Designer. Potter. Rule Breaker.
His designs effortlessly blend edgy with ethereal, weaving classics with the unexpected. Adler is an alchemist of swanky, tailored style.
A conversation with Maranda Pleasant
This interview was nine years in the making. I funded ORIGIN. through my paintings, creating art for large commercial spaces, homes and designers. Almost 10 years ago, my main client from Texas sent me a message to make every piece she ordered work in a Jonathan Adler room. I had no idea what that meant until I searched his work. And then I became a little more than obsessed. Years later, while living in Manhattan, my Sunday afternoon stroll always took me to his Upper West Side store, where I fantasized that everything would fit into my apartment, and I’d buy more pillows than I could carry home. How stellar is it that so many years later we get to feature one of my favorite creatives? Thank you, Jonathan, for years of inspiration. He’s a multilayered enigma — an artist, successful entrepreneur, dog lover, furniture + textile designer, and maker of almost everything. In less than 20 years, he’s opened nearly 30 stores. His favorite motto, “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it,” reflects his continued commitment to impeccable craftsmanship and irreverent luxury. But his love of pottery remains at his core: his office sits between a giant kiln and a working pottery studio.
You are our ultimate rule-breaker, and you paved the way for so many designers to really push the limits, personalize spaces and fully express themselves. What was it that pushed you not to hold back and to do it so differently?
I was unemployable. When I started working, I got fired from one job after another in the entertainment industry. I started teaching night classes at a pottery studio in exchange for studio space; I had no choice but to make it work. Failure is a great motivator.
Is there a quote, idea or philosophy that has made a big impact on you and how you chose to live?
I guess that when my pottery teacher in college told me I had no talent and that I should become a lawyer, it was pretty impactful. It was the best advice I never took. Every creative person needs a naysayer to rebel against.
"Don’t worry about any so-called rules. If you love it, it will work."
Why is color so important?
I’ve developed a reputation as a color-crazed designer, but the truth is that I am judicious in my use of color. I strive to create an impeccably chic foundation, and then layer colors and accessories on top of that.
Five things you always need for a JA dinner party?
It’s all about the food. At least that’s all I care about.
The biggest mistake you see people make when creating/designing their home?
Skimping on lighting. Anytime I have skimped on lighting, I have lived to regret it.
Any advice you would give to any budding artist?
Get a job with a company you admire, doing anything, and become invaluable.
As an artist, what is one of the things you feel most vulnerable about?
My husband, Simon, calls me Ariana Kafka. I’m one-half pop princess Ariana Grande, and one half brooding intellectual Franz Kafka. Both parts are authentically me. So I’m not sure I’m vulnerable, but I’m definitely a brooding, tortured designer.
"I was unemployable . . . Failure is a great motivator."
What do you need to create?
More, more, more. I’m a restless designer, and the more I make, the more I want to make.
How do you ground yourself?
On my paddle board when I’m at my house on Shelter Island. It’s where I commune with the works of the world’s best designer: Mother Nature. Do you find pottery meditative? Truthfully, no. I’m like a machine when I pot. I’ve been doing it for more years than I want to admit.
Four of the most important accessories to make your space come alive?
1. A chandelier that is bigger than you think you need and more expensive than you think you can afford.
2. A graphic rug.
3. Brass, brass, brass.
4. Tiny tables. You should be able to reach out no matter where you’re sitting and set down a glass.
There’s not just a fun, eccentric modern flair to your work, but it is also emotional and passionate. It pushes one to feel more. What is your creation/design experience like?
I want my work to scream “chic” and whisper “irreverence.” I want my products — and projects — to make you feel like the most glamorous, eccentric version of yourself. I think people imagine the design process as a designer locked in a garret, crippled by angst. The truth is that I run a business, so my day is filled with meetings, helping my team solve problems, and logistics. I’m in the pottery studio every day, but that’s not all I do.
We are color lovers. Are there any fun guidelines/ideas you have for mixing textures, colors, eras?
Don’t worry about any so-called rules. If you love it, it will work.
What are some of your favorite pieces in your home?
My husband, Simon Doonan, and our rescue mutt, FoxyLady.
Do you have a design philosophy?
Modern American Glamour.
Where do you pull from that inspires you to create?
Everyone wants to know where inspiration comes from, but it’s an impossible question to answer. It comes from everywhere, all the time. I keep my eyes and my mind wide open.
You've accomplished so much and you’re a design icon. What is it now that you crave?
Well, thank you! I don’t crave anything — I just hope that people like the stuff I make as much as I do.
Where do you go to replenish your spirit?
Shelter Island. It’s where we built our dream home.
ORIGIN Rapid Fire:
Your favorite palette?
Red, white and blue is an always combination.
What sign are you?
What’s your spirit animal?
Dog. Particularly our dog, FoxyLady.
Fav era for design?
All of them.
Essential design element?
Something metallic and twinkly.
What can’t you live without?
My husband, Simon.
Eccentric Glamour by Simon Doonan.
Three of your fav cities/towns?
Shelter Island, New York, Tokyo. What the world needs more of? Dogs in stores and restaurants.
WE BELIEVE that your home should make you happy.
WE BELIEVE that when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right. Unless the husband is gay.
WE BELIEVE in carbohydrates and to hell with the puffy consequences.
WE BELIEVE minimalism is a bummer.
WE BELIEVE in our muses: David Hicks, Alexander Girard, Bonnie Cashin, Hans Coper, Gio Ponti, Andy Warhol, LeRoy Neiman, Yves Saint Laurent, and Madonna.
WE BELIEVE in being underdressed or overdressed always.
WE BELIEVE colors can’t clash.
WE BELIEVE dogs should be allowed in stores and restaurants.
WE BELIEVE celebrities should pay full price.
WE BELIEVE our lighting will make you look younger and thinner.
WE BELIEVE in highbrow books and lowbrow music.
WE BELIEVE in the three Ls: layer, layer, layer.
WE BELIEVE subversive is superior.
WE BELIEVE in irreverent luxury.