Jonathan Adler Biography

Home-furnishings designer and ceramicist

Born in 1966, in New Jersey; son of Harry (an attorney) and Cynthia (an artist) Adler; partner of Simon Doonan (creative director of Barneys New York) since 1994. Education: Attended Brown University, 1984-88, and Rhode Island School of Design.

Addresses: Home —New York, NY. Office —c/o Jonathan Adler Soho, 47 Greene St., New York, NY 10013.


Worked for a talent agency in New York City, after 1990, and for a film producer; launched own line of pottery, 1993; opened first store in New York City, 1998; introduced furniture collection, 2002, and home-furnishings line, 2004; published My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living , 2005.


Jonathan Adler's fresh, modern ideas about interior design found their outlet in a mini-empire he oversees in New York City. Adler entered the market as a potter, making high-end, hand-crafted ceramics that soon won over an impressive roster of style-conscious celebrities and tastemakers. In 2004, his full range of home furnishings—from bed linens to tableware—joined his already-successful furniture line. "My career has been completely serendipitous, " Adler told Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Danny C. Flanders. "When I chose to become a potter, I feared I was sacrificing any kind of financial security and would spend my life just peddling my work at rain-soaked crafts fairs."

Born in 1966, Adler grew up in the southern New Jersey community of Bridgeton. His father was an attorney, while his artist-mother had a keen sense of style she put to use collecting modernist furniture for their contemporary home. Adler's future career direction grew out of a summer-camp experience at age 12, when he first encountered a potter's wheel. Within a year, he had convinced his parents to buy him a wheel as well as the kiln oven used to fire ceramics. Adler's official Web site biography gives a chronological timeline of his career, and for the years 1980-84 it reads, "spends entire adolescence in basement … throwing pots."

In 1984, Adler went off to Brown University in Rhode Island, where his plan was to study semiotics and art history. He also took classes in ceramics at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top art schools in the United States. His wares were whimsical, and included a teapot that paid homage to Chanel couture, with the interlocking "C"s-logo, but his more conservative teachers dismissed his work as superficial. As he recalled in an interview with Dominic Lutyens for London's Independent , one instructor cautioned him against pursuing the creative arts as a career plan. "'I don't think you have what it takes, '" Adler said he was told. "I was crushed."

After college, Adler settled in New York City and took a job at a talent agency. He went on to work in the office of a well-known producer, but came to intensely dislike the entertainment industry. Dejected after a few years, he ventured back into ceramics full-time around 1993, with some financial support from his parents. He made starkly chic vases and other wares, in mostly black and white shades, with a signature vertical-stripe design. His first break came when Aero, a home design store in SoHo, began selling his work, which was followed by an order from Barneys New York, the high-end retailer.

Adler's wares drew celebrity buyers, such as French film star Catherine Deneuve, and fashion designers from Geoffrey Beene to Cynthia Rowley. By 1998, he was able to open his own store in SoHo, though he was no longer making every piece by hand. A nonprofit organization called Aid to Artisans had put him in touch with pottery-makers in Peru, and thanks to this he was able to launch a more affordable line called "Pot au Porter." By the end of the 1990s, his business was earning more than $2 million annually, and both Adler and his wares were regularly mentioned in the shelter-magazine press (magazines that target the home and home design).

In 2002, Adler introduced a furniture line under his name, and also began taking interior design jobs for private clients, which led to larger-scale hotel-renovation projects. One was in Palm Beach, the wealthy Florida enclave, and another followed in the California desert resort of Palm Springs. For the restaurant of the Parker Palm Springs assignment, he summed up his design concept in an interview with Nancy Hass of the New York Times Magazine , with a few characteristically insouciant words that had made him such a favorite of the design-world press. "If the hotel is where your elegant great-aunt lives, the restaurant is where her wastrel husband spends his time, " Adler said. "I wanted to do a baronial Mick Jagger castle in the 'Let It Bleed' era. Lurid, slightly menacing with a psychedelic overlay Gothic chairs with mod upholstery."

By 2005, Adler presided over a veritable home-décor empire, with seven stores and a full line of accessories for the bed, bath, and dining room. He still made the occasional ceramic piece, with his higher-end wares sold under the "Couture" line of limited-edition works. His inspiration, as always, came from somewhat unusual sources, such as the architecture of Reform synagogues. "I have always been driven by and fantasized about moving into those synagogues, " he told New York Times writer Jennifer Steinhauer. "They have such a groovy, brutalist, modern thing going on. Growing up, we went to a Conservative synagogue, and I was always jealous of those kids who went to Reform."

The year 2005 also saw the publication of Adler's first book, a how-to guide for do-it-yourself decorating and entertaining. My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living , published by ReganBooks, was built around the ideas enshrined in the Manifesto section of his company Web site, such as "minimalism is a bummer, " and "We believe that when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right. Unless the husband is gay."

Adler is frequently profiled along with his partner, Simon Doonan, also a renowned stylesetter. The British-born Doonan is the creative director for Barneys New York, as well as an author and occasional judge on the reality series America's Next Top Model. The two share a Norwich terrier named Liberace, and homes in Greenwich Village, the Long Island resort of Shelter Island, and in Palm Beach. All feature Adler's signature look, with vivid colors and a mix of styles and periods. "My entire philosophy, " Adler told Guy Trebay in a New York Times article, "is that when you come home, your house should have the effect of Zoloft." He put it in more detailed terms in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview with Flanders. "I truly believe that good decorating can cure a lot of psychological ills, " he told the paper, "and make you feel good about yourself as well as your home."

Selected writings

My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living , Regan Books, 2005.



Advocate , June 21, 2005, p. 160.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution , December 7, 2005, p. E1. Domino , September 2005, p. 38.

HFN: The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network , January 6, 2003, p. 22.

Independent (London, England), April 1, 2000, p. 18.

New York Times , August 9, 1998; April 3, 2005, p. ST1.

New York Times Magazine , October 10, 2004, p. 86; February 13, 2005.

Times (London, England), November 29, 2003, p. 81.


Jonathan Adler company Web site, (February 21, 2006).

Carol Brennan

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