“I'm always doing what I'm not supposed to be doing,” admits Jonathan Adler, who spent most of his time enrolled to study semiotics and art history at Brown actually throwing pots at Rhode Island School of Design. It took a discouraging stint in the movie business for the designer to embrace his true calling, and in 1993 he founded his design studio in New York. One year later, his first ceramics collection was picked up by (now closed) retailer and taste-maker Barneys New York, and success quickly followed.
Adler is not any less rebellious these days, he confesses: “The second I'm supposed to be in a meeting about a design product, I hop into the pottery studio, and the second I need to make a pot I find myself in a meeting.” Today, in addition to pots, Adler designs furnishings, textiles, and lighting—as well as interiors around the globe. His first office space, the New York headquarters for all-women communications firm Powell, a collaboration with The Shade Store, and hospitality interiors for Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, Florida are among recent projects.
In March—just before the coronavirus closures—Adler celebrated the opening of his brand’s ninth boutique, a 5,500-square-foot flagship store distinguished by a staircase painted in a show-stopping lilac on New York’s Lexington Avenue. Interior Design sat down with the designer to hear how he’s embracing the quarantine, what anchors his living room, and the fervor he has for a certain sports team.
Interior Design: How are you approaching the quarantine?
Jonathan Adler: In a very Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young “Our House” fashion. My husband Simon and our dog FoxyLady are at our house on Shelter Island in Long Island and it’s all 'I’ll light the fire, you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today.' I’m cooking, cleaning, reading, and doing homemaking chores—trying to make our house as happy and as comfy as can be during this difficult time.
ID: You recently completed your first office space, the headquarters for communications firm Powell. What was your overall design intention?
JA: As with any project, I start with the client, who I try to flaunt in the most eccentric and glamorous way—you could say I act as a slimming mirror. In this case, the two women who own the publicity firm are super stylish, very sharp businesswomen. My challenge was to make a space that captured the seriousness of what they do with the glamour of who they are. There are many moods of Jonathan Adler, and for this project I was in my more neo-classical mood. I made these gigantic acrylic busts of a Greek god and goddess that are so chic and sculptural.
ID: What else have you been working on recently?
JA: My own apartment. It’s a never-ending project, but I finally did a gigantic rewomp—I put the whole thing in a blender. Since I make so much new stuff, my apartment tends to be a reflection of where I am in my design odyssey at the moment. This time I rearranged the entire program—knocked down walls, moved our bedroom. Our old living room is now the bedroom, and I took a powder room and closet and turned them into a gigantic master bathroom. I don't know if it makes more sense, but it's cool.
I brought in a couple of really groovy Vladimir Kagan serpentine sofas to anchor the living room. Mostly I just made a bunch of stuff which I now produce—my favorite is the Harlequin Eye cocktail table, an eye-shaped brass-and-glass table with pastel colors. It goes perfectly with the Kagan sofas.
ID: What else have you completed recently?
JA: A lobby for a hotel in Dubai, the Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai. When I do hospitality, my goal is to make it feel like you're in somebody's house. For this project, I made these really extraordinary giant kinetic sculptures—like for Powell, a god and goddess. I don't do as much public sculpture as I would like, and they are really thematic and over-the-top. One of the really fabulous things about designing in Dubai is that things need to be extraordinarily bold to get people's attention.
ID: Where do you look for inspiration?
JA: Maybe it’s mundane, but from need. I try to solve problems. For example, I was in my apartment and I was blinded by the light and I was like, I've got to crank up my collaboration with The Shade Store. I had been doing roller shades with them, but I needed curtains. So we got on the horn. I decided to design a range of curtains and curtain fabric that would satisfy all of my different moods. Not gonna lie, I have a bit of an uptown socialite side, as well as a Bohemian potter side, and a bold, colorful side. Basically, the need to get a little more shade in my life inspired this collaboration. Twenty percent of my time used to be spent on window treatment contemplations and all that's freed up. I hope to provide that same balance to other people's lives. So you're welcome! We can solve a lot of problems with the new headspace we'll all acquire due to my one-stop-shop for window treatments at The Shade Store.
ID: What’s upcoming for you?
JA: The glamour never stops. I’m putting the finishing touches via Zoom on the fall collection. It’s epic, and I promise I’m not biased. There’s also a bunch of residential and commercial things, but in my real life I'm designing products and a potter. So if I sound scattered, it's because I'm terribly scattered. In the ceramic studio, I am trying to find the time to make some giant pieces—they'll be big vessels with faces on them.
ID: Is there something in your childhood that pointed you in the direction of design?
JA: I first tried pottery at summer camp when I was 12. It was at that moment that a lifelong obsession was born. It just clicked immediately. I still have some of my teen pots and you know what? They're kind of good.
ID: Someone in the industry you particularly admire?
A: When it comes to heroes, my affinity is for the unimpeachably chic who combine eccentricity and originality with humor. It's a delicate balance to strike. If I had to choose, it would be American designer and architect Alexander Girard because he was so talented and ragingly prolific. He hit the perfect balance between originality, creativity, sweetness, and chic.
ID: What are you reading?
JA: “A Bend in the River” by V.S. Naipaul It’s a classic that I can't believe I've never read before, a fascinating exploration of post-colonial Africa that's a real mind-tingler.
ID: Do you have a secret you can share?
JA: You might imagine me as a sophisticated international glamour puss and you’d be half right. The other half is a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan. I live and bleed for my Eagles. I'm still high from our Super Bowl win two years ago. I used to be a pessimist, but then my Eagles won—now I have pep in my step and optimism in my heart.