Banish the banal: the story of how Jonathan Adler started his brand

Eccentric, glamorous, and contemporary – these are the words which instantly come to mind when you think of Jonathan Adler. The American potter and designer’s style and passion shine through every piece and collection part of his namesake brand. But how, and where, did it all begin?

Today, we chat to Jonathan Adler and find out more about the moment he came up with the idea to start his business, the lessons he has learnt along the way, and what to expect from him in the future. Curious? Then, let’s begin…

Who is Jonathan Adler?

Potter and designer Jonathan Adler is the founder of Jonathan Adler, his namesake brand synonymous with the modern American glamour aesthetic. He founded his business 30 years ago in 1993, and five years later opened his first store in Soho, New York, in 1998. Then, in 2011, he entered the UK market and established his London shop.

Portrait of Jonathan Adler
Potter and designer Jonathan Adler.

Jonathan, when did you first notice you had an interest in design?

I was fortunate to grow up with creative and artistic parents. My father was a lawyer, who spent every spare minute painting, and my mother’s cheerful sense of colour continues to inform me to this day.

My parents taught me I could be anything – as long I wasn’t banal.

Jonathan Adler

What were your first creations?

I first tried pottery at summer camp when I was 12. I’m not a spiritual person, but from the first moment I touched the clay I felt a connection – it didn’t hurt that I thought the counsellor was cute. I don’t remember the first thing I made, but I’m sure it was bad.

Young Jonathan potting
Young Jonathan Adler potting.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first had the idea for Jonathan Adler?

My pottery teacher in college told me I had no talent, and I should move to New York City and become a lawyer. So, after college I moved to NYC and worked in the entertainment industry. I got fired from one job after another because I was a terrible employee. I realised I could only work for myself, so I taught pottery classes in exchange for studio space at a place called Mud, Sweat, and Tears – potters love a pun – and the rest is history.

Can you tell us about the journey from that initial idea to your first day of trading?

I was a production potter, making everything myself. I would rollerblade to the studio, spend 14 hours making mug after mug, handle after handle, teapot after teapot, while I listened to public radio before rollerblading home and doing it all again the next day.

Bold living room design with curved sofa, wall art, striped furniture and touches of gold
Polly six-light chandelier, from £1250; Op Art Credenza, £5200, and Ether curved sofa, £4725, Jonathan Adler.

What were the first Jonathan Adler products that were created?

Striped pots, teapots and mugs with refined, elegant silhouettes – if I do say so myself!

What were those first years of Jonathan Adler like? How were they different to now?

Well, I had no idea what I was doing. My first big order was from Barneys and, after six months or so, I realised I hadn’t been paid. I called them and they were like: “Oh, hi! You’re that potter who never submitted an invoice!” My response? “What’s an invoice?” Now I’m lucky to be smarter and to be surrounded by talented, creative, and hilarious colleagues.

Pastel living room with cloud-like sofa, pebble-shaped coffee tables and metallic accents
Ether Cloud settee, £3950, and Giant tassel stool, £1200, Jonathan Adler.

How did it feel, seeing your creations in people’s homes for the first time on a large scale?

I remember being at my first store in Soho and overhearing a woman on her phone telling her friend she was ‘at Jonathan Adler’. I had made it – I was a place!

Were there any designs that did particularly well? Equally, in those early days, was there something that didn’t do so well?

People loved the stripes of my first collections and their inspiration can still be seen in our best-selling Vice range. As far as stuff that bombed, there’s been so much over the years. But I just make what I want to create and hope people love it as much as I do.

Colourful and striped canisters
Vice canisters, £95 for the Vice Glitter canister, Jonathan Adler.

Are there any lessons you learnt at the beginning that you still carry with you now?

Well, after having a kiln fire at our first office, I’ve learned the importance of good insurance. And I still carry my parents’ admonishment to ‘banish the banal’ with me.

Our motto is: “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.”

Jonathan Adler

Lastly, what does the future hold for Jonathan Adler? Anything we should be looking out for?

Three words: more, more, more. More products, more glamour, more stores – including a bigger, better location in London this spring.

Enjoyed this feature? Check out How to add stripes to your bedroom

About Post Author

You Might Also Like


Want to get involved?

[email protected]

Sign up to our newsletter

Want the latest in your inbox?