His latest work 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 would work,” says Adler, 55. “I felt like it was time to share what I know.”
The show’s wide-ranging themes: lighting, accessories, antique salvage, color, the magic of repetition – and a compelling lesson on design history over the past 100 years. (He even shows viewers how to make a bowl.) It is a well-structured introduction to the basic principles of design for anyone wanting to improve their skills and for young designers looking to learn from an experienced professional.
Warning, though: Don’t watch all 13 episodes in one day. (I speak from experience here). Muttering the series’ slogan, “Sparkle equals bragging,” can leave you in your sleep.
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We caught up with Adler last week on a phone interview from Shelter Island, New York, the home he shares with his husband, fashion expert Simon Donnan, who also appears on the Wondrium series. (The two also own a home in Palm Beach, Florida.) We asked Adler to share tips on finding your own style.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
s: How do you explain to people how to find their own style?
a: I like to explain how I come up with my own style. There are three filters through which I see the world of design, three sounds that make their way into all of my work, from objects to furniture to decorating: pop, natural, and luxurious. “Pop” is all about the bright, bold and somewhat simple sounds and music of Andy Warhol and Ellsworth Kelly and it’s an opportunity to be witty and artistic. Nature comes from the fact that I am an artisan and that I 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 distinct personal style.
s: Where can people find designers and taste makers for inspiration?
a: The Holy Trinity for me: Pinterest, Instagram, and 1stDibs. Posted by Pinterest. It almost makes me zombie, losing time and space. 1stDibs is great, because they break things down by designer. If you like someone’s things and furniture, you can see everything that person has done. This is a great way to learn about design history and context.
s: Could your clothes be an indication of the style you like in your home? [Adler’s uniform is white jeans year-round and Stan Smiths.]
a: In a perfect world, your sewing and applique patterns would be the same. I often see women who look gorgeous, elegant and sexy, and I imagine them living in a simple, art-filled house, but then I get there, and it’s a rustic English country cottage shape. Sometimes there is a complete dissonance between someone’s grooming and grooming styles. Changing your clothes is much easier than changing your decor. Décor is often a snapshot of where someone is, and clothes are now more, so it doesn’t always work.
s: How do you decide if you are a moderate or an extremist?
a: You have to really think about what makes you happy at home. Are you someone who likes to have one handbag that you use every day, or do you need 10? Although people may not think I’m a Marie Kondo guy, I’ve learned that I only keep pieces around me that exhilarate. (I happen to have a lot of them). I am moderate/extremist. I try to keep it neat, modern, neat and clean. The design should be a downsizing for things to be clear and to communicate, but you can still have a lot of stuff.
s: How do your art pieces fit into your décor?
a: If things have personal meaning and history, they are worth showing. There is an incredibly deep and life-affirming feeling that comes from making something. I am very non-judgmental and anti-fine. Not everything has to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be about what other people think. It’s about the things in the house that make you happy. It’s about finding your voice, not a trendy voice.
s: How do you find the colors that you really are?
a: My people consider me a very colorful personality. I’m actually more restrictive in my use of color than people might think. I would follow my progress and go for the timeless and eternal colors like black and white, which form the basis of everything I do. Then you inject a distinctive color into smaller items such as pillows and accessories. This can be a suitable formula for creating a permanent and non-ephemeral design. The colors you have in mind should stay in mind for a while and be more restrained on the larger pieces and more free on the smaller pieces.