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Designer Jonathan Adler on finding your style

Jura Koncius

THE WASHINGTON POST – Potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler’s career is full of creative highlights, including designing swanky hotels, being a judge on HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and creating a real-life Malibu Barbie Dream House. His furniture, pillows, rugs and vases are sold throughout the world, including at 11 Jonathan Adler stores, and he recently launched his first collection of tiles for Lunada Bay.

His latest gig is a 13-episode instructional series, Decorate Like a Designer, with Jonathan Adler, which premiered in May on Wondrium, a subscription streaming service for educational content.

“I have spent my life thinking about how design works,” said Adler, 55. “I felt it was time to share what I know.”

The show’s topics are wide-ranging – lighting, accessorising, salvaging old objects, colour, the magic of repetition – and a compelling lesson on the history of design over the past 100 years.

It’s a well-organised introduction to the basic principles of design for anyone who wants to improve their skills and for young designers looking to learn from a seasoned pro.

We caught up with Adler last week in a phone interview and asked him to share advice on finding your own style.

Jonathan Adler likes the way the light glimmers through his Aries cocktail table, which is made with two acrylic rams under a glass tabletop. His sculptural Ripple floor lamp features a shiny nickel base and a powder-blue shade. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Q: How do you explain to people how to find their own style?
A: I like to explain how I come to my own style. There are three filters through which I see the design world, three voices that wend their way into all of my work, from objects to furniture to decorating – pop, natural and deluxe.

Pop is about bright, bold, minimalist, somewhat cheeky voices and muses like Andy Warhol and Ellsworth Kelly and is an opportunity to be witty and artistic.

Natural comes from the fact that I am an artisan and that I believe in impeccable materials and honest, timeless craft.

And deluxe is more luxury. (In the Wondrium lesson, he mentions velvet, sparkles, gold and chinoiserie.) I hope that one of these styles will resonate or that people will create their own personal, idiosyncratic style.

Q: Where can people find designers and tastemakers to inspire them?
A: The top three for me – Pinterest, Instagram and 1stDibs. I am transported by Pinterest. I lose track of time and space. 1stDibs is great, because it breaks things down by designer. This is a great way to get a sense of design history and context.

Q: Can your clothes be an indication of what style you like in your home?
A: In an ideal world, your sartorial and decorating styles would be similar. I often see women who look groovy and chic, and I imagine them living in a minimalist home, but it’s actually a English country cottage look.

Sometimes there is a dissonance between someone’s sartorial and decorating styles. It’s a lot easier to change your clothes than your decor. Decor is often a snapshot of where someone was, and clothes are more the now.

Q: How do you decide whether you are a minimalist or maximalist?
A: You have to really think about what makes you happy at home. Are you a person who loves to have one handbag you use every day, or do you need 10?

Although people might not think that I’m a Marie Kondo guy, I have learned that I only keep pieces around me that spark joy.

I am a minimalist/maximalist. Design should be a process of paring things down to be clear and to communicate, but you can still end up with a lot of items.

Q: How do you find the colours that are really you?
A: People think of me as a very colourful character. I am actually a lot more restrained in my use of colour than people might think.

I would follow my lead and go to timeless, forever colours such as black and white, which are in the foundation of everything I do.

Then you inject an accent colour in smaller items such as pillows and accessories. This can be a go-to formula for creating design that will be lasting and not too ephemeral.