Episode #49: How To Design for YOU with Jonathan Adler

It’s an exciting podcast day because I’m catching up with Jonathan Adler, my longtime design hero and imaginary BFF. We chat about his design secrets, his amazing homes, the importance of collecting vintage, and he even gives me some rather harsh tattoo advice. This episode is filled with so many gems of wisdom. I know you’re going to love it! Thank you JA for sitting down to chat with us!!

You can stream the episode here on the blog or on iTunesSpotifyGoogle PlayTuneInPocket Casts, and Stitcher. You can find the podcast posts archive here.

Show notes: 

-OK, wow. It’s definitely a decent drinking game to take a drink every time I use the word “magical” OOOOOPS … it’s a lot. I was extremely excited. Can you blame me?

-I mention Jonathan’s books—100 Ways To Happy Chic Your Life, Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Accessorizing and Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Colors. These books were pivotal to me in designing my first home, taking risks and having the confidence to love what I love. 

-We talk about An Objet A Day With JA, Jonathan’s current ongoing quarantine series on IGTV. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

-Here’s a photo of Jonathan’s epic tile wall.

-Here’s a photo of his eyeball fireplace that blew my mind.

You can see a tour of JA’s Shelter Island home here.

You can see a tour of JA’s New York home here.

-Definitely going to take Jonathan’s advice of using a wall mural in our new space.

-I’m loving his concept of combining luxury and craft! Very inspiring.

-“My only edict: do whatever style you do at 11!” I’m taking this advice to heart.

-“The real essence of designing a space that’s personal to you is ONLY buying things that you absolutely love and that your heirs will fight over.” I LOVE IT.

-One of my favorite little JA nuggets was “Don’t be snobby at the beginning, the middle or the end of your career.” AUGH!

-Do you all think I should get my Marie Kondo tattoo?? Lol (spoiler—definitely getting it)

-The Simon Doonan starter pack according to JA is Beautiful People as well as his book, How To Be Yourself.

Thank you so much for listening! Check out some of our other heroes on our vision board podcast episode and be sure to follow Jonathan Adler on IG.

Miss an episode? Get caught up!

Episode 49 Transcript

Elsie: You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast, today’s guest is my ultimate design hero, Jonathan Adler. I’m so honored to have him on the podcast today to chat about all things design, quarantine, a little bit of random tattoo advice and how to decorate a home that is truly you on any budget. If you’ve listened for a while you know that I am a true die hard Jonathan Adler fan. And after you listen to this episode, I think you will be too. So I am such a big fan of you. I feel like we’re already BFFs because I love Palm Springs. I love pottery. Puppies, brass, macrame. Your Happy Chic books were basically my Bible when we were designing our first home and I kind of had a spiritual experience the first time I went to Norma’s at the Parker and saw your pottery, lining all the walls.

Jonathan: Aw!

Elsie: So thank you so much for coming on our podcast, and it’s just a treat.

Jonathan: That is so sweet, so good for the ego and it is my absolute pleasure to be here.

Elsie: I’m so excited. I’ve been really enjoying your Objet a day with JA. So what it is, is it’s kind of a little video series that you’re doing from quarantine and you’re doing it all on IGTV and you’re sharing some favorite objects from your home.

Jonathan: Yes, it’s something that my very adorable husband, Simon Doonan, and I have been doing, albeit very sporadically, like the kind of slackers that we are, in which we kind of dissect some of my oeuvre, like some of my favorite pieces of pottery and textiles and upholstery, like whatever is in front of me at that very moment, we kind of just lean into it. And it’s very fun for me to get to contemplate my work and sort of remember why I love it, why I did it and share my inspiration and tips.

Elsie: That’s magical. So I learned from, I believe, your home tour one of your many home tours that your Shelter Island home is actually not vintage, which I was so shocked and I just moved to a home built in the 1990s last week and I’m hoping to make it very 70s. So I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to kind of give an era where there wasn’t one.

Jonathan: There are some go-to tips. I think that I’m always on kind of sheet rock patrol. I am not the hugest fan or at least when we built our house, I was not the hugest fan. I sort of said the one rule for this house is that the wall textures all need to be interesting. So no sheet rock. We have kind of rough wood cladding inside. We have cedar ceilings that are sort of stained to look mahogany and they’re far enough away that they look like mahogany, albeit cheaper. We have brick. So I think that I really think sheetrock can be the biggest tell the house isn’t vintage.

