Apartment Therapy Offline: Jonathan Adler

Apartment Therapy Offline: Jonathan Adler

Aaron Able
Dec 17, 2010

• What: Apartment Therapy's New York Design Meetup
• December Guest: Jonathan Adler
AT Offline: The NY Design Meetup
Attendance: 230+


This month's Apartment Therapy Meetup filled the Knoll showroom to capacity with the return of one of Apartment Therapy's favorite guests — Jonathan Adler! To start off the evening, we had a twist on the usual "warm up band" — three designers had five minutes to present their product to the group; at the end of all three presentations, audience "cheers" declared the evening's winner. The one to receive the loudest "votes" for his/her idea will receive special mention on Apartment Therapy this month. Mentions on Apartment Therapy are far-reaching (last month's presentation of Jeremy Pickett's BRANN Pendant Lights was picked up by Martha Stewart's team, who asked to feature Jeremy's pendant lights in next month's issue!) so this opportunity is a great one for all aspiring designers. Sign up to present your idea during our monthly Meetups to gain access to Apartment Therapy's far-reaching audience!

Ana Linares presented her Duo Bookshelf, inspired by Calatrava's work, light sculptures, and various forms of bent and scored paper. The bookshelf appears to float on the wall, with only two points touching the books. Ana's chair was selected this year by Design Within Reach for their annual M+D+F competition.

Daniel Greenfield presented his String Chair, developed from his love of laser-cutting and model-making. The clean-lined, flip-reversible chair — made of a front piece, two side braces, louvered side slots, and string — can be customized for each client by mixing and matching the strings.

Yury Gitman, Artist-Turned-Product-Designer, presented his Flickering Candelabra, described as "geek chic and ironically cool" by Amazon. The LED-accent lighting is powered by an exposed circuit board (becoming the candelabra in this case), with a custom-programmed lighting show, making the lights flicker naturally, at random. Yuri's Company, Banana Design Lab LLC, has used microchips to custom program other products they've designed, like the My "Little" Beating Heart pillow and Fireplace Simulacra.

While all three designers received loud cheers from the group, the evening's clear winner was Ana's Duo Bookshelf. Congratulations, Ana!


MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Tonight we're welcoming back one of our favorite guest designers — Jonathan Adler. Sixteen years ago, Jonathan was thrilled to receive his first order from Barney's. Today, he runs an internationally recognized home and lifestyle brand, offering everything from his well-known pottery, to tabletop, furniture, lighting, bedding, pillows & throws, and bath accessories, to name a few. He's known for "a design aesthetic which pairs modernist forms with bold colors and groovy graphics". His Company motto — "If your heirs won't fight over it, we won't make it" — is a fun-and-catchy statement which also reflects Jonathan's commitment to craftsmanship and quality.

Welcome back to our Meetup. So it's been a big year since we last spoke with you. Three months ago, I received an email about your book tour, inviting us along. While I couldn't make it, I was thrilled about the invite, and the fact that you were sharing your design wisdom with the world. Tell us a bit about the books.

JONATHAN ADLER: I just came out with two new books — Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Colors and Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Accessorizing. I wanted the books to be an affordable and accessible way to spread my design philosophy of "95% chic, 5% happy". I strived to make things communicative — design often doesn't do this, but it's something that's very important to me. Whether I'm designing stationery, pillows, pottery, or an interior — I want it to communicate something to the viewer. These books are the first in the "Happy Chic" series I'll be rolling out over time.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Other designers would do a big coffee table book — why this format?

JONATHAN ADLER: I already did my "Ta Da" book five years ago. These books are more of a mid-career communication tool. I want to make it easy for people to strive to make beautiful interiors and objects — and to have fun in the process.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: It seems like you want to be more accessible than others (like your Bravo cohorts).

JONATHAN ADLER: My career has reached grand places, but I don't want to be grand. As we talked about last time, I started off with my pottery studio, and that was it — I had no money, and I just worked and worked, making things that were beautiful to me. Actually, when I first started I just had my pottery wheel and taught classes — the studio came next, but it was still a long way from where I am now. I'm always panic-stricken, like all of this can come to a screeching halt at any time. Thus, I tend to say "Yes" to everything, and because of that, the company has grown in directions I never imagined.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Were you comfortable on the book tour?

JONATHAN ADLER: Absolutely — I love talking about myself! But to be honest, book tours can be difficult. Sometimes you show up and there are only three people there. You just have to keep a missionary zeal about each appearance to keep yourself going.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Did you discover any fascinating facts — from a design-perspective — about the rest of the US?

