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April 12, 2011

Jonathan Adler

An exclusive interview with the mad potter and king of quips

By Nancy Staab

  • Portrait and Shop Photo by Ben Rose

Westside just got a bit groovier with the addition of Adler’s happy-chic emporium. Consider it Prozac for your pad!

Shop Profile:

Jonathan Adler Jonathan Adler

Designer Jonathan Adler, the mod potter and mate to window dresser d’jour Simon Doonan, recently expanded his “happy-chic” empire to Atlanta—and we couldn’t be happier. Jonathan Adler's 3,000 square-foot shop has taken up residence in a Westside space next to the addictive Taqueria del Sol--and no doubt Adler’s delicious designer wares will soon be as irresistible as his neighbor’s fried chicken tacos. A modernist-chic sensibility paired with a healthy dose of cheeky humor, whimsy, color and Pop references pervades Adler’s glossy boutique. His first design book was entitled My Prescriptions for Anti-Depressive Living and, likewise, his playful ceramics; wink-wink accessories like a cowhide rug bearing the Union Jack pattern or a striped cookie jar labeled “Puppy Uppers;” and punchy accessories in fluorescents positively radiate good cheer.

We love his Palm Beachy hot pink and Hermés-orange lacquer trays, flippantly-phrased post-it notes, and geometric Richard Nixon rugs. His furnishings are ultra-chic and modern—from a pristine white lacquer Channing Desk and velvety Lampert Sofa, to baroque-scrolled wallpapers.

And did we mention that his own Greenwich Village pad, shared with Doonan and terrier pup Liberace (and documented by that ultimate chronicler of hipster tribes The Selby), boasts a paisley covered ping-pong table in the living room? As interior designer Bill Sofield declared, “Jonathan Adler does for American pottery what Noel Coward did for cocktail parties—he makes life witty, sophisticated, and simply delicious.” Read on for Adler’s own take on life in the fab lane in our exclusive interview with the cheeky ceramicist.

Jonathan Adler Store, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta Ga 30318,

Exclusive: Adler Ad Libs

What is it about pottery that captures your fancy?

I ain't very spiritual, but when I first tried pottery at summer camp when I was 12, I felt an instant spiritual connection to clay. The pots that I made during the beginning of my love affair with clay were not too dissimilar from what I make today. I've always been drawn to gourd shaped pots and sinuous, almost gravity-defying, curves.

Favorite design rule which you gleefully enjoy breaking?

That colors can clash. Colors can't clash, they just have giddy spats occasionally.

What is your stance on kitsch?

Kitsch is one of the seven deadly sins and should be avoided! I think people often confuse quirky with kitschy and the difference comes down to quality and craft. I believe that objects should be interesting and unusual and unexpected, but that they should also be beautiful and well-made. Pink Flamingos on a front lawn? Hate them. But give me quirky beauty any day.

Is there ever a place for beige in your definition of chic?

Absolutely! In my book Happy Chic Colors, I celebrate the majesty of natural colors and materials in a chapter called "Chambeige," which is about how to give beige a buzz. I love wood and concrete and terra cotta (I am, after all, a potter) either in a somber environment or as a backdrop for pops of bright color.

Why did you select Atlanta for your next boutique location and do you have any favorite Atlanta haunts?

I love Atlanta and I always have a blast when I'm there. The home stores are unparalled--Belvedere and Pieces are incredible! And the eateries ain't bad either. And y'all are fun, fun, fun. As for the exact location of my new boutique, it's no accident that it's next to Taqueria del Sol and Star Provisions and Sid Mashburn. I have done some serious damage to my waistline and my wallet at those fine establishments.

The Channing
Desk The Channing Desk

You spent some time in the movie business. Which films most influence you style wise?

My canon would include Pillow Talk, The Graduate, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Valley of the Dolls, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Auntie Mame, North by Northwest, Rosemary's Baby, The Party, and about 9 billion other movies. I'm a raging cinephile and love to find inspiration from movies.

Any guilty pleasure television?

I have an unhealthy addiction to grim reality television. My holy trinity of must-see TV is Hoarders, Lock Up and Intervention.

You seem to gravitate to the groovy '60s and pop '70s. What is it about these periods that float your boat? Do you covet anything from Mad Men’s set design ?

I grew up in the '70s in a groovy modernist pad which continues to inspire me to this day. As for Mad Men, Don Draper has some fierce lamps that I've got my eye on.

Tell me a bit about your interior designs for the Parker Palm Springs hotel and the high roller suites at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas, which must have called for some over-the-top embellishments:

Well, "High Roller Suites" kind of says it all, doesn't it? What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas so I can't discuss it. I'll just say that it was a really fun chance to go mad and make an over-the-top, decadent statement. At the Parker Palm Springs I took a more nuanced approach. I wanted the property to feel like a country estate of an eccentric glamourpuss. I invented a fictitious muse, Mrs. Parker, as my client and designed the property with her in mind.

You have a paisley ping pong table in the Greenwich village apartment you share with Simon Doonan (famously documented by The Selby) as well as garden gnomes, mid-century modern furnishings, abstract paintings, a bust of Michael Jackson and an assortment of “mantiques”: what’s your philosophy on mixing it up with abandon, yet making it work?

I truly feel that if you love it, it will work. When designing an eclectic interior, it helps to stick with arranging the furniture with a strict formality. It serves as a calming backdrop and allows the colors and accessories to pop.

You’ve rolled out a full line of happy chic décor and furniture, a children’s collection, books, scads of 21st century accessories like post-its and iPhone covers, plus a ceramic coffee cup for Starbucks, jeans for Seven For All Mankind, and a dream house for Barbie. You also served as a judge on Bravo’s Top Design. What would be the next dream expansion to your empire?

To design an airline from top to bottom--or should I say from flight attendant, around the kiosk and to the rudder.

Is there a future book or movie in the works about you and your celebrated marriage with Barney’s creative director Simon Doonan? If so, who should play each of you on the big screen?

No, but obviously I would be played by George Clooney and Simon would be played by Michael Caine circa Blame it on Rio.

What career would you have taken up if the pottery and décor thing had not worked out?

I am unemployable. It was pottery or bust. And I'm not kidding--I was fired from every job I ever had after a couple of months.

Do you have a fantasy retirement vision or will you be making outrageously clever pots into your golden years?

Once a potter, always a potter. However, I wouldn't say no to a potter’s wheel overlooking The Faraglioni in Capri.

Our Favorite Maxim(um)s From Adler’s Happy Chic Design Manifesto

We believe minimalism is a bummer

Hand-crafted tchotchkes are life-enhancing

We believe in Palm Beach style: Louis chairs, chinoiserie, Lilly Pulitzer, The Breakers circa ’72

We believe you should throw out your Blackberry and go pick some actual blackberries

We believe Atlanta is chic

We believe in being over-dressed or under-dressed always

We believe in our muses: David Hicks, Alexander Girard, Bonnie Cashin, Hans Coper, Gio Ponti, Andy Warhol, Leroy Neiman, Yves Saint Laurent, Madonna

We believe in irreverent luxury