Designer Jonathan Adler explains how to find your decorating style

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Potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler’s career is full of creative moments, including designing swanky hotels, being a judge on HGTV’s “Design Star: Next Gen,” and creating a real Malibu Barbie Dream House. His furniture, pillows, rugs and vases are sold worldwide, including 11 Jonathan Adler stores, and he recently launched his first tile collection for Lunada Bay.

His latest gig is a 13-episode educational series, “Decorate Like a Designer, with Jonathan Adler,” which premiered in May on Wondrium, a subscription streaming service for educational content. “I’ve spent my life thinking about how design works,” says Adler, 55. “I felt it was time to share what I knew.”

The themes of the exhibition are varied: lighting, accessorizing, salvaging old objects, color, the magic of repetition – and a captivating lesson in the history of design over the past 100 years. (He even shows viewers how he makes a pot.) It’s a well-organized introduction to the basics of design for anyone looking to improve their skills and for young designers looking to learn from a seasoned professional.

Be careful though: don’t watch all 13 episodes in one day. (I’m speaking from experience here.) It might have you mumbling the show’s mantra, “glamor equals swagger,” in your sleep.

We caught up with Adler last week in a phone interview from Shelter Island, NY, the home he shares with her husband, fashion guru Simon Doonan, who also appears on the Wondrium series. (The two also have a home in Palm Beach, Fla.) We asked Adler to share tips for finding your own style.

How do you explain to people how to find their own style?

I like to explain how I arrive at my own style. There are three filters through which I see the world of design, three voices that run through all of my work, from objects to furniture to decoration: pop, natural and luxury. Pop is about bright, bold, minimalist and somewhat cheeky voices and muses like Andy Warhol and Ellsworth Kelly and is an opportunity to be spiritual and artistic. The naturalness comes from the fact that I am an artisan and believe in impeccable materials and honest and timeless craftsmanship. And luxury is more luxury. [In the Wondrium lesson, he mentions velvet, sparkles, gold and chinoiserie.] I hope one of these styles will resonate or people will create their own personal, idiosyncratic style.

Where can people find designers and trendsetters to draw inspiration from?

The holy trinity for me: Pinterest, Instagram and 1stDibs. I am transported by Pinterest. It almost makes me comatose and I lose track of time and space. The 1stDibs company is great because they break things down by designer. If you like someone’s objects and furniture, you can see everything that person has done. It’s a great way to get a sense of the design’s history and background.

Can your clothes be an indication of the style you like about yourself? [Adler’s uniform is white jeans year-round and Stan Smiths.]

In an ideal world, your clothing and decorating styles would be the same. I often see women who look very groovy, chic and edgy, and I imagine them living in a minimalist home filled with art, but then I get there, and it’s a pink English country house look cabbage. Sometimes there is a complete dissonance between someone’s clothing and decorating styles. It is much easier to change clothes than decor. The setting is often a snapshot of where someone was, and the clothes are more of the present, so it doesn’t always work.

How do you decide if you are minimalist or maximalist?

You really need to think about what makes you happy at home. Are you a person who loves having one handbag that you use every day, or do you need 10? Although people might not think I’m a Marie Kondo guy, I’ve learned that I only keep pieces around me that spark joy. (I happen to have a lot.) I’m a minimalist/maximalist. I try to keep it sleek and modern and sleek and clean. Design should be a process of reducing elements to be clear and communicate, but you can still end up with a lot of elements.

How do the clever pieces you’ve made fit into your decor?

If the objects have a personal meaning and a story, then they are worth displaying. There’s an incredibly deep and invigorating feeling that comes from doing something. I am very neutral and very anti-snobbery. Not everything has to be expensive, and it shouldn’t depend on what other people think. It’s about things at home that will make you happy. It’s about finding your voice, not a fashionable voice.

How do you find the colors that really look like you?

My people see me as a very colorful character. I’m actually much more restricted in my use of color than people realize. I would follow my example and go for timeless and eternal colors like black and white, which are the basis of everything I do. Then you inject accent color into smaller items like pillows and accessories. This can be a go-to formula for creating a design that will be long-lasting and not too fleeting. The colors you are considering should stick around for a while and be more restrained in larger rooms and freer in smaller ones.


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