality management and design at the University of Mississippi, where “I worked every job in the hospitality business,” he says, while Sean, who also attended University of Mississippi for business administration, is a self-taught designer. They’ve worked on everything from  Xander’s Green Goods, a cannabis dispensary in Tacoma, Washington to F&B spots, including Sette Osteria, a 10,000-square-foot rooftop bar and restaurant in Wynwood that has 360-degree views of Miami. Here, they discuss their familial bond and how a talented team of designers has pushed them beyond their wildest design expectations.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? 
Michael Saladino: I found a passion for it after being involved in bars and restaurants of my own.
Sean Saladino: I was always into it, even at a young age. I had a cousin who was very much into design, and his room at his house was so cool. I wanted my room to be just like that so I came up with a design and did it all myself.

What are some of your first memories of design? 
MS: Doing a redesign of a nightclub called Groove Jet in the late ’90s on South Beach. Working on a shoestring budget, we installed plywood wall panels with fabric and foam that cost probably $10 each. Twelve hours later, we were hosting a party for Madonna and other A-list celebrities. That club went on to gross millions of dollars each year.
SS: My first design was [Rokbar] in Miami Beach. It was as out there as possible, and one day someone came to me and told me that it was published in a book with the likes of Philippe Starck, Todd Oldham, and other well-known people. I thought that that was pretty special and had no idea how it happened.

Why did you want to work together and start your own firm? 
MS: After designing and building one of my own restaurants, Pride & Joy [in Miami], I realized I loved the process more than owning and operating. My brother was evolving in the same direction and had the same mindset, so we decided to partner up and we created Saladino Design Studios in 2008. We are a full-service concept and design build firm.
SS: We fell into it. We were both working on other projects for clients and came together. The clients kept coming and we have put together a pretty successful team that loves what they do. The rest is history.

Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of? 
MS: We helped design a skate park in Cuba for a good friend of ours who has a charity called . It is an ongoing project with different hurdles that we are trying to overcome.
SS: We just finished a huge development called with a group out of Texas. We were thrown into the project late in the game with some titans of the industry, so we were not only late to the party but dealing with people that could eat us for breakfast if we skipped a beat. Not only did we hang with the big boys, but we kept them on their toes.

What are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
SS: The balance of creativity and managing a team of creatives. We not only have to challenge ourselves but also maintain a level of timing and milestones. This is the hardest part: to stay on track and stay innovative.

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant?
MS: Branding and identity go hand-in-hand, so there needs to be a synergy with the two. Functionality is the most important aspect of design in hospitality. You could have the most beautiful restaurant in the world, but without it operating properly, it is worthless. Branding helps create the experience. Everything is about the experience. Everything.

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?  
MS: I admire Emily Pilloton. She started a nonprofit called , named for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness. She created a school curriculum that empowers young people to become creative problem-solvers and more active citizens. She also wrote a book that features products like the Hippo water roller, a rolling barrel with a handle that eases water transport and low-cost playgrounds that mesh math skills and physical activity. She brings a human factor to creative sustainable design and I appreciate and admire that.
SS: The one person who has always inspired me is John Lautner. His designs are so timeless and to this day have influenced me.

What is your dream project?
MS: A creative workspace for [young people] who dream of changing the world and can collectively research, develop, design, and create new projects. Now, especially, the younger generation is finding its voice and creating change. It’s important they have the tools and space to do so.
SS: I would love to have a client come to us and say money is not an object. Not because of our desire to make more money on projects, but to be able to not be inhibited and to push our team in creating the details that we all appreciate so much.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
MS: I would have dinner with my grandparents, father and mother, and my wife and kids. My father passed away when I was younger, and my grandparents shortly thereafter. I would have loved for them to have met my wife and kids. I think my kids would get a kick out of my grandfather trying to sneak whiskey shots after dinner and my grandmother catching him and yelling at him.
SS: I would have dinner with my family. As much as I would love to come up with a witty person or someone that might inspire me, the bottom line is my family is the reason I do what I do, aside from the love of design. I prefer to spend as much time as I can with them.

Where would you eat and what would you be having? 
MS: Dinner at my grandparents’ house. A home-cooked Italian meal.
SS: Probably somewhere not so fabulous and kid-friendly.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be? 
MS: This question has a three part answer: day job, pediatric surgeon; night job, famous country singer; and fantasy job, owning a cannabis farm and creating disease-curing products.
SS: I would be an artist.