Irreverent Luxury

A Conversation with Jonathan Adler

Could we sprinkle the world with a little Jonathan Adler, surely it would be a happier place. Interior designer/TV judge/potter (a sampling of many hats), Jonathan believes in “irreverent luxury,” a creative freedom that has served him well while building his brand.

His inspiring interiors pop up everywhere, from private homes to the palatial Parker Palm Springs hotel. Recently, Southern California got another dose of divine décor with the opening of a Jonathan Adler store on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Luxury Life & Style took that opportunity to reach out to Jonathan and discuss first jobs, furnishings, and, yes, Fairchild.

Darren Elms: Jonathan, you design everything from glamorous sofas to needlepoint pillows, but you started out creating pottery. Tell our readers about your beginnings in the design world.
Jonathan Adler:
After college I worked in the movie business for several years and got fired from every job I ever had. I was a horrid employee and the prospects for my future were quite dim. I always had a passion for clay, and between jobs, I would make pots. As the between jobs bit got longer and longer I was making more and more pots. I finally showed them to a buyer at Barneys, got an order and filled it, and then got another order and it just grew organically and without any kind of plan. For the first couple of years I was selling my pots I still considered myself unemployed. Then my mom overheard me tell someone that I was unemployed and she said, “No you’re not, you’re a potter.” That’s when it occurred to me that pottery was my future.

DE: Your pieces portray a whimsical, contemporary sensibility. What inspires your many creations?
For design inspiration, some of my influences are obvious – mid-century design, the optimism of California living, nature, my parents (my dad had a rigorously modernist aesthetic so our house was all white and full of Knoll furniture, and my mom has a much more colorful and exuberant spirit so there were lots of Marimekko fabrics and all sorts of groovy bits around. I think my aesthetic is a true fusion of theirs), decorators of yore (David Hicks, Billy Baldwin, Elsie DeWolfe). Some of my influences are less obvious – for instance, the faces for my Muse collection of pottery are inspired by the one-and-only Morgan Fairchild.

DE: Several years ago you hooked up with an organization called Aid for Artisans. Tell us a little about that experience and your involvement with them today.
I’ve been working for many years with a wonderful workshop in Peru that I found through Aid to Artisans, a non-profit organization which connects American designers with artisans in developing countries for a P.C., non-Kathy Lee Gifford kind of relationship.

DE: Speaking of travels, I recently stayed at The Parker in Palm Springs and loved it. What are some of your favorite destinations?
My favorite hotel room is any of the ocean view rooms at The Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. It ain’t the decor (which is rustic and lovely but not earth shattering). It’s the views! There is nothing more sublime than waking up and seeing the spectacular cliff top view. Big Sur is my favorite place on earth and The Post Ranch Inn has just the right sense of place. The architecture and design allows the natural beauty to dominate.
I am also completely and totally obsessed with La Scalinatella hotel in Capri. The hotel lobby, with its tile floors and clover-shaped windows and surreal objects, perfectly captures the dreamy quality of Capri. I love that each object, whether it’s a ’60s ceramic stool shaped like a tassel or a gilded Baroque mirror, is carefully selected, beautiful, and improbable. I think about the lobby often while designing interiors – the Scalinatella’s surreal spirit is inspiring and liberating.

DE: In your company manifesto you say a home should make you happy. Any sage advice you would give our readers in need of a little design therapy?
My motto is, “classical foundation, playful punctuation”. It’s the little gestures – a bright orange lacquer tray, a needlepoint pillow that says “Pill”, a vase covered in breasts – that make a home fun and memorable. Personal style means walking in the front door of a home and feeling happy. Personal style means having a space that’s very comfy but that is filled with stuff that has personal meaning and created by passionate people.

DE: What do you consider life’s greatest luxury?
My bloke, Simon Doonan, our beloved Norwich terrier, Liberace and my pottery wheel.

More Stories

A Second Act

The former wife of the former “Wolf of Wall Street” turns a turbulent past into a therapeutic future.

Eat & Drink, People

Tout Sweet

A few of our baker’s favorite things.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.