WRITTEN BY Blair Duwe Farris
In conjunction with The Mint Museum Auxiliary’s Fall Forum last week, I had the pleasure and treat of interviewing Jonathan Adler and his husband Simon Doonan. So many people are familiar with Jonathan Adler and his amazing namesake line of pottery, accessories and more. Since I recently have read articles about him in the Wall Street Journal and numerous shelter magazines, it was a little daunting to come up with something fresh and original to ask him.
Jonathan and Simon are warm, fun and humorous, plus they are always eager to say “yes” to projects that come their way. When I snapped a picture with them they ducked down and said, “We are going to make you look like a goddess.” I’m not sure about the goddess part, but they did make me laugh and look very tall.
Jonathan is a true success story who started small and has grown his business into a worldwide design company. In 1993, Barneys bought his collection of pots, and five years later, he opened his first store in Soho. Pottery continues to be core to Jonathan Adler’s business, which also includes home accessories, decorative objects, tabletop collections, bedding, bath accessories, candles, furniture, rugs, pillows, lighting, fashion accessories and more.
Here’s what Jonathan shared with Peachy, plus a few words from Simon too!
Tell me a little bit about how you like to relax on the weekends.
Vanquish Simon at ping pong! We play a lot of ping pong, and I always win. We are very social and always enjoy having people over for ping pong tournaments. We are unexpectedly sportif! My favorite thing to do is paddleboard for hours. Summers in New York are a paradise for us because it’s a paddleboard opportunity in the Hamptons. Also I’m a huge football fanatic and love the Philadelphia Eagles. Sundays you’ll find me glued to the television, with a sense of optimism in the morning and complete despair at night.
What’s your favorite place to travel for inspiration?
I have a couple of go-to places that I always visit. They tend to be places that are singular and fantastical. Capri is a place I go to again and again! It always amazes me because it’s so dreamy and surreal. It’s a reminder to me to strive to be dreamy and surreal. It’s colorful, it’s rustic, it’s sort of everything. The other place I love is Big Sur, California. It is its own thing. They are both awe-inspiring places! I think on the East Coast you don’t get the sense of scale that you get in those two places.
Tell me a little about your creative process.
It’s unfairly fun. My pottery studio is in my office, and I get to work in so many different media. I get to bounce around and do all different creative stuff throughout the day. But a lot of it still starts in the pottery studio. That’s where it all begins.
So if you’re out traveling and something inspires you, where do you go from there?
I’ll do a little sketch. However, now that the world is mind-blowingly expansive—it’s anything from a sketch to a pin to a collage. I started out as a completely process-based person, craft person making everything myself, but now it’s anything and everything.
How did your partnership with Barneys New York happen?
“That was before we met. I think he shanked his way into Barneys,” Simon says jokingly (Simon is the Creative Ambassador at Large for Barneys). Honestly, I was making pots and unemployed. My parents and shrink were questioning me. So I called up the buyers at Barneys, and they came and bought my pots. As I look back now—22 years later—I can’t believe how naive and guileless I was. I was charging $20 per pot that took me three days to make. But it’s actually great to begin one’s career with a sense of optimism and guilelessness.
Is it true that your studio is called the Fantasy Factory?
We call it the Fantasy Factory. It’s is a cheeky nod to Warhol’s Factory.
What are some of your favorite designs or your iconic designs?
My favorite and hopefully the most iconic are things like my Dora Maar vases or this gigantic brass banana vase. I look for things that are “uncovered” rather than created. That’s when things are at their best. And those pieces capture that.
Do you have any design regrets?
Simon kindly responds, “Jonathan doesn’t have any design regrets because he is such a self-critical editor. He makes the design process seem so relaxed and fun when it’s actually rigorous. I think your only regrets are when you make something extraordinary, and it’s not quite the hit you thought it would be. Those are your only regrets.”
You’ve accomplished so much. Where do you see yourself in the future?
I’m hoping to be more. I don’t have any great master plan, just more.
What advice would you give to young creatives?
My advice is to not be hard on yourself, to be wild and don’t have your life all figured out at a young age. At the age of 26, I didn’t have my life figured out. So just don’t think about it, go for it and have fun!!