Jonathan Adler has a way with words. For the American potter, designer, and author, language is key when it comes to communicating his visionary designs. It’s a practice in precision that he’s carried from his early days as a maker of ceramics, which were sold at Barneys New York in the early ’90s, to his present eponymous design business. Words evolve, and so has Adler’s name; today the words “Jonathan Adler” are synonymous with glamour, creativity, and a fresh approach to modern interiors.
Your mission is to bring “modern American glamour” to the lives of others — how would you define this aesthetic?
I call my design spirit Modern American Glamour. It’s modern for sure — I want it to feel new and feel like today. It should always be glamorous; everything you buy and surround yourself with should make yourself feel a little bit more glamorous than you think you are.
In as much as my style is optimistic, I think that comes from its American-ness. America is a country of optimism. I’m optimistic, and my work reflects it.
What specific elements and details make up the perfect room for you?
A room is perfect when it has my hubby Simon Doonan, our dog Foxylady, and a sprinkling of gold tones in it.
You fell in love with pottery as a child; we understand that you spent an entire summer when you were twelve behind a pottery wheel, and it was a continued passion throughout your university years at Brown. What is it about this particular art form that you enjoy so much, and how does it continue to inform your creative work in other areas today?
I’m not a spiritual person, but when I first touched clay, I felt a connection. There’s something primordial about clay — it’s just mud.
My office is between our in-house pottery studio and the kiln. I’m in studio every day; it’s where I work out all my ideas and it’s the heart of everything we do. Everything — from pottery to hardware to furniture — starts in the studio.
While still a young designer, you fell in love with South American textiles on a trip to Peru. How did this exposure to Peruvian designs influence your own work moving forward?
My love affair with Peru was a very happy accident. Twenty years ago, I was a full-time production potter and needed help desperately. As the orders stacked up, I found Aid to Artisans, a brilliant non-profit that connects American designers with craftspeople in developing countries.
At the time, I was so mired in clay I barely knew where Peru was. I hadn’t thought about the world outside of my studio in about three years. When I landed in Lima, I found paradise: a beautiful country, amazing food, and fabulous people who just happened to be brilliant and committed crafts folk.
Peru helped me find my soul, and let loose a seemingly endless well of inspiration. It has been a mind-expanding reminder to chill and let the world unfold.
You studied semiotics in college and are very specific about the language of design and how we communicate ideas. Is there a particular word that you absolutely loathe?
The word I hate most is banal, and that’s because the thing I hate most is banality.
We’ve heard you believe that the “subversive is superior.” What does the idea of being subversive mean to you when it comes to design? And life in general?
I’m one of the most clean-living people around. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I go to the gym daily (at least). But design is where I let my hedonistic side out. I like to live clean but decorate dirty.
Was there a moment in your career when you felt as though you’d “made it” — perhaps a project that was literally your “aha” moment?
I was in my Soho store shortly after it opened, and a woman on her cell phone told the person on the other end that she was “at Jonathan Adler.” And I remember feeling like I had made it: I was officially a place.
It’s been ten years now since you were a judge on Bravo’s Top Design. What did you take away from the experience of being a TV personality? Do you think you’ll ever return to television?
It was so much fun. I would definitely do it again — like Gore Vidal famously said, never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television.
We know you enjoy tennis, food, and of course, Adidas Rod Lavers — what’s something our readers might not know about you? (Dig deep!)
I’m a closet athlete. People probably don’t think of potters as sporty, but I am. The best moment of my life was when my beloved Eagles won the Super Bowl.
Would you entertain the idea of a collaborative project with Adidas, and what would that look like?
I would LOVE to work with Adidas. I like collaborations because they give me the opportunity to work with different materials and with different constraints than I do when I’m designing for our collection. I’m a restless designer – the more I make the more I want to make.
Is there something unexpected that you are working on at the moment?
If I told you, it wouldn’t be unexpected. Stay tuned!