Elsie: That is such a good point. Ok, I love that I have a can lights problem, like every single room is covered in them. So that’s something that I’m so excited to address and kind of bring in like chandeliers. There’s rooms that don’t even have a chandelier. Can you believe it?

Jonathan: Wait, what!?

Elsie: Yeah.

Jonathan: You poor thing. And I thought I had problems. Question, when you say can you mean inset cans?

Elsie: Yeah, ok, I’ll show you.

Jonathan: OK.

Elsie: So did you see that? Those little alien saucers are covering the ceiling of our entire home and every room.

Jonathan: Oh no.

Elsie: Sometimes there’s like more than ten in a room.

Jonathan: What?! How did this happen to you? I think you need to look into your soul and see if you did something in a past life.

Elsie: Lighting karma.

Jonathan: Something is going on when it comes to can lights and chandies and blah, blah, blah. I’m probably way more lackadaisical than I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be like a very, very prissy and detail-obsessed person when it comes to decorating. But I think I always like a house that feels a little bit improvisational and a little bit messed up.

Elsie: That’s so nice.

Jonathan: As much as I’m supposed to be here sort of spouting wisdom in a very dictatorial, uncompromising way. I’m like Connie Compromise, like, you know, I think the best and happiest homes are homes that are kind of caszh, I think your, the name of your podcast, sums it up perfectly, A Beautiful Mess. And I think that’s kind of how I like a house to be. I think if you if you look at my interiors, they’re not all super pristine and prissy. They always have something a little off the little improvisational a little bit casual, and that’s purely to create a vibe of welcoming. So the takeaway from that is don’t beat yourself up for your cand light curse just because you were awful in a past life. (laughs) You can redeem yourself in this life by being a little bit chill and not beating yourself up.

Elsie: Ok, that’s a good, that’s good advice. I’m going to create that redemption. So one of the things that attracts me the most about your spaces and there are so many, is the custom stuff. I love how you use so many custom things from artisans. The tile wall in your home where you’re quarantining right now is one of my all-time favorites.

Jonathan: I love that wall so much.

Elsie: It’s gorgeous, we’ll put a picture in the show notes for anyone who hasn’t seen it and link to the many home tours, because there are so many good ones. I just watched like 40 videos to prepare for this, if you can’t tell. So the inside of your fireplace.

Jonathan: You poor thing!

Elsie: No, I loved it. The inside of the fireplace with the eyeballs, hand-painted eyeballs in New York. Is that your New York apartment?

Jonathan: Yes.

Elsie: Yes, that blew my mind. It’s just so cute and so charming. And there’s a Juliet balcony in the bedroom. It was it’s magical. Anyway…

Jonathan: And you know what? I miss my New York apartment. I’ve been, this, today marks my five-month anniversary of being on Shelter Island and not being in my New York apartment, which is really surreal, as obviously every human being’s experience for the last five months has been surreal. But, you know, seeing my, seeing pictures of my New York apartment does make me nostalgique, but, yeah, the room you’re talking about, which has the hand-painted eyeballs, which are done by a decorative artist called Danny Balgley, who’s a genius. And he’s done a lot of different thing in our house. It is really cool. And that room actually kind of took on an eye theme. There’s like, wherever you look, there’s different eyes staring back at you in that room from like this incredible lamp by Nicola L, who for those of you who don’t know who she was, she was a French sixties and seventies kind of pop artist who did a lot of body part art. And I collect her stuff when possible. And we have this great eyeball lamp by her. And then we have a lot of different kind of funk icons staring back at us. I have a statue of, bust of Michael Jackson that we got at the flea market for 20 bucks and a really incredible painting by this artist called Ed Paschke that was done for the Playboy Mansion in the 70s of Sly Stone that kind of stares at us. And then we did. What else do we have? Oh, we have eyeballs, eyeballs done by our brilliant friend Jean Paul Phillipe, who our wall in that magical bedroom faces are our windows facing a brick wall like right smack in front of me. So instead of just facing the brick wall, I had Jean Paul create these kind of abstract eyeball paintings that we hung. Sort of in front of the window, so when you look when you enter the room and look at it, the first thing you see is eyes staring back at you, which is kind of a theme of my work. I always like to have happy faces staring at me.

