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Jonathan Adler’s Manhattan apartment is an explosion of colour and fun

We take a look inside the designers home, with his partner Simon Doonan as our guide

Jonathan Adler and Simon Doonan in their home
Photography Douglas Friedman

A quarter of a century ago, a young potter rollerbladed into my apartment – and my heart. I met Jonathan Adler in November 1994. A pal set us up on a blind date, and we’ve been together since. Back then, I was a Brit transplant and swanky suit-wearing retail exec who was designing windows and helping craft the image of Barneys New York. Jonathan, a proud New Jersey native, was a clay-spattered ceramicist, a bohemian wedging his brains out in a SoHo studio.

Jonathan Adler's Manhattan apartment
Photography Douglas Friedman

Much has changed since then. My knowledge of Yiddish has increased beyond all measure, and Jonathan has become a tea-guzzling Anglophile. We are still in the same Greenwich Village apartment, but in 2001 we doubled the space when we acquired the adjacent unit. Though still clay-spattered, Jonathan has made a few subtle tweaks to his resume: we’re talking furniture designer, retail magnate, design icon, hotel visionary and interior decorating mega-force.

Last year, we decided to perk up our pad, starting by playing musical chairs with the available space. Our old bedroom became my office, the living room turned into our bedroom, my office was transformed into the dining room and so on. It was meshuga (‘crazy’ in Yiddish). Clutching our rescue mutt, Foxylady, I retreated into my new office from where I watched as Jonathan gesticulated like conductor Herbert von Karajan and workmen tore the place apart.

Jonathan Adler's Manhattan Home
Photography Douglas Friedman


Once the dust settled, Team Adler trooped into our reconfigured home bearing a cavalcade of newly designed furniture, pillows and lamps. Jonathan’s buzzwords were ‘bold, glamorous and memorable’ – it was about amping it up, not dialling back. Now, our library has a luminous David Hicks wallpaper on the ceiling and features a fringed sofa in a decadent Proustian velvet.

The living room holds two newly reupholstered Vladimir Kagan settees in an ivory bouclé, which sit atop a Vans-inspired chequerboard rug that fills the floor. Unexpected juxtapositions were key, as exemplified by a life-sized vintage Italian ceramic poodle, a gift from Michael Kors, which rests on giant Tiffany boxes and stares hauntingly into a Gothic cheval mirror in the corner of our revamped dining room.

Jonathan Adler Manhattan apartment
Photography Douglas Friedman

The greatest hits from a quarter of a century of hunting and gathering have found new life in our spiffed-up home. Our frothy mix of iconic vintage trouvées includes a Paul Evans four-poster bed, a Fornasetti screen and an Ed Paschke portrait of Sly Stone. There are sentimental items, too: the Bjørn Wiinblad chalice we bought on our first trip to Denmark in 2002; a Prince head from one of my Barneys window designs; and a kinky vintage Pirelli calendar designed by Allen Jones – a Portobello Road find.

And there’s further layering with new Adler designs, including glam-rock beaded artworks, cheeky needlepoint pillