Jonathan Adler started out as a humble potter, and then exploded into a powerhouse design brand, all in a few short years. Now a designer with a slew of collaborations, books, 24 homewares stores bearing his name, and a thriving e-commerce site, Adler is also lead judge on Bravo's Top Design. His trademark is colour ("minimalism is a bummer") and an exuberant approach to life. Adler spoke at Toronto's Design Exchange this past week, so we asked him about his unique design philosophy.
Adler, the author of the Happy Chic books recommends peppering every room in the home — including the kitchen — with little surprises and exclamation marks of colour. "I wanted my new [100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life] book to be as much a lifestyle bible as a decorating bible. My approach to decorating — to be chic, bold, memorable — is the same way I think people should live their lives. As Auntie Mame said, 'Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.'"
Adler's limited-edition line for Kohler puts high-octane hues where you least expect them, the ever-so-pristine kitchen sink. And we aren't talking safe sorbet shades. "Each colour comes from a locale that inspires me. Greenwich Green is like the manicured lawns of an English estate — this is not dull avocado green. So crisp and refreshing you can taste it. There's a very mod quality to Piccadilly yellow, especially when paired with white. Palermo blue is a nice, crisp light blue and is cool and refreshing like taking a dip in the Mediterranean itself. Annapolis Navy epitomizes nautical chic. It pairs so well with other bold colours." He has a green sink in his own Shelter Island, NY vacation home, which he says sparks a lot of envy, and admittedly, the candy-like shades do make a stack of dirty dishes soaking in the suds look better.
Adler launched his first ceramic collection in 1994 at Barneys New York (he lives in New York City with his partner, Barneys' creative ambassador Simon Doonan and their Norwich Terrier, Liberace). He's gone on to create pillows, gifts, tabletop collections, bedding, furniture, rugs, and lighting for his standalone shops, and made a recent foray into handbags. "The more I make, the more I want to make. Design is about problem solving; there are always some welcome requirements for doing what I do."
"I want to live my life in spaces of note, not tepid décor," says Adler. "Scale should always be improbable… and make your world weird." His design of this triplex for a New York client illustrates Adler's love of mid-century modern art and global pop culture. He combines a serious design philosophy with a sense of optimism. His company's guiding motto is: "If your heirs won't fight over it, we won't make it."
Adler is a teetotaler, but his work often incorporates drug references. "Design can make you more sizzling than you are," he says. "I like eccentricity and eclecticism. Humour is sorely lacking in design." If you want a giggle, read a timeline of Adler's creative odyssey. Here's an excerpt: 2006: Turns 40. Reluctantly relinquishes ingénue status. Suddenly needlepoint obsession becomes less ironic and more age appropriate.
Read another interview with Jonathan Adler from our December 2010 issue.