Whether it’s a pot for, well, pot, or a needlepoint pillow that says “Internet Famous,” Jonathan Adler’s work announces itself without apology. In Adler’s world, everyday objects are transformed by sleight of hand into covetable and collectible pieces. That very exuberance and embrace of more-is-moreism is what makes Adler a go-to designer of celebrity hideaways and luxury hotels, such as the Parker Palm Springs, as well as a new line of home accessories for H&M (available in select countries). In the lead-up to his appearance at Toronto’s Interior Design Show, The Globe and Mail talked to the cheeky-chic potter and designer about the intersection of design, fantasy and fun.
You’ve said that inspiration can strike anywhere: What’s one of the most unexpected places you’ve found it?
I was having a magical day out on my paddleboard on Shelter Island in the Hamptons when I saw an osprey swoop down and then a seal popped its head up out of the water. I looked up and saw the most perfect, fluffy cloud and thought, “Why isn’t there a sofa shaped like a cloud to capture this moment?” So I made one. Inspiration comes when your mind is most open and you’re outside of yourself. It should feel more like a discovery than an invention.
Do you ever suffer from design envy? What item do you wish you’d thought of first?
Of course! The Finnish sculptor and designer Tapio Wirkkala did a bird vase for Rosenthal and I just think it’s absolute perfection. The simplest things are often the most genius.
Should design be fun or should it be taken seriously?
I might sound glib in quotes, but I’m actually a brooding and analytical person. My creative process is rigorous and my goal is to distill any object to its essence with as few gestures as possible. In other words, I take my design deadly seriously so you don’t have to. That’s where the fun comes in. A well-designed object should have the feeling of insouciance.
Do ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste exist – or even matter – any more?
Simon [Doonan], my husband, has a great Moschino jacket and it says on the back, “Good Taste Doesn’t Exist,” meaning that of course, taste is subjective and one should just dismiss the whole notion and live one’s life. But when he wears it, people inevitably come up and say, “Oh, isn’t it terrible that no one has good taste any more!”
So we’ve lost the ability to spot irony?
Yes, and subtlety. I think we’ve been in a very “good taste” period but now we’re coming out of it – at least I hope so. I’m an admirer of Italian mid-century design, which was far less concerned with taste than it was with fantasy. “Good taste” is inherently snobbish, whereas fantasy is about surrendering to fun and intuition.
Is social media fostering creativity or has it made global design homogenous, where the living room you admire on Instagram could either be in Seattle or Stockholm?
I guess when we’re talking about ’grammable rooms, there are a few different things going on. Sure, there’s your basic influencer, but at the same time, when you dig deeper, there are people who break free of that mould and do their own thing. Social media has allowed us to handle very jarring visual juxtapositions now, and it’s exciting.
What’s the secret to cutting through the noise and creating a room that��s uniquely personal?
Be as eccentric and personal as you want. Long live individualism and freakiness!
Take my own dining room: It’s full of jolting colours and completely different styles and periods – like a big gothic Cheval mirror next to a kitsch ceramic poodle and a high-modern Knoll table – and everything is at 11. You can be basic or you can be outré, and I opt for the latter.
Why are people so afraid to take risks in their own homes?
We have to get over that. Remember that nobody cares what anybody else is doing any more. Everyone’s just looking down at their phones and barely noticing others, let alone judging them. My husband once had to dress as the Queen of England for the opening of a Barney’s store. He came into our building’s lobby in full regalia and as he approached the front desk, our doorman, who we’ve known forever, just said, “Hey, do you want your mail now or later?”
You use the words “magical” and “fantasy” a lot. Why are they an important part of your design vocabulary?
That’s always been my jam. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but the impulse to make things is the closest I come to believing in any higher power. My installation for the Interior Design Show is a collaboration with Caesarstone called Dreamland. It’s a surrealist, cloudscape fantasy world – basically, if I died and went to Design Heaven, that’s how I imagine it would look. But I don’t plan to go there anytime soon.
See Jonathan Adler in conversation at Toronto’s Interior Design Show on Jan. 18 at 1:30 p.m. Visit interiordesignshow.com for more information.