There once was a boy from New Jersey who, like other 12-year-old boys and girls, went to a Summer Camp. When asked to choose his next activity, he scanned the room and laid eyes on a certain individual, who just happened to be a pottery teacher. Pottery, he thought. That’s for me. And with an innocent but definite ulterior motive, young Jonathan took to the wheel with the zest that a new student trying to impress a teacher takes. But something happened. The moment he touched the clay he felt a connection. The rest of that summer was spent in a clay-spattered Rush concert tee. All he could think of was clay clay clay.
Fast forward to University, and when he wasn’t studying semiotics and art history, he was potting. A keen interest in early Hip Hop bling, art, fashion and all things Pop Culture saw him creating quilted Chanel-inspired teapots and updated takes on Sevres urns. He was in love with creation, with clay and the wheel. Unfortunately not everyone shared his perspective. His professor took one look at his work and announced “you have no talent, move to New York and become a lawyer”. So, he did.
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A few years into the entertainment industry he had a revelation. He loved pottery and he wasn’t going to let his professor’s opinion stop him doing what he loved. Luckily for us, he returned to pottery and has never left. Now he runs a global business that has expanded beyond pottery to include furniture, soft furnishing and home décor of pretty much every kind. As one of today’s most inspiring and sought-after interior designers, he has been called upon to design some of the coolest homes and commercial spaces, like The Parker in Palm Springs, his current project that he explained involved visions of a giant banana chair, the design thought process of which, no doubt, came from the same place that his irreverent brass Banana Ornament did. His ethos is simple. Design should be a mood enhancer.
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Jonathan Adler brings the same sense of energy, light heartedness and creative ‘boom’ to a room as do the varied pieces from his collection. When he’s not busy building his global empire, opening bespoke JA boutiques in highly glamorous locations, spending time with his equally creative and talented husband Simon Doonan (Creative Director of Barneys New York) or avoiding the viscous Chihuahuas that roam his office space (‘children’ of his oldest serving employee), he’s potting. It’s still his greatest love and an enormous section of his head office is dedicated to a giant kiln. One, which he jokes, is so big that it means they can never really move from the space.
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I was lucky enough to attend an evening with Jonathan at Coco Republic this week, his sole stockist and partner-in-crime in Australia. And whilst I’ve always adored his pieces, having met the energy and honesty behind the brand makes it all make so much more sense.
I couldn’t help but make sure that Rescu. got some of the goss from the designer’s mouth before he departed our shores.
RESCU: How would you describe your work and your aesthetic?
JA: Three words: Modern American Glamour.
RESCU: We love that a brand your size still has a craft-based approach to design.
JA: I am a craftsperson first and foremost. I started as a production potter making everything with my two hands, and this spirit still underlines everything I do. When I look for a workshop to help me make my stuff, I’m looking for those places that are the absolute best at what they do. Things have to be as well made as they are good looking.
RESCU: Your collection is full of spectacular colour and textures. As a designer, are you influenced by trend forecasts or do you work from your own place of creation?
JA: To be honest, I just make what I want to make and hope that everybody else loves it as much as I do. I think people worry about following trends too much; love what you love unapologetically.
RESCU: You have a brilliant manifesto that seems to break all the conventional rules. Are there any Jonathan Adler rules to decorating?
JA: Put all your lights on dimmers. You’ll seem younger and more glamorous than you really are.
RESCU: Do you have an overriding design intent with all your pieces?
JA: I want to make the stuff that your heirs will fight over. If they won’t fight over it, I won’t make it.
RESCU: Have you had the chance to meet with any Australian product or interior designers that you admire? Who and why?
JA: Greg Natale is fab (and I’m not just saying that because he uses a lot of my stuff!). A Greg Natale space has an almost mathematical precision. The layout, the scale, the comfort, the function are all spot on. He uses an economy of gesture: not too much stuff, just the right amount.
RESCU: What advice do you give to people that are told to give up on what they love?
JA: When my pottery teacher in college told me I had no talent and I should move to New York and become a lawyer, it was the best advice I never took. Every creative person needs a naysayer to rebel against.
Jonathan Adler’s bespoke designs are ranged exclusively by Coco Republic. www.cocorepublic.com.au