JONATHAN ADLER: Well, thanks to sites like Apartment Therapy, many people are now into design, and feel that it's more accessible than it once was. People's attitudes really don't change by region — design seems to have reached a level of accessibility on a national scale.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So your "Happy Chic" motto is translating across all regions?

JONATHAN ADLER: Yes. People are into quirky fun.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: You told me the other day that when you're successful you can be more quirky.

JONATHAN ADLER: It's true. Like the banana bud vase. Or the butter dish shaped like a wing tip. My quirkiness has grown with the company — it's made me bold and adventurous. And it resonates with people, so why not? I love making more and more stuff, and I worry a bit less about how it's received now that the company has grown.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Do you think the time we're in now helps influence this?

JONATHAN ADLER: In the (Happy Chic Colors) book, I talk a lot about each color and my thoughts on it. For example, Chambeige, which is my version of beige, with a little bit of fizz. Of course I love stoneware colors (natural colors) given my pottery background, but vibrant and "fizzy" colors are just so much fun, and they go with my quirky instinct.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Tell us a little bit about the three new corporate relationships you are starting next year.

JONATHAN ADLER: I've got a fabric line starting with Kravet, lighting with Robert Allen, and Crystal with Steuben. So you see these relationships and think more traditional, but the products will have my design aesthetic fully incorporated. My design idol is Paul Smith. I met him once, and I just love him. He just makes a ton of stuff, and has such a giggly enthusiasm for what he does. And he has a signature look — you know it's a Paul Smith design no matter what the product or relationship. I hope to keep up a similar spirit in these new relationships.


JONATHAN ADLER: These are images of projects that are featured in the books.

JONATHAN ADLER: This is a rustic modern beach house in New England. This interior is about the love of natural materials, and, as with every project, I wanted to make sure it really connected with and meant something to this particular client; the peacock mirror, Knoll leather sofa, and the colorful Baroque chair at the end, which we recovered in a vintage Jack Larsen fabric. These all speak to the client's interests and tastes.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What's vintage in this interior?

JONATHAN ADLER: The leather Knoll sofa, the mirror, the Spanish Baroque end chair, and the other dining chairs — these are all vintage finds. Believe it or not, I don't like to spend a ton of money on projects. It just appears too overdone if you do.

JONATHAN ADLER: This is another room in the same house. I had this 15' Chesterfield sofa made. This area of the house has a very traditional look, but we threw in a (Warren) Platner chair to give it a Modern edge.

Jonathan Adler Products

JONATHAN ADLER: These are some of my products that relate to this interior.

JONATHAN ADLER: The office in this same project.

Jonathan Adler Products

JONATHAN ADLER: Products that relate to this part of the project.

Townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan

JONATHAN ADLER: In my books I discuss three of my design tenets: Pop, Organic, and Deluxe. Each of these projects represents one of these concepts. The first one was Organic. This one is clearly Pop. The big splurges in this room are the Hand Chairs designed by Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg. They definitely add the pop in this interior.


JONATHAN ADLER: I made this cabinet for the interior — very Surrealist-esque, to go along with other items in the home. The drawer pulls are in the shape of tongues! And the Prada bag on the floor is a sculptural piece that makes a great statement in the entryway. Again, here's the Pop for this part of the house. For the stairs, I created a rug runner that has the client's name on it in an elaborate pattern.

Jonathan Adler Products

JONATHAN ADLER: Products that relate to this project. I love drugs and design a lot of products around them, even though I don't do them myself.

Master Bedroom

JONATHAN ADLER: You'll see tiny versions of the Prada bag around the bedroom.

Jonathan Adler Products

JONATHAN ADLER: This shows the bold use of color that was used in and inspired this particular project.

Client's Son's Bedroom

JONATHAN ADLER: The client's teenage son really wanted the bedroom to be "on" — a real 70's shag pad is the theme we went with. We created a platform bed that turns into a sofa (a very 70's furniture design), the "M A X" table (named after the bedroom's resident), a gun lamp, and artwork by Terry Richardson. The client was fun and bold, and she loved what we did with the bedroom.

Another view of the living room

JONATHAN ADLER: I love using neon — it's inexpensive and packs a punch. I asked the client for some words and phrases to describe herself — we picked one to use as neon word art.

Deluxe project — Penthouse, Upper West Side of Manhattan

JONATHAN ADLER: Here's an example of a Deluxe project. This is the entryway to the house. I went with feminine twinkly glamour, with tiles glazed in real platinum throughout the entryway.

