“People always want to know where my inspiration comes from, but the truth is that that’s an impossible question to answer,” he says, “creativity is a sprite who visits when she wants; I just try to keep my eyes and my mind wide open.”
Adler is a design polyglot, conversant in languages that include ceramics, interior design, furniture, textiles, and lighting design of all stripes. And from those disparate mediums, Adler orchestrates a distinct cadence that binds them all together, one filled with humor, irreverence, and ebullient color.
The designer now has a couple dozen stores that span the globe and a thriving interior design business where he takes on residential and commercial projects alike (including the newly redesigned, incomparably charming Parker Palm Springs), but it all started with a pottery wheel at summer camp when he was 12. While studying at Brown University in Providence, the undergrad spent hours throwing clay at neighboring RISD, the famed design college.
After several years working as an assistant for executives in the entertainment industry (his pottery teacher informed him that he lacked talent), a cold call to Barneys New York landed him his first ceramics order. It was not too long after that the ingénue opened his first retail location in SoHo, which purveyed not only his charismatic pottery, but also a line of textiles he designed and had produced in Peru.
That was the inauspicious start that snowballed into the holistic lifestyle concept now singularly understood as “Jonathan Adler”. While his work strongly references Mid-century modern and Hollywood regency, it cannot be reduced to just one or two aesthetic labels. His pottery, for starters, is both organic and amorphous, often in shades of neutral white or black. On the other hand, it can be anthropomorphic and wildly colorful, with a strong dose of surrealism mixed in for good measure. His favorite piece, the multi-faced Dora Maar vase, is an apt signature of his style.
“I was talking with my pottery assistant about it recently, and I asked him why he thought it worked. He said, ‘It just looks like it’s supposed to be that way.’ And I think that’s true – good design looks like it was uncovered rather than created.” Similarly, The Parker Palm Springs, which just revealed a top-to-bottom makeover by Mr. Adler, throws the tacit rule that hotels have to be neutral to the wind. In it, the designer created a space that embraces what makes Palm Springs a destination for the design minded – color, pattern, and nostalgia for Mid-century silhouettes. Guests feel as though they have slipped into a Slim Aarons’ narrative from the 1960s; like the Dora Maar vase, it looks just as it should.
Mr. Adler pushes back on the maximalist connotations often ascribed to his style. “Everyone thinks that I’m an over-the- top maximalist, but the truth is that I’m a minimalist product designer and a maximalist interior designer. When I’m designing a product, I work incredibly hard to strip it down to its essence.
I strive to use an economy of gesture to strip an object down to its essential form,” says Adler. Whether maximalist or minimalist, underpinning all of his work is something lithe and humorous.
„I love Berlin. I only can be dragged out of the Soho House to the KaDeWe food, Borchardts for dinner is like bananas.“
This fil rouge in his work is perhaps best exemplified by the homes he has created with his husband, creative director and author Simon Doonan. One might imagine a creative powerhouse couple clash, but in their homes in New York City and on Shelter Island, Mr. Doonan defers to his husband. “I think everyone imagines us bickering over pillow placement and how many obelisks are too many obelisks. But the truth is that Simon is just happy to let me do my thing.” At home, punchy geometric patterns like chevron reign. Powerful colors are offset by white walls, and wild motifs are given an air of gravitas and grounded by a devotion to symmetry in their arrangement.
While the designs in and of themselves may be off the wall, on closer inspection there is a rigor and formality that contains this dynamic, effervescent style in something both coherent and exciting. While Adler may be a master of surprise and delight, he is also a master of the balancing act.
In many ways, Adler was on the forefront of a reaction to the anemic neutral color palette that was dominant in decorating for so many years. He had a hand in returning America to its colorful, rosy-colored roots. “I think there’s a sense of optimism in my work that is uniquely American,” he contends. “I feel like only in America could I do what I’ve done, which is about freedom and optimism and glamor, glamor, glamor – always. I feel like everything I make should be memorable, and to me that’s what glamor is.” He also contends that in general, people have become more comfortable with, and interested in design. The current generation is no longer necessarily constrained by rules that previous generations may have felt hampered and stifled by. And that is fine by Jonathan Adler, who has been promoting that very aesthetic sermon.
“If you love it, it will work. We live in an anything-goes world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It pushes me to make better and better stuff.”
- An article by
- Mieke ten Have