Elsie: Yes. And love that the bed has a face.

Jonathan: The bed has a face. Yes.

Elsie: Ok, so can you give us any tips if you are thinking, I’m thinking I want to incorporate my first custom pieces from a local artisan into my home. What should I, like, what should I start with? What should be the first journey?

Jonathan: I think wall murals are great.

Elsie: Ooh!

Jonathan: It’s an underutilized and under-considered option and I think people are a little afraid to mess with their walls. But I think that a wall mural is like a really fab way to introduce decorative art to your house and makes it feel a little more permanent. And there’s something — I like the fact that you can’t take it with you. You know, like as we sit here, I’m sitting in front of this wall mural again done by our friend Jean Paul Phillipe.

Elsie: It’s on the bar of their kitchen, sort of like on the front of an island. And it is incredible.

Jonathan: It’s incredible.

Elsie: I’ll link it in the show notes of this.

Jonathan: Yeah. And of course, I’m because I’m playing at the varsity level here and I’m a pro. I have a cadre of decorative painters in my Rolodex. However, if you’re a little bit more junior varsity, which you should be, I just have devoted my stupid life to this. But if you’re just like a human who wants to get a decorative art moment happening, I’m sure you can scour the world wide interweb and find people on Etsy and or Pinterest. And in lieu of a decorative artist, perhaps there’s like a wall or some sort of wall treatment that just is, in other words, something that doesn’t just hang on the wall, but something built in, I think is a very good way to play it.

Elsie: Magical. Ok, I’m going to take your advice. I’m going to do that now. Special.

Jonathan: But that’s something, that’s something I really learned from my adorable husband, Simon Doonan, who used to be the creative director of Barney’s. So he did all the windows at Barneys as well as he was responsible for store design. And one of the signatures of Barney’s interiors was they all had a lot of really extraordinary decorative art that kind of gave it a specific look and created this incredible sense of both luxury and craft, which typically arew two sensibilities that don’t really necessarily jibe. When people think of craft, they think of crafty and loving hands at home. When people think of luxury, they think of slick. And like Simon, I strive to combine a sense of luxury with a sense of craft and texture and soul. Soul. Soul!

Jonathan: That’s magical to me. And that’s exactly why books became my Bible, because it’s a lot of permission-giving. It’s a lot of permission-giving to just like lean into what you love and just kind of never feel ashamed of it.I think that’s so great.

Jonathan: Totes. Totes. The one thing I I’m very accepting stylistically, I have no preconceived notions about. You know, if you love shabby chic, get it girl. If you want granny, if you want it to be hyper-modern, whatever, just might only only edict is that I try to exhort people to do whatever they do at an 11. Don’t settle for moderate, don’t do something, don’t buy something just because it’s fine or because you’re like, well this is what I can afford now. Like, no spend more than you think you can. Buy a chandelier that’s bigger than you think you need. And if you can’t spend more than you think you can, then scour eBay, Etsy, whatever, buy vintage. Just don’t buy something that’s a piece of crap that you’re going to want to throw away. That’s the one thing like surround yourself with stuff that your heirs will fight over. And that doesn’t have to mean expensive. It can mean vintage and unusual. Eccentric.

Elsie: I — that’s the most magical advice because many of our listeners are younger and you know, you feel like you’re mecca is like the aisles of Target, you know, at a certain age…

Jonathan: Totes.

Elsie: Which, but I do think that after, like I’m in my thirties now, so I now can see the pieces that I’m bringing from house to house to house. And those pieces are never something that I bought for, like because it was on sale or because it matched or because it was a set, it’s always the special kind of weird pieces that last and last.

Jonathan: Totes. And first of all, I hate you for your youth and beauty. I want to leap through the interweb and like, steal your life force.