"Twinkly" Jonathan Adler Products

Living Room

JONATHAN ADLER: I love floating furniture. Here, we used a round rug and floated the furniture within it.

Dining Room

Jonathan Adler Products


JONATHAN ADLER: The client wanted a hotel-level of glamour.

Jonathan Adler Vase

JONATHAN ADLER: One of my recent product creations, and a good reflection of my overall "Happy Chic" attitude towards design.

Q & A

Q: Where do you get the most inspiration?

JONATHAN ADLER: In my constant state of panic, and the realization that I have many (employee) mouths to feed, I just continue to create! But really, editing is the biggest challenge for me, not the process of creating. Inventory, production — it's quite a task for my team. In reality, I'm very analytical and logical, so I find that having stores really helps with planning things out and editing what should be displayed when and where.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: At the NYIGF show in 2009, we saw more Jonathan Adler product than ever. Even in a tough year, you continued to produce.

JONATHAN ADLER: I just had to. Recessions are a drag. Abundance is so much more fun!

Q: Where do you find your manufacturers?

JONATHAN ADLER: I've been at this for a long time. At first, it was just me, designing and manufacturing my pots. As I grew, I started to search around and reach out to others. Aid to Artisans was a huge help when I got to that bigger stage. Now, I work with agents who find manufacturers for me. But it does take some time during that middle stage as you are continuing to grow.

Q: You started with pottery, but do you have larger products in the works?

JONATHAN ADLER: I have some now, and I am planning more for the future — furniture and lighting, to name a few.

Q: When you reach this level of notoriety, what becomes the worst part of your day?

JONATHAN ADLER: My job is great. Honestly, besides going to the gym (a drag), my days are pretty fabulous. I suppose if I stayed really involved in the more operational parts of the business I would get very frustrated. But I leave that to others, so I can focus on creating the products that drive the company.

Q: You make bold statements with your choices of art that's incorporated in your projects. How do you make those decisions?

JONATHAN ADLER: The bold part is easy. I hate really pricey art — I don't want just dollars hanging on a wall. So I look for art that catches the eye and makes a statement, not just who made it or what it sells for.

Q: How do you decide what to make, and how much of it to make?

JONATHAN ADLER: In actuality, I don't make huge quantities of anything. I make a lot of different products, but I don't make a lot of each one. As I said earlier, inventory and production are a nightmare in the company — I try to stay out of that, but as it is, I know how difficult it is to manage so many different SKUs.

Q: I was recently in your new Madison Avenue store (Manhattan), and fell in love with the fabric room in the back. It's a difficult space to work with — similar to a room in my apartment — and the treatment of it was just perfect.

JONATHAN ADLER: Oh, I love how that room came out. We have Ben, one of my employees, to thank for that. In that store there is a little sliver of a room in the back, and Ben personally draped the fabric in the room for that installation. It's really a folly of a studio-sized space. A "prison cell"-sized room, if you will.

Q: You've been talking a lot about your reluctance towards using expensive art in your interiors. What is the most expensive piece of art in your own home?

JONATHAN ADLER: Probably the painting of Sly Stone from the 70's, done by Ed Paschke.

Q: How did you decide to focus on product versus interiors?

JONATHAN ADLER: Product design is my every day job. Interiors are considered more fun projects that are done on the side. Having retail shops definitely allows for a great interior design outlet on a regular basis.

Q: Are you willing to take risks in launching subdivisions of your brand?

JONATHAN ADLER: Yes. With every success, we see 8-10 failures, that's just how it goes. But we continue to explore these types of opportunities. For example, I sell my Happy Chic line on the Home Shopping Network, which is a whole different way to sell, and a very different consumer relationship.

Q: Are you thinking about having your own show on HGTV?

JONATHAN ADLER: Who knows. TV is fun. I wouldn't rule it out.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for an aspiring interior design business owner?

JONATHAN ADLER: Keep costs down. Watch every penny at the beginning. And grow slowly.

Thank you Jonathan!

Congratulations to the two winners who each received copies of Jonathan's new books, along with a Jonathan Adler vase! Our monthly event sponsor, September Wines, also gave away a $100 gift certificate!

• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!

• Special thanks to our volunteers Lisa Hunt, Gabriel Sperber and Nick Gelbard!

• Special thanks to Knoll for welcoming our Meetup to their showroom!

• Special thanks to our wine sponsor, September Wine & Spirits!

NEXT MEETUP: January 12th, 2011 Balancing Family & Business: How Designers Do It

moving--truck moving--dates moving--dolly moving--house moving--cal Created with Sketch. moving--apt