Jonathan Adler on the Point of Decorating

Jonathan Adler on the Point of Decorating

For all its devious ways, the Internet does have its positive aspects. So says interior designer and potter Jonathan Adler, who opened his largest store in the old J. Crew space in the West Village in 2021. Sure, our brains have been turned to mush, but “the chaos of the Internet has made it possible for all tendencies to live simultaneously.”

Meaning: Year-end trend reports of “what’s in,” which I initially intended to question Adler about, are somewhat outdated. “There is no prevailing style setter that makes everyone feel intimidated and depressed,” he says. If you like a particular design style, there is a corner of the internet just for you. We live in an “anything goes” era, and he’s here for it.

So while I managed to sneak in a few trend questions (he loves white bouclé fabric), I chatted with Adler about what pieces everyone should have in their homes, style tips, his love affair with Dallas, and more .

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

D Magazine: You’ve described your brand’s style as “united by a spirit of impeccable craftsmanship, American optimism and unforgettable glamour.” But in a Washington Post Live Q&A you did earlier this year, someone brought up magical realism. Can you talk about that?

Jonathan Adler: Well, long story short, I wasn’t a big fan of magical realist fiction, and when I started going to Peru a lot to work on pottery—I have a workshop down there that makes all my pottery—I discovered that Peru and Latin America comes through the magical realist fiction for which it is very naturally known, because only strange things happen. For me, I think the way magical realism is relevant to my work is that I think magical realism is like real life cranked up to 11. It’s just a lot extra. I think that in magical realist fiction writers give themselves the space to be really extra, and I tried to do the same in my design.

D: You started your career in pottery. Besides vases or dishes, what are some unexpected pottery pieces that you think everyone should have in their home?

YES: I think an animal sculpture is always a good ceramic item to have in your home. First, they are just great objects for visual punctuation. And I also think that depictions of animals trigger emotional feelings of joy. So, I think everyone should have a ceramic animal sculpture. And a liquor decanter. I think it just adds an element of glamor to your drinking story.

D: What other home decor pieces should everyone have?

YES: Well, to continue with the decanter theme – and it’s kind of ironic coming from a teetotaler, which I am, I’m like a very clean living teetotaler – but I think everyone should have a bar cart in their have a house A bar cart, well stocked, tells people, “I’m welcoming, I care about my guests, and I’m glamorous and classy.” So, I think a bar cart is a must because everyone wants to look a little fancy.

D: I also have a bar cart that I hardly use [laughs]. I want to look cooler than I actually am.

YES: To me, when people say, “Oh, what’s the point of decorating?” I’m like, “the whole point is to make yourself seem a little more interesting and a little more glamorous and a little more fun than you really are.”

Little touches of color are like an electric shock to a room.

Jonathan Adler

D: What advice do you have for someone styling a colorful space?

YES: I think people think of me as a crazy color guy, but I’m really not. Most of my work starts with a foundation of black and white. Now I very much only use white walls, dark floors—black and white is the center of everything I do. And I think color is a great way to just add light to a space with little accessories. The obvious one is pillows. But I think little touches of color are like an electric shock to the room. And again, I don’t think one needs to overdose on color to get the benefits.

D: Where should people go all in with design, and where should they get it back?

YES: I think a powder room is a great place to do something bonkers. And I also like to make a statement in a lobby. I feel the decoration of the home or space should unfold like an essay. When we are taught to write an essay in school, you have the introduction, which explains and summarizes what is to come. To me it’s like the lobby. I think we should treat the lobby as you treat an introduction: as a distillation of the magic that will unfold as one moves through the space. So goes bonkers in the lobby.

D: Are there any design styles that you think are underrated?

YES: There are so many styles and eras from the past that I am always mining and looking for inspiration. And one of my favorites, and it’s an obscure kind of style, I guess, is psychedelic Victoriana. What is the style of San Francisco in the 60s—that style that takes something very old and traditional and just paints it, has disturbed colors and a lot of glossy black. So yeah, I think psychedelic Victoriana is a style that should always be on the menu for me.

D: Are there any trends within your own work that you are excited about for next year?

YES: I am first and foremost a craftsman. I started as a full-time potter, and craft is at the center of everything I do. And I find that I actually work a lot more with natural materials, like oak. I kind of like oak and stoneware and celebrate craft and materiality. You know, I do a lot of oak furniture with the bouclé upholstery.

D: Your Dallas store is the largest Jonathan Adler store in the world. Can you talk to me about Dallas?

YES: So many great things in my life have happened to me courtesy of Dallasites. One of my very first breaks as a potter was when Todd Oldham gave me an order. And Carlos Falchi, who is a late, great Dallasite, gave me an order. I had a lot of friends from college who were from Dallas. To me, Dallas has always been about the people who are just friendly, optimistic and want to help. It’s just one of the most optimistic places I’ve ever been in my life. So, I’ve always kind of had a love affair with Dallas and Dallasites.

D: What distinguishes Dallas style from other cities like New York or Chicago or even London and Paris?

YES: Well, you guys are blessed with more space, he said jealously. Blessed with more space. And so, I think that there’s just more of it [style]. And it always seems to me a little more enviable and glamorous than anywhere else.

D: For my last question, I’m going to ask you something that I’m sure you’ve been asked before, so I apologize.

YES: [Is] this one about how I manage to look so incredibly young and fit?

D: Well, if you want to answer that, you can totally go for it.

YES: [Laughs.] I assumed that was going to be the question.

D: What inspires your design? And does your personal style differ in any way from your brand’s style?

YES: People ask me all the time, and I really find it one of the most annoying questions, because I think that design is a bit magical. You know? I think the most important thing for me is to kind of keep my eyes and my mind wide open, so that if and when my muse strikes, I’m there for her.

As for my personal style, I think that my home and even the way I dress is actually exactly like my design style. I think if you look at my work, some might say that there are a lot of different things going on. I would call it designed eclecticism. Like my house looks like this. It’s chockablock with stuff and only stuff that’s great. My design motto is, “if your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.” So, I think that as I look around my house, I think there are a lot of cool things that I hope will cause lawsuits between my heirs in the future.


Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine‘s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she all…

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