Elsie: (laughs)

Jonathan: Ruined though it may be by your past life misdeeds. However, I am haunted by an experience I had in my early 20s when I was living in New York. I had a roommate and we needed a coffee table and we were both just kind of like working and poor and whatever. And we looked and looked and couldn’t find anything. And finally we found this like coffee table. We just it was just cheap and we had it. And that damn coffee table would just stare back at me and I just would look at it and be like, I was one of those people where I was like, well, we paid the money for it, so I can’t get rid of it, which is I understand, but I just hated it. And I hated the fact that I kept this thing just because it was all I could afford. And again, I’m not saying people need to, like, splurge. I’m just saying…

Elsie: Don’t settle.

Jonathan: Don’t settle Yes. Don’t settle. That’s all I’m saying.

Elsie: Yeah, I love that. I think that decorating slowly is a great way to stay on a budget. You want to have a special home. You do need to be visiting the flea markets over and over and over and over and haunting eBay and things like that. And there are deals there’s I have some very inexpensive Turkish rugs in my home, but I had to work for those, you know?

Jonathan: Yeah, you got to work. That’s what it is. And I think your point decorating slowly is such a great idea. And it’s so, it runs so contrary to the moment we’re in where everybody wants everything instantaneously. I know that’s a cliche thing to say, but it’s true. You know, you want to kind of just wiggle your nose like Samantha in Bewitched and have your house done and that ain’t the way it used to be and it’s not the way it has to be. I think it’s like. You know, you can save money by doing it slowly. There’s something even romantic about living in a sparsely furnished house, especially when you’re young, trying to kind of get it together. So, yeah, do it slowly. Don’t beat yourself up. One other interesting thing about decorating that I think is is really tough for people. It’s like when you buy a piece of clothing that you hate, you can just kind of shove it in the back of your closet and forget it ever happened. But if you buy a sofa, you upholstered it wrong or something about it is wrong. You just it’s like, well, I spent all this money and so I can’t get rid of it and I have to live with it. And then you’re just stuck with this sofa staring back at you all day that makes you feel like a complete and total failure. I don’t have the solution for this issue. I’m just saying it’s one of the challenges that dogs people when it comes to furniture and creates a sense of paralysis because they’re like, I don’t want to be haunted by that thing. And it has happened. It’s happened to me where I’ve spent thousands of dollars on a sofa and I’m like, I screwed this up. But instead of getting rid of it, I’m just going to hate myself.

Elsie: No, no, no. That’s what Facebook marketplaces for.

Jonathan: Oh OK, good.

Elsie: I think yeah, I do think that that is that’s a real thing. But I think getting rid of guilt, like the guilt of giving things a new home or donating or selling something, I do think it’s an important part of having an evolving home that you love. OK, so I want to ask you a thrifting question, so it doesn’t have to be thrifting. It can be at the moment, definitely probably online vintage hunting, also estate sales, kind of anything, anything in that category. Do you have a couple of your favorite, proudest finds of your whole life?

Jonathan: Do I ever! So during my pretty years, I was an avid thrift shopper, vintage hunter. And in fact, when I was starting my career as a potter, one of my greatest inspirations was going to the Manhattan flea market, now kind of defunct. But at that point, it was legendary and kind of a real meeting place for groovy New Yorkers. And I used to scour that flea market every day and I or every weekend. And I was really broke. And I once bought a set of Norman Cherner chairs there and I spent four hundred bucks on them and I didn’t have four hundred bucks. And I was just like, I haggled. And I think the the vendor just took pity on me. I think she saw that I was this kind of broke ass potter who really wanted these chairs. And I think it was sort of one of those things where. I think I’m a very spiritually bankrupt person, which I do not have one ounce of spirituality. When people say everything happens for a reason, I’m always like, yeah not. Nothing happens for any reason was my philosophy or as my friend Ariel Levy says, just “everything happens”, which I think is the truest thing. But anyway, I think there was something about this vendor at the flea market and me and these Norman Cherner chairs that she just knew that we had to be together and she took pity on a poor young potter. And let me buy these chairs probably less than she paid for them. And it was an act of charity that I still appreciate to this day. And it was meant to be. Even though nothing’s meant to be.

Elsie: That’s beautiful. Yeah, definitely not.

Jonathan: Do you think everything happens for a reason? Are you like…

Elsie: Oh, God, I can’t even get into that right now, so.

Jonathan: (laughs)

Elsie: Not really. I guess I, I do believe in karma. I am like…

Jonathan: Well, you would!

Elsie: …motivated by karma and…

Jonathan: And you’ve been suffering from karma because of those can lights.

Elsie: (laughs) Don’t worry, my moment is coming and there will be no can lights in this house and it’s going to be beautiful.

Jonathan: Alright! You’ve gotta do some good deeds then in this life.

Elsie: You’re right (laughs) I do need to work on it. When I first read your books, I marathoned them all at once. I had just gone on my first trip to Palm Springs. This was like, I don’t know, like seven or eight years ago. And I was, I think I was I was actually writing a home book at the time, so I just really needed like a place to center myself. And HGTV is, it’s kind of like a culture that I love it. It’s fun to watch, but I can’t get inspired to do my own home from it because I just sit there and think about how they’re going to change everything or you know what I mean? Or how it’s not really that fast or it’s not really that cheap, or blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m one of those like people who likes to watch it, to say my opinions or whatever. So anyway, when I read your books, you talked a lot about how your esthetic was optimistic. And I wanted my esthetic to have a feeling, too, and I wanted to feel cozy. But a lot of people through the years, I say it all the time like cozy, cozy, cozy. And people will say, actually, that’s not cozy because of this and this. And they sort of try to, like, prove it wrong. But I do believe that it’s like it’s what it means to you, right?

Jonathan: Yeah.

Elsie: Eyeballs in the fireplace might not be optimistic to someone else, but to you it’s this, you know, sparks joy and stuff. So anyway, I wanted to hear if you had any tips for designing a space that is completely personal to you.

Jonathan: Yes, very much so, I think that’s very much what my ethos is all about, and the real essence of designing a space that’s personal to you is only buying things that you absolutely love and that your heirs will fight over. Like that’s kind of my motto in my design practice as I design products, furniture, pottery. The real ultimate test for whether or not something makes into my line is will this object create lawsuits among siblings in the future, like when you buy it and you snuff it eventually, many years later, and your kids will look at this pot and be like, I want it. No, I want it. No I want it. And like lawyer up or have a fight. So that’s my standard. And that really is germane to your question of how to make things personal. The answer is: only buy stuff that you really, really love. And I suppose that’s kind of the Marie Kondo concept of sparking joy. And I think people in as much as they think about me, might think that I’m sort of the opposite of Marie Kondo just because I make a lot of things like I ain’t a minimalist. However, I am very Marie Kondo about my life. I only surround myself with things that spark joy. There just happened to be a lot of them, like an awful lot.

Elsie: I love that. I think Marie Kondo is for everyone. Right before the quarantine started, I was about to get a Marie Kondo tattoo, which now I have a lot of time to rethink it, but I think I probably still will…

Jonathan: Yeah don’t!

Elsie: No? Are you serious?

Jonathan: Well, first of all, I’m just to prove what a fossil I am. I’m extremely opposed to tattoos. Like I see a pretty young girl like you and I’m like, no! Don’t do it.

Elsie: My mom will love this!

Jonathan: Do you have tattoos?

Elsie: I do.

Jonathan: Oh my God.

Elsie: Yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Elsie: So it’s already ruined. That ship has sailed.

Jonathan: The ship has sailed. You’re like I know I sound like a fossil, but I’m right. It’s just one of those things that like I’m right. Your mom’s right.

Elsie: You’re probably right. But yeah, it’s yeah. Sometimes, yeah. That ship has sailed.

Jonathan: We’re going to agree to disagree on that one.

Elsie: (laughs) Ok, ok. I told you before I listen to like forty interviews to prep for this. It was so much fun. So I want to have, or I want to ask your business advice question.

Jonathan: Yes.

Elsie: You often have shared little nuggets of wisdom that are that are business advice that are kind of different from the typical business advice that you hear going around and Emma and I in our careers. We’ve been told over and over and over and over to do less, like we’re doing too much. People aren’t going to be able to focus on what you’re trying to do. When we started our podcast, we had many, many people saying “you don’t need a podcast, no one’s going to listen to it. Just stick with the blog or stick with Instagram”, blah, blah, blah. One of the things that you said over and over is that you’re a yes person and that you say yes to everything. That was a quote. I say yes to everything, which I thought was so interesting because…

Jonathan: Yeah, that really started during my more promiscuous youth.

Elsie: (laughs)

Jonathan: I took I took my sexual mores and sort of just transferred them to my business life. But yeah, in all seriousness, I started, I’ll tell you how that say yes to everything, ethos involved with me and perhaps you and your listeners will find it relevant to them. I had a very strange origin story. I was really struggling as a young adult and I knew that I kind of wanted to be like a successful dude. I was always very ambitious and I always wanted to be a potter. And of course, those two desires are absolutely irreconcilable. Like there’s no such thing as a successful potter.

Elsie: Well, not any more!

Jonathan: Until me! I blazed a trail. Boom! Mic drop. But in all seriousness, I. I had a nice solidly upper-middle-class upbringing and I wanted to have, I needed to earn a living, of course, and I wanted to earn a really good living. And so that seemed impossible. And I, I tried to work in the movie business and I really was a terrible employee in my early 20s. And I got fired from a string of jobs and I was twenty-seven. I was unemployed. I was unemployable. And I started teaching night classes at a pottery studio just kind of while I was getting my head together. And then since then to a series of happy accidents and a lot of luck and pluck and grit and more luck, I kind of evolved a pottery business and I think I recognized that starting a career as a potter was never going to be a route to financial success unless I really, like, went for it and kind of just grabbed each and every opportunity I could possibly find. And so that was really where my kind of concept of like say yes to everything started. And I think it’s on a business level, say yes to everything because you just kind of want to hoover up each and every dollar you possibly can. And even if that means spending more time and energy on your work, like I used to work and all day, every day, seven days a week, because I was just trying to hoover up each and every dollar I could get my hands on. The other thing I think about saying yes to everything is in a world in which people are very, very precious about their brands, which I even hate the word brand. But people are sort of very precious about what they’re doing. And they’re like, well, this doesn’t really like, it doesn’t really compute with my brand. I’m just like, shut up, just don’t be so precious about your ideas, your intellectual property, your property. Just don’t don’t be precious, be prolific. And that’s kind of what the idea is.

Elsie: This is beautiful advice. I hope everyone takes this to heart, especially people who are business owners growing their own business because it is so helpful. And it’s true that it’s good to be snobby, but maybe not in the beginning. Maybe that’s not a good way to get started. So I love this advice.

Jonathan: Yeah, I think don’t be snobby in the beginning, the middle or the end. And I’ll tell you a little bit like I was at a trade show about five years ago and I was looking for somebody to manufacture some wood chairs. And I found this kind of young up and coming designer whose name I won’t mention. And they had an incredible, like, skill set, like they’ve made furniture by hand in Pennsylvania. And there was kind of some stuff, some techniques they did that sort of work, just exactly what I was looking for, albeit with my own designs, not their designs. And I said to them, like, hey, you know, I’m me. I have stores. I want to do, you know, are you interested in doing private label product using the techniques that you’ve developed, blah, blah, blah? And they said, yeah, no, we don’t really want to work with other people right now. We’re really focused on building our own brand and. Of course, never to be heard from again. And I think it was, it was a time where, like, I’m sure they saw me as some sort of a big fish who was trying to, like, rip them off, which, of course, I wasn’t. But I think that they instead of saying, like, sure, sounds great, let’s do this and kind of seeing where it evolves and what happens instead. They were treating their again, their their work, their techniques. They’re doing it in a very, very precious and constrained, almost like selfish way. And it’s like you kind of got to release that. Just try and do everything, anything and everything and just always be moving. Moving. New new new. Like, don’t be presh, be prolific.

Elsie: That’s beautiful advice. We have that same, the same type of experiences with our app company quite a bit. And I think that there are often far greater benefits to being open to collaborating than to not being open. So I think that’s great.

Jonathan: Yeah. Don’t treat it as a zero-sum game like I think a lot of people, especially young people, think that people are like, have nefarious motives or they’re out to rip them off. And that’s that happens, of course. And during the course of my business career, I’ve had a lot of really gnarly experiences early on where people didn’t pay me or exploited me or whatever, but I kind of just dust my shoulders off and keep on moving because you can’t hold on to that. You got to try and imagine the law of averages will be in your favor and just keep doing more, more, more and saying yes to everything. Don’t be presh.

Elsie: Beautiful. OK, so I have a few flash questions that I want to ask you and just random stuff that I am so curious about. So do you have a favorite 70s movie?

Jonathan: That’s like Sophie’s Choice from a 70s movie, by the way, because there’s so many 70s movies I love from…god, I mean The Graduate, The Conversation, Klute. Probably The Graduate. Was that the 70s or the 60s? It’s the 70s?

Elsie: Yeah, it’s definitely on the edge.

Jonathan: Saturday Night Fever, I mean, the 70s, the golden era.

Elsie: What is your favorite room to design? If you had to choose between a kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom?

Jonathan: A living room.

Elsie: Yeah, OK. You can kind of tell. What is your favorite place to buy art?

Jonathan: Oh, favorite place to buy art. I don’t really, I mostly buy art from people I know.

Elsie: That’s that’s really lovely.

Jonathan: Yeah, I’m not. And I because I live in New York City and because I’m kind of in the design world, and have attained a modicum of success. I know a ton of like super billionaire art collectors who are always going to art balls and blah, blah. And I hate that, like, I would never want to become that human.

Elsie: No I think it’s very cool to collect art from people. You know, my mom’s a painter and some of my best friends do weavings. So we have a bunch of stuff like that in our house, too. Oh, really special.

Jonathan: Oh that’s awesome. Yeah. My pop, my dad, who unfortunately died twenty one years ago, but he, he was a lawyer, but he was a passionate artist. That’s what he spent all of his time doing. That was sort of his life’s work. Very inspiring to me to moi to grow up with a dad who was a a brilliant artist.

Elsie: That’s so wonderful. And do you have a go to quarantine comfort recipe?

Jonathan: So during quarantine, I’ve become a true prairie woman, like I have found inner resources of homemaking and craftiness that I never even knew existed. And so every single night I craft an haute couture meal for my husband, Simon, or at least I say it’s for him. It’s really for me and my, the recipe that I have been doing a lot lately is like a shrimp and asparagus risotto with saffron. It’s just very hearty but couture. And takes a lot of time and is sort of very all-consuming.

Elsie: Yeah, Emma said that Risottos is her favorite date night at home because you can kind of like hang out while you’re making it and it’s like hang out in the kitchen type of vibe.

Jonathan: Oh totes. Yeah, it kind of has that same improvisational feel like those those are the moments not to, not to wax spiritual, but in the same way like a house to feel slightly improvised. I do think those sort of unexpected moments, like making risotto can be the best times.

Elsie: Oh that’s so wonderful. I love it.

Jonathan: Full disclosure, Simon and I have been married for over twenty five years. It ain’t like a like hang out and chitty chat while I make risotto. It’s me like headphones and listening to podcasts trying to like ignore him and pretend he’s not even there. That’s what that’s what Emma has to look forward to.

Elsie: It can be both right.

Jonathan: I guess.

Elsie: Oh my gosh. Yeah. You are the cutest couple. Oh I did have one more. OK, if I was going to read my first Simon Doonan book, what would you suggest for my first one.

Jonathan: Oh my God. Again, Sophie’s Choice, because my cute husband, who unfortunately is within earshot right now, is a and I don’t want him to hear this, but..

Simon: HTBY!

Jonathan: What’s that?

Simon: HTBY.

Jonathan: Well he has a new book coming out this fall called How to Be Yourself, that I read a sneak preview of, and it’s just unbelievably brilliant as all of his books are. So read that, obviously. And then if you want to do a deep dove into the Doonan canon, I think his chef d’oeuvre is Beautiful People, which is a comic memoir about his truly ghastly and Dickensian childhood in postwar England, which is…to the average person would just be like truly upsetting that he somehow manages to make it hilarious and ribald and inspiring and mostly hilarious. So Beautiful People is a truly brilliant book. I hate the fact that he can hear me say that. But read Beautiful People and read How to be Yourself.

Elsie: Ok, I’m going to link to both of those in the show notes, as well as all of your books, all the home tours especially. I have a couple of personal favorites. You can also follow Jonathan @jonathanadler on Instagram and Shop is beautiful things at jonathanadler.com. Is there anything else that you want people to know as they stalk you?

Jonathan: I guess what I really want them to know is that I am a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan.

Elsie: (laughs)

Jonathan: I bleed green like we’re talking about all this design stuff. But in the meantime, I’m just sitting here praying that my eagles get to play this fall. And as on the Eagles front, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl two years ago, it changed my entire outlook in life. It made me the true optimist and person that you see before you today because I thought it would never happen. But my Eagles won. So, yeah, go Eagles.

Elsie: I hope to someday meet you in real life, post covid world. And if not, I will take a time machine to take that pottery class you’re teaching at night because that just sounds magical. So thank you so much for taking the time for us.

Jonathan: Thank you. It’s been a true treat. Peace out.

Elsie: Bye!

Jonathan: Bye.

Elsie: Thank you so much for listening. As always. We’ll be posting a robust set of show notes at abeautifulmess.com/podcast. For reference, this is episode forty nine. If you enjoy this episode, it would mean so much to us if you would share it, whether you want to share it on Instagram stories or even just text a friend. We appreciate you so much.

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  • I love love love JA and his cheeky, fun style! I wonder how you put Happy Chic and hygge together because I have a hard time embracing both. I see you meshing the two with your whimy vanity for Nova, but I would love to hear how you achieve happy chic with a more muted palette.

    • Hi! I really think it’s just what Jonathan said- to bring things into your home that YOU truly love. So really figure out what colors and styles speak to you! I love the idea that we each have an inner style to discover. XX!

  • As someone who has to deal with private label designs I have to say that I understand why they said no to developing their product for someone else. When you get to call the shots for yourself and your designs it is very hard to submit to the demands of the label that is now paying you. There is little control and a lot of headaches. Of course there are some people who are a dream to work with but you just don’t know what could happen in the relationship and if you are doing fine on your own it is preferred to skip it especially if it means having to work even more hours or hiring new employees to fulfill the commitment. I believe that Elsie has even mentioned that she doesn’t really want to do her interior design styling for other people because of the complications (am I right on that??) so I just want to say that while some of the time it is an incredible opportunity, the other part of the time it is more stress than it is worth.

  • After listening to this podcast I felt so much better about my lack of furniture! I get made fun of so much because I don’t have a lot of furniture. No one understands my need to wait until I find or can afford the piece that speaks to me. I’m glad there are others who feel the same way I do!

  • Ugh, I love this so much! Jonathan Adler is such an inspiration for me – I just wish I could afford more of his stuff. ?

    xoKaelen | Darling Marcelle

  • Elsie, this was such a fun listen and so many jewels of design wisdom! After 8 years of being a staying at home mom both of my kiddos are going to be in school (well, at least for now…who knows, right?) but, I am going to start my own lighting design business this year. If you want any help with your recessed downlight problem, I’m here! Your blog has been so inspiring to me lately, and it’s so exciting to finally take this new leap into the unknown.

  • Elsie you really held it together well! I would be fangirling so hard if I was interviewing an icon!! That eye fireplace is amazing!!

  • I thought you were actually not going to get the tattoo because of what he said. So I’m glad to see you still plan on getting it! You do you, Elsie! ?

    • Haha- no I love it SO MUCH but it’s just a tattoo. Either way it’s all good!

  • So curious what your Marie Kondo tattoo will be? A drawing of Marie’s face? The text “spark joy”? A tiny stack of neatly folded t-shirts?

    I’m personally with Jonathan on this one, I don’t think I’d get something that was related to a trend. But I have no tattoos because I’m a big wuss, so agree to disagree! 😉 Show us a pic when you get it!

  • Love Jonathan Adler even more after listening to this podcast! His quote, “buy something your heirs will fight over,” when talking about eccentric pieces is definitely MAGICAL!!! His eye for design (and vocabulary!) is impeccable.

  • This is amazing! Literally about to go on my long avoided trip to IKEA (new desk legs aren’t an exciting purchase) just so I can listen to this on the drive 🙂

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