Jonathan Adler has always had a big Washington following for his mod-meets-traditional home-furnishings line. So on May 22, when the New York designer plans to open a signature shop in Georgetown, he’s going to stock plenty of hot-pink wool throws, stoneware horses and acid-yellow needlepoint pillows.
“A lot of my references have a sort of updated take on the WASP-y country-club style that is very Georgetown,” says Adler, who started his design life as a potter. “Georgetown is one of those singular places in the world with such a distinct character. I like to put my stores in places that I really like spending time in. I’m really looking forward to being there.”
Adler also fondly recalls that Washington is the first town where he tried both sushi and Ethiopian food.
The store, the 18th boutique to bear his name, will be on a prominent corner, at the former site of Gap Kids (1267 Wisconsin Ave. NW). It will have Adler’s growing selection of furniture and accessories, which are also sold at hundreds of smaller shops and online. Shoppers can spend $20 for a red lacquer soap dish or $2,295 for an upholstered pink headboard. He also has a kids’ line, Jonathan Adler Junior.
Adler, 45, grew up in a modern home in New Jersey and attended Brown University in Providence, R.I. There, he took pottery classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. His first major order for pots came from Barneys in 1994. His career was launched.
Now, in addition to product design, he does interior design and writes books. He has written three, and his fourth, a lifestyle guide with a working title of “101 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life ,” is due out this fall. He recently created a real-life version of Barbie’s Malibu Dream House for Mattel when Barbie turned 50, complete with pink wall-to-wall carpeting monogrammed with a giant B. He called Barbie a “dream client.”
His lively and cheeky products include staples of home life, from salt and pepper shakers to orange lacquer cocktail tables, all with Adler’s exuberance for color and fun. The designs have appeared on such TV shows as “30 Rock” and “Gossip Girl.”
Adler is part of a New York style power couple. He is married to Simon Doonan, the witty social commentator, author and creative ambassador at large for Barneys New York. They live in Greenwich Village.
Adler says he’s open to receiving invitations to Washington diplomatic functions. No question he would bring a fabulous hostess gift. He spoke with us last week from his office in SoHo.
You describe your products as groovy. What is your definition of “groovy”?
It’s one of those funny words that has different connotations to different people. To me, groovy means chic, cool, trendy and eccentric. The iconic shades of groovy are clean, clear colors such as orange, turquoise and pink, always grounded with tons and tons of white.
What does your brand stand for?
Some people see it as waspy chic. Some see it as glamorous. Others see it for its subversive quirkiness, such as the Uncle Sam Hand I just made. [The white porcelain hand ($495) has a pointed finger resembling a gun that is hollow and can be used to hold flowers.]
Who are your design icons?
What do you think about D.C. style?
I think Washington people are very chic and stylish. I love all the townhouses here. My collection should work well in urban interiors here and small spaces. It’s very versatile.
Why is it important you have your own shops?
With my own stores, not only do I get to make whatever I want, I have a platform to present it directly to customers without asking anyone’s permission. So that means there is a constant flow of newness.
How would you describe a typical workday?
I have a life and work life that is so much better than I ever imagined. I walk to the office and go into my studio and make a pot. I say hello to the five or six dogs that are in my office on any given day. I encourage my employees to bring their dogs to work. Then I might meet with my store design team or go to a boring meeting about inventory planning. But then I might sketch a design for a new pillow. The thing that makes my day so fun is that I do a diverse group of projects every day. I have no idea how I fooled the powers-that-be into doing this.
How do you decide what to make next?
I am focused on making stuff. I just did a new handbag collection that I really like. My whole career has been full of improbable jigs and jags. I do what intuitively feels right. Luckily, it’s working for me.
Your husband, Simon Doonan, has just written a book, “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.” So what are you having for dinner tonight?
A simple roasted chicken and some delicious brussels sprouts with pancetta: healthy and delicious.