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Interior Design

Jonathan Adler on the Point of Decorating

We chatted with the famed interior designer about Dallas, design trends, underrated styles, going bonkers in the foyer, and much more.
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Jonathan Adler. Courtesy of Jonathan Adler

For all its wily ways, the internet does have its positives. So says interior designer and potter Jonathan Adler, who opened his largest store in the old J. Crew space in the West Village in 2021. Sure, our brains have been turned to mush, but “the chaos of the internet has made it possible for all trends to live simultaneously.” 

Meaning: Year-end trend reports of “what’s in,” which is what I initially set out to question Adler about, are somewhat obsolete. “There’s no imperious style-setter making everyone feel intimidated and depressed,” he says. If you like a specific design style, there’s a corner of the internet just for you. We’re living in an “anything goes” era, and he’s here for it. 

So, while I did manage to sneak in a few trend questions (he loves white bouclé fabric), I chatted with Adler about what pieces everyone should have in their homes, styling tips, his love affair with Dallas, and more. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

D Magazine: You’ve described your brand’s style as “unified by a spirit of impeccable craftsmanship, American optimism, and memorable glamour.” But in a Washington Post Live Q&A you did earlier this year, someone brought up magical realism. Could you speak on that?

Jonathan Adler: Well, briefly, I used to not be a huge fan of magical realist fiction, and then when I started going to Peru a lot to work on pottery—I have a workshop down there that makes all my pottery—I discovered that Peru and Latin America comes by the magical realist fiction that it’s known for quite naturally because just weird stuff happens. For me, I think the way magical realism is relevant to my work is that I think magical realism is like real life cranked up to 11. It’s just very extra. I think that in magical realist fiction, writers give themselves the latitude to be really extra, and I tried to do the same in my design. 

D: You started your career in pottery. Besides vases or dishware, what are a few unexpected pottery pieces you think everyone should have in their home?

JA: I think that an animal sculpture is always a good ceramic item to have in your home. First of all, they’re just great objects for visual punctuation. And I also think that depictions of animals trigger emotional feelings of joy. So, I think everyone should have a ceramic animal sculpture. And a booze decanter. I think it just adds an element of glamour to your liquor story.

D: What other home decor pieces should everyone have? 

JA: Well, continuing with the decanter theme—and this is quite ironic coming from a teetotaler, which I am, I’m like a very clean-living teetotaler—but I think everyone should have a bar cart in their house. A bar cart, well stocked, says to people, “I am welcoming, I care about my guests, and I am glamorous and swanky.” So, I think a bar cart is a must because everyone wants to seem a little bit swanky.

D: I also have a bar cart that I barely use [laughs]. I want to seem cooler than I actually am.

JA: To me, when people say ,“oh, what’s the point of decorating?” I’m like, “the whole point is to make you seem a little more interesting and a little more glamorous and a little more fun than you actually are.”

Little punches of color are like an electric shock to a room.

Jonathan Adler

D: What advice do you have for someone styling a colorful space? 

JA: I think people think of me as a mad color guy, but I’m really not. Most of my work starts with a foundation of black and white. Now I use a lot of just white walls, dark floors—black and white is at the center of everything I do. And I think color is a great way to just add light to a space with small accessories. The obvious one is pillows. But I think little punches of color are like an electric shock to the room. And again, I don’t think that one needs to overdose on color to get the benefits. 

D: Where should people go all in with design, and where should they pare it back?

JA: I think a powder room is a great place to do something bonkers. And I also like to make a statement in a foyer. I feel like the decorating of the house or space should unfold like an essay. When we’re taught writing an essay in school, you have the introduction, which explains and encapsulates what’s to come. To me, it’s like the foyer. I think we should treat the foyer the way you treat an introduction: as a as a distillation of the magic that is going to unfold as one moves through the space. So go bonkers in the foyer.

D: Are there any design styles you think are underrated? 

JA: There are so many styles and eras from the past that I’m always mining and looking to for inspiration. And one of my favorites, and it’s an obscure kind of style, I guess, is psychedelic Victoriana. Which is the style of San Francisco in the ’60s—that style taking something really old and traditional and just painting it deranged colors and lots of glossy black. So yeah, I think psychedelic Victoriana to me is a style that should always be on the menu.

D: Are there any trends within your own work that you’re excited about for next year?

JA: I’m first and foremost a craftsperson. I started out as a full-time potter, and craft is at the center of everything I do. And I find myself actually working a lot more with natural materials, like oak. I’m sort of having oak and stoneware and celebrating craft and materiality. You know, I’m doing a lot of oak furniture with the bouclé upholstery.

D: Your Dallas shop is the largest Jonathan Adler store in the world. Can you talk to me about Dallas?  

JA: So many great things in my life have happened to me courtesy of Dallasites. One of my very first breaks as a potter was when Todd Oldham gave me an order. And Carlos Falchi, who’s a late, great Dallasite, gave me an order. I had lots of friends from college who were from Dallas. To me, Dallas has always been about the people that are just friendly, optimistic, and want to help. It’s just one of the most optimistic places I’ve ever been to in my life. So, I’ve always had kind of a love affair with Dallas and Dallasites. 

D: What sets Dallas style apart from other cities like New York or Chicago or even London and Paris?

JA: Well, you guys are blessed with more space, he said jealously. Blessed with more space. And so, I think that there’s just there’s more of [style]. And it always looks to me a little more enviable and glamorous than anywhere else. 

D: For my final question, I’m going to ask you something I’m sure you’ve been asked before, so I apologize. 

JA: [Is] this one about how do I manage to look so incredibly young and fit?

D: Well, if you want to answer that, you can totally go for it.

JA: [Laughs.] I assumed that was going to be the question.

D: What inspires your design? And does your personal style differ from your brand’s style at all?

JA: People ask me all the time, and I truly find it one of the most vexing questions because I think that design is a little bit magical. You know? I think the most important thing for me is to kind of keep my eyes and my mind wide open, so that if and when my muse strikes, I am there for her. 

As for my personal style, I think that my house and even the way I dress actually are exactly like my design style. I think if you look at my work, some might say that there’s a lot of different things going on. I would call it designed eclecticism. Like my house looks like that. It’s chockablock with stuff and only stuff that’s great. My design motto is, “if your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.” So, I think that as I look around at my house, I think there’s a lot of really cool stuff that I hope will cause lawsuits between my heirs in the future.

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Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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