Beginning with a humble lump of clay, potter, designer, and author Jonathan Adler launched his aesthetic of irreverent luxury in 1994. His home furnishings and sense of irreverent luxury have since been embraced worldwide in stores, homes, hotels, and even on the set of E!’s Fashion Police, which he designed. His fourth book, 100 Ways to Happy Chic your Life, was released in November 2012. He shares with me some of his feelings about style, craft, joy and Etsy.
Karen: I understand you had a pottery teacher in college named Jackie who helped set you on your path. Can you tell us about her?
Jonathan: The best advice I ever got in my life was from my pottery teacher, Jackie Rice. She told me that I had no talent and I should move to New York and become a lawyer. I think every creative person, and every craftsperson, should have a naysayer to rebel against.
Karen: You have described yourself at 26 as “failing and unemployable” but instead of feeling defeated, you experienced a burst of creative freedom. Why was this period of your life so liberating?
Jonathan: It was a great time because I had nothing to lose, and also nothing to gain. Etsy didn’t exist, I didn’t know how or if I could ever market my work, but I gave myself six months to just figure it out. I decided I was going to make exactly what I wanted to make with no thought about selling it. I was an outlier, and it was a creative place to be.
Karen: Your work has a very disciplined perfection of form, but is also full of levity and irreverence. How would you describe the relationship between beauty and wit?
Jonathan: I’m really glad that you noticed that about my work. I work really hard to inject wit and levity into chic and it’s a constant challenge. Usually witty and chic are mutually exclusive, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to make chic joyful.
Karen: What is your life as a potter like now? How much time do you spend in the studio? Do you make your own models?
Jonathan: My life now is incredible. I spent my pretty years as a full-time production potter making every single piece myself. Now I’m the luckiest potter in the world – I have a very diverse design life. I spend a lot of time in the studio with my team working on models, and I don’t have to worry so much.
Karen: How did you find Etsy and how you feel about the creativity you see there?
Jonathan: I’ve been aware of Etsy from the very beginning. I wish I could put Etsy in a time machine and send it back to 1993 when I was getting my start as a potter. The fact that craftspeople can now control their own distribution is nothing short of a miracle; Etsy is doing the Lord’s work. I would love nothing more than seeing my fellow craftspeople thrive and flourish and Etsy is an incredible marketplace.
Karen: Not everyone has a Jackie Rice in their life. For Etsy makers who are sans-Jackie, do you have any words about staying true to your instincts and following your heart?
Jonathan: I was the most scatterbrained, impractical, carefree craftsperson ever to walk the face of the earth and somehow I managed to make it. If I did it, you can, too.
Karen: Many people in the Etsy community enjoy creative partnerships at home. What is it like to be married to another highly creative person like Simon Doonan?
Jonathan: I’m so lucky to be married to Simon. I never have to explain anything to him – we can just speak in shorthand. We’re so conversant with the nuances of each other’s worlds that we can communicate via grunts and whistles at this point. He is a delightful and amusing husband and, most importantly, he always lets me control the remote.
Karen: A shout-out to your famous puppy, Liberace. How is he dealing with your success?
Jonathan: Liberace is the star in our household. Neither Simon nor I can hold a candle to his wattage.
Inspired by our exclusive interview with popular home designer Jonathan Adler, we’re kicking off 2013 with the Get Chic Sweepstakes on Pinterest. Enter to win a $1000 Etsy gift card and a copy of Jonathan’s new book, 100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life.
Karen Brown is an award-winning designer and creative director of the Center for Ecoliteracy. Her work has been included in the Smithsonian Institution and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and featured in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, and on Today on NBC. She believes that the handmade movement is a fundamental force for transforming society and the economy.