One of today’s top design talents is a creative machine. Part genius, part style re-interpreter, Jonathan Adler’s hip and cool aesthetic is perfectly suited for not only right now, but also for the future. Join us for an exclusive look into the mind of the man behind one of the most pristine points of view in the design world today.
By Lance Avery Morgan Photography Courtesy of Jonathan Adler Design
If Don Draper and Samantha Stevens had a love child, it would surely have been Jonathan Adler. You’d almost have to be living under a rock if you haven’t seen the meteoric rise of this lad whose wit, charm and a specific point of view helped this potter-(yes, potter)-turned-designer reach international design acclaim. I’d met Adler with his partner, Simon Doonan, at the Barney’s Northpark store opening in Dallas years before, was immediately charmed by them, and beyond having several mutual friends in common from coast to coast, I’d kept track of Adler’s solid reputation in the world of otherwise transient design trends.
His eponymous stores, 19 and growing, are a culmination of a body of work for this 44-year-old leader in his field. Sitting down with him when this magazine helped launch his Austin store, I knew it didn’t just happen over night. It had to begin somewhere for this robust man-about-globe who, upon greeting, is both like an old friend and a new acquaintance who has the potential to the most dazzling guest at a dinner party you want to host for him.
“My parents were so incredibly encouraging and my whole aesthetic sensibility comes from them,” recounts Adler. “I grew up in a groovy, modern house that was also about Knoll furniture and rigorous modernism… while at the same time was full of Marimekko textiles. You know, modern mixed with colors and patterns. As much as I like to think that I am original, it can all be directly traced to my parents. It was in the blood.”
With an Adler-designed piece, one immediately gets his right-now sensibility, yet it’s evident everything he puts his name to is about quality that is built to last. Much like his childhood influences of furniture maker Knoll and 60’s pop Marimekko, he and his brand are built to last, too. While giving credit to his parent’s influence, Adler is quick to point out other idols to whose design alter he worshiped. “My greatest design influence? That’s easy,” he states. The holy trinity is Bonnie Cashin, David Hicks and Alexander Girard. They are all my muses, yet all have very different styles. Those unique and idiosyncratic styles are not only unimpeachably chic, but also incredibly playful.” He is quick to note, “I strive to achieve that same thing… a distinct style that can be chic and playful at the same time.”
Chic and playful, yes. And very grown-up, too. His stores (with another one that just opened in Houston) are a combination of a late 1950’s Lana Turner movie set (think turquoise and just enough bling to be considered tastefully sophisticated) meets an Alfred Hitchcock television series set that is top of the line modern with a certain edge to keep the eye’s interest. Whether it is Jonathan Adler-created table accessory or a piece of furniture that begs to be touched and used, the common denominator between his mid-century influences and the product he creates from it are simple. “I am obsessed with quality,” Adler is quick to admit. “As a potter, I am a craftsperson and I do this fancy stuff, but it all comes back to craft because that is my passion.”
That passion that he has brought his Austin store opening was also inspired by a film synonymous with a late 80’s film made in the Capital City. “I’ve loved Austin ever since seeing the movie Slacker,” gushes Adler. “After seeing that I was obsessed. I love your city’s slogan, Keep Austin Weird. As a potter and a reformed slacker myself, I never dreamed I would have this. Now I am an irate whirligig of a retailer.”
That irrepressibly energetic nature has come in handy while creating his empire. Jonathan Adler’s guiding motto is succinct. “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it,” about his relentless commitment to high style quality. In addition to the stores, he and his team helm an e-commerce site and a wholesale business with over 1,000 locations worldwide. His decorative objects, tabletop collections, bedding, bath accessories, gifts, candles, furniture, rugs, pillows, lighting, and most recently handbags, hats and men’s accessories still wow as boldly as they did when he first rose to acclaim. Throw in the fact that he redesigned the Parker Palm Springs hotel and Mattel asked him to design the modern-glam interiors for the “real” Barbie™ Dream House as part of Barbie’s 50th anniversary. As a bon mot to his success, good fortune, and hard work, he shares, “I am extremely proud of the minimal lines of many of our pieces.”
When I ask Adler to do a little time travel, that if he had to go back in time and choose a US president would he loved to have designed for, he is quick to answer as if it was already top of mind. He quips, “This has nothing to do with whether he was a good president, but Richard Nixon had the grooviest taste. I use a pattern throughout my collection called Nixon that was inspired by his ranch in California. Lousy president, great taste.”
Does Adler have a favorite decorative object this year of which he is especially proud? “I happen to love everything I make. It’s embarrassing to say it, but it’s true,” he candidly offers. “I am completely obsessed with my brass peacock table. I have brass items sprinkled throughout and they patina with age and become really rich. I also found the people who made the C. Jere (Curtis Jere) originals and now we are remaking it. Listen, brass is jewelry for the home.”
Adler has written three books that should be in every style library that also include is own homes: My Prescription for Anti-Depressive living and part of the Happy Chic Book series, Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Colors and Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Accessories. His third book in the series, 100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life, was published recently and he was on hand to sign copies for the standing-room-only crowd of over 400 guests at our party celebrating him and the Austin store opening. Attendees also recognized him as the design expert and the lead judge on the Bravo TV series, Top Design.
Let’s face it: Adler’s life is one that is well-lived and well learned. In his books he’s offered his know-how and describes the obstacles that challenged his career, shares photos of some of his signature interiors, and pays tribute to the designs and artists that inspired him. He says that writing books are not easy. “They are all from the heart. My favorite tip is that It All Starts WIth A Conversation Pit and I believe that is true.”
Never one to take himself too seriously, as we wrap our chat, I feel compelled to ask Jonathan Adler if he has any tips for success for an up and coming designer. He becomes serious, with a sparkle in his eye and says, “Marry a rich husband. Decorating isn’t for the weak and clients can be hell. I wish when I started that I was a lot of richer because there are so many jobs I would loved to have walked away from. But it all got me to here.”