The CultureMap Interview

Irreverent design dynamo Jonathan Adler unleashes his inner Kardashian for the holidays

Irreverent design dynamo unleashes his inner Kardashian for holidays

Jonathan Adler
"I’m literally the least hedonistic person on earth. I’m super clean living. I don’t drink, don’t take drugs. My id is purely expressed in décor,” says Jonathan Adler. Photo by Maura McEvoy
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler's objects begin life as ceramic models before being cast in a way that the designer says, “looks uncovered instead of created.”
Jonathan Adler
The designer’s oversized Lucite pills were an unexpected hit this year.  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Adler’s latest arty pillows add a pop of color to the home. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Both chic and cozy, Adler suggests, “You can’t go wrong with one of our baby Alpaca throws.” Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Adler’s range of coasters are the perfect hostess gifts. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Adler recently installed his first-ever sculpture at the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs.  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler
Jonathan Adler

Design dynamo Jonathan Adler has made an empire out of his instantly recognizable aesthetic. Chic, colorful, and occasionally cartoony, his collections of furniture, accessories, and rugs are influenced equally by Mid-century classics and pop art iconography. 

In Dallas recently for a shopping event benefiting UNICEF, Adler waxed rhapsodic on his more-equals-more approach that makes this the merriest of seasons for the interior inclined. 

“I’m not so much about red and green; I’m more about oodles of bold brights and limitless amounts of gold,” he said, looking over his McKinney Avenue boutique chock-full of jewel-toned couches and hand-beaded pillows. (He also has a Houston store in West Ave.)

“I feel like the holidays are the moment to channel your inner Kardashian and unleash it. Vulgarity doesn’t exist during the holidays, and there’s never enough. You have a hall pass to be as vulgar as you want!” 

Growing up Jewish, the designer admitted he “comes at the holidays with a vengeance, to make up for lost time. I’ve devoted my life to being a holiday elf — I spend all year long slaving away to try and make gifts that will make other people’s holidays happy, and I think I’ve done it this year.” 

Adler’s irreverent sensibility is apparent in everything his does, from needlepoint pillows stitched with smoking mouths to brass jewelry dishes shaped like the world’s most glamorous menagerie. He’s not afraid to shy away from a touch of the politically incorrect, either — drug references abound, such as with his oversized Lucite pills that were such a hit for the season, they’re almost sold out. 

“I think we’re waiting for someone to unleash a little loucheness and irreverence,” he said. “The hilarious thing is, I’m literally the least hedonistic person on earth. I’m super clean living. I don’t drink, don’t take drugs. My id is purely expressed in décor.” 

Fascinated with pottery since the age of 12, Adler committed himself to design in his late 20s, eventually expanding into textiles and furniture after opening his first SoHo store in 1998. Every line, stitched or sculptural, is carefully considered during his creation process, and although he works in many mediums, most items begin their life as a clay object that is then reinterpreted or cast in materials such as brass and Lucite.

The designer still spends a healthy chunk of every day at his potter’s wheel, and he also takes his work home in order to see how it functions in the real world. 

“I'm on a psychic journey of highs and lows. I’ll sit in a chair and say, ‘Oh, I fucked this up, the pitch is wrong,’ but I have to test drive everything,” he said.

Citing Alexander Girard, Paul Smith, and Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo as design heroes, Adler mines some of the same outlier territory both prolifically and playfully. Although even the most prosaic of objects, such as a set of coasters, becomes thought-provoking in Adler’s hands, he’s very clear that what he does is commerce, not art. 

Recently he had the opportunity to blow up one of his iconic brass bananas into his first 7-foot-tall sculpture for the grounds of the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, California. Adler said he’d love to be “a quillionaire” in order to continue to make larger works, but he has zero desire to commit himself to crafting the same ideas over and over.

“As a designer, I get to make hundreds of new things every second, and they can be good, bad, silly serious, and anything in between,” he said. “I see no difference between a sculptural object and a functional object. They’re all the same to me. Deep thoughts from a shallow potter!”