You’ve probably noticed this about us, but… we at Chairish love a maximalist. Someone who decorates with an eye toward surrounding themselves with the things they love, and that describes Jonathan Adler perfectly. Starting his career as a potter, he launched his first collection with Barney’s almost 30 years ago, before developing his beloved home furnishings lines. Today, he offers everything from lighting to tables and chairs, and his name is synonymous with a colorful, creative, tongue-in-cheek style.
We wanted to learn more about Jonathan’s start in the industry, his career as a potter and designer, and how his tastes have evolved over the years. Needless to say, he’s a terrific interview, from his thoughts on beige to the awful advice he’s glad he never took. Read on to learn more, and be sure to shop Jonathan’s products on Chairish as well as his curated selection of favorite finds.
You began your career as a potter. How did you first discover your passion for that and how did that lead you to build your business?
I first touched clay at summer camp when I was 12; I’m not a very spiritual person, but in that moment I felt a connection, and it was on.
You are known for having an affinity for color which is seen throughout your work. Do you have any tips on how to integrate color into spaces? What do you say to clients who are timid about embracing color?
Life is too short to look back and see an endless haze of beige. My personal recipe is to create a foundation that is 99% chic classicism, 1% witticism, and this includes color. Don’t worry about breaking any so-called design rules; the truth is, we live in an anything goes world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You have an incredibly wide range of products that you sell within your home furnishings empire. What challenges do you face and do you have any advice for designers who want to expand?
My entire business is about shipping expensive, fragile things around the globe, so each day presents a new, perplexing challenge. But I’m lucky enough to work with a group of hilarious, talented people (I hope they’re not reading this) who never take “no” for an answer and who help me create the stuff I dream of every day. I started as a production potter making everything myself—I didn’t want to lose control. But everything changed when I found a workshop in Peru who could work with me to create my pottery, and it wasn’t until I was able to free myself from production that my creativity was allowed to wander and I could work on creating furniture, and rugs, and lighting, and everything that we have now. My advice for designers who want to expand is to stay nimble, keep costs low, and create a fantastic team who can help you rise above the mishegas.
You’ve said before that pottery is at the center of your business. Can you tell us about how your personal style has evolved over the years?
I’m a maximalist decorator and a minimalist designer. When I’m designing, I strive to express myself with an economy of gesture. But with interiors, I’m a maximalist who wants to be surrounded by all the people and things I love most. This hasn’t changed over the years. One thing that has changed? My feelings on purple. I used to not be into it, but now, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a purple person.
Tell us about your personal spaces and how you design at home. How does vintage fit into your aesthetic?
With any design project (including my own homes) I want to create a sense of place. For instance, Palm Beach is all about glamor and the color of the sun and sky and sea and I capture this in the bright colors, luxe textures, and the materials I use. Our home on Shelter Island is a little bit Japanese, a little bit Scandi, and the colors and textures come from the dunes and grass that are just outside (and the color of our dearly departed Norwich Terrier Liberace). Wherever you are, your home should reflect your most eccentric, glamorous self.
Of the Jonathan Adler pieces available on Chairish, do you have any favorites?
Well, that’s a real Sophie’s Choice. But since you asked… the Caprice Dining Chair is a chic seat with considered touches, the Brussels Buffet combines commanding scale and a simple form with a sinuous brushed brass base, and our Metropolis Table Lamp has an edgy, Cubist-inspired face. It’s pared down perfection if I do say so myself (which I just did).
On Chairish & Vintage Shopping…
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
I’ve lost hours and days of my life scrolling Chairish—every page is packed with the best vintage stuff, the best new stuff, and everything in between. Chairish is simultaneously the greatest and the worst thing at the same time.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?
For years I dreamt of finding the perfect Paul Evans bed. I’m a light sleeper and figured if I’m going to toss and turn, I should at least do it in something chic. I got the bed, but I still toss and turn. You win some, you lose some?
What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now (please include links)?
Everything on Chairish is good, but these three pieces are especially good! They may be expensive, but they tingle my chakras, and they’ll make your home look like a million bucks. I love this Ribbon Chair by Pierre Paulin for Artifort; this Italian Art Design Brass Emerald Green Glass 9-Drawer Dresser Sideboard; and this Mosaic Tile Coffee Table by Berthold Müller.
Some Design Favorites…
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
Start with a graphic rug and you’ll never look back.
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”
Flowers? Forget about ‘em. It’s all about ostrich feathers—they’re graphic and dramatic, plus they never wilt.
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
I couldn’t imagine my dream house on Shelter Island without its set of Platner chairs. I sit in them every morning as I look out at the waves and sip my thousandth cup of tea of the day.
Favorite paint color:
Any and all shades of blue. Blue is a wonder color— every shade of blue works with any other shade of blue.
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
I find my shorter half Simon Doonan to be quite decorative.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
My Holy Trinity is Bonnie Cashin, Alexander Girard, and David Hicks.
Favorite style icon:
It’s a tossup between Simon and Jackie O. What can I say? They both know their way around an accessory.
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
My first trip to Japan was the most mind-expanding trip of my life, and it opened my world to possibilities. I’ve since gone to Japan many times. It’s where I go for inspiration, and I think every Creative should give it a go, too.
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
When I was in college I had a pottery teacher who said I had no talent and should just move to New York City and become a lawyer. It was the best advice I never took. Every creative needs a naysayer to rebel against.
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination:
The Amangiri in Utah—it’s bone-crushingly expensive, but it’s worth every cent.
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
Hotel Scalinatella in Capri. It was the inspiration for my Scalinatella collection; betcha never would have guessed that by the name!
Sant Ambroeus—their elephant ear cookies are responsible for every ounce of my back fat.
Favorite small museum:
It’s not a museum, but it is a must visit: Walter De Maria’s permanent art installation, The Broken Kilometer. It has inspired me since the 70’s, and still does so today. The lighting in my new pottery studio is arranged in rows in homage to the structure… and serendipitously the studio is also located across the street from the installation as well.
My besties Ariel Levy and Liz Lange teamed up for a podcast about Liz’s life called The Just Enough Family. It’s like a soap opera but it’s real. Fame, fortune, drama: It’s all there.
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
One of the best parts of presiding over an eponymous home decor brand is having the most well-stocked gift closet on the planet. I don’t leave the house without a couple trinket trays in my L.L. Bean Boat and Tote. You never know who you’re going to meet.
Sunflowers because they’re sunny, optimistic, and remind me of summer, my favorite season.
Favorite adult beverage:
I’m not a big drinker. Live clean, decorate dirty I always say…
Favorite way to unwind at home:
I love watching TV, paddle boarding, and reading (just not all at the same time).
Favorite entertaining essential:
“Normal” food. I’m happiest with a roast chicken, brussels sprouts, and an apple pie. People think they want something fancy—a foam of this, a smear of that, a reduction of another—but I’m here to tell you, they don’t.
All images courtesy of Jonathan Adler