Our cup completely runneth over for the work of ceramic-textile-knick-knack-genius Jonathan Adler. He lives in Greenwich Village with better half (his words) Simon Doonan, but says he’s an Anglophile… So come on Jonathan, when can the UK have its own store? This, and other questions, answered below…
Your day begins with… Breakfast with my sublime husband Simon Doonan and our naughty Norwich terrier, Liberace.
Then it’s off to the studio, what’s that like? Such a mess, a total disaster. It looks like an episode of Hoarders. I have the best-looking design office that we kitted out and made really nice, and then we had the intention of everybody clearing their desk at the end of the day, no-one eating smelly food, and now it’s mayhem. You could say the rules have relaxed.
For the uninitiated, describe the Jonathan Adler signature style. Hardy Amies was once asked why he dressed the queen in colourful and approachable ensembles rather than high fashion, and his answer was quite profound. ‘There is an unkindness to chic, and the queen must never appear unkind.’ Chic design is often elitist, snobbish and off-putting. I hate that. So my mission in life is to achieve the impossible and combine chic design with happy design. As for my nuts and bolts design vocabulary, I am definitely rooted in Modernism, but in a maximalist way. I mix bold colors, groovy graphics and modern forms together in my mental blender.
What was your big break? 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, and I finally showed them to a buyer at Barneys. I got an order and filled it, then got another order. It just grew organically and without any kind of plan.
Which other potters or ceramicists do you admire and why? I am madly, deeply, truly, and passionately in love with Hans Coper. His forms and finishes are perfection. He has been a huge influence on me. I am also mad for Bjorn Wiinblad and Stig Lindberg, both mid-century Scandinavian designer/potters whose work is simultaneously gorgeous and cheeky. I try to make pots that are unimpeachably chic and infectiously joyous; Wiinblad and Lindberg both pulled off that combination magnificently. As for designers, I absolutely adore David Hicks. Obviously his graphics and color sense are worthy of worship, but what I particularly love about his work is the way he mixed styles, pairing traditional with modernism with classicism with whatever he felt like and always did it with a sense of boldness and confidence. I don’t believe in strict adherence to any particular style, I believe that you should surround yourself with the stuff you love and you should do so with confidence and I think David Hicks showed how mix and match with panache. And I love Paul Smith. I tell you, it’s his clothes, his spirit – he’s such an inspiration.
Do you have a favourite design among all of your work? That is an impossible question! My design vocabulary is kinda’ weird and diverse and some of it is influenced by and in dialogue with designs of yore (I think my Lantern collection is a perfect example of that, in that it is an homage to George Nelson’s hanging lamps) and some of my work is sui generis and just plucked from my little old brain. Perhaps my Muse collection… It really changes every day.
Love your new cushions [above], where did the inspiration come from? As someone who started out as a potter I’m obsessed with craft, and I love the idea of referencing traditional techniques with a modern tweak. Like the cushions, they draw on a type of embroidery called bargella, we just tried to f**k it up a little.
Oh, and the new brass pieces are rather delicious. Yes, I am a bit obsessed with those. There is something very special about how brass sparkles.
Whose place would you love to design? The White House would be fun, to give it a bit more joie de vivre.
Do you play music when you work? I’m a fairly schizophrenic designer and I think you’d find the same schizophrenia in my music taste. At the pottery wheel I am no stranger to Joni Mitchell, there’s been many a day spent listening to Joni Mitchell wearing my Birkenstocks, but then I also don’t mind a bit of gansta rap every now and again.
When you’re not designing, you love to… Play ping pong. I would encourage everyone to run out and buy a ping pong table and play with their better halves after a long day at work. Simon and I hit the table as soon as we come home and play a heated game which usually results in us just thwapping the ball at each other. It’s the ultimate stress-reducer. And you should all see a 1972 film called Zee and Co. The opening credits are a slow-mo ping pong match between Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine – they’re incredible, and the interiors and costumes are absolutely beyond.
Do you collect anything? Everything and nothing. I go through periods of collecting (Bjorn Wiinblad, Murano clowns, lucite boxes, outsider portraiture) and de-accessioning. My poor husband has gotten quite used to things coming and going from our house all the time.
Describe your perfect weekend. Going to the beach house on Shelter Island and vegetating with Simon and Liberace, we’re just very content. The Island is an oasis of calm. It’s five minutes by ferry from the glitzy Hamptons but feels like a different world, very casual and undeveloped. It’s actually quite popular with Brits because it’s kind of reminiscent of the British countryside. Our house there is a rustic modern beach shack and we love it.
In another life, you would like to have been… A professional basketball or tennis player. I am in awe of the physical magnificence and mental stamina of athletes!
What can’t you live without? Other than my husband and my dog? Honestly? Roast chicken and apple pie.
Speaking of food, do you love to cook? I do. Simon and I both like really simple fish, chicken and vegetables, no foam or jus. And no stacks. British food is fantastic right now, I like the food there more than anywhere else, even more than Paris. I think they’ve lost their way – they’ve stopped just serving normal, delicious brasserie food.
What’s in your bookmark bar? I look at blogs and find that I disappear down the black hole of the internet instead of doing my work, I think it might be the end of me. There’s a site called The Daily Puppy, it looks like a newspaper but it’s pictures of puppies. It’s unbearable. Unhappy Hipsters is genius, and there’s a defunct blog which was my favourite one ever – Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians. I spend so much time online. I’m so easily distracted, almost ADD. Simon is the least ADD person I’ve ever known, he can just sit down and write for four hours straight without checking his emails – it’s really annoying. Also when he wakes up in the middle of the night or in the morning his hair is always perfect – everything about him is unbearable the more I think about it.
What’s coming up? My main focus and passion is designing, so always designing more and more, if I have more time I do interior design, but also opening more stores, we’re just opening our 14th store in America, in Atlanta.
And any plans for a UK store by any chance? Yes, we’re looking at specific sites right now, so watch this space.
Interview by Bethan Ryder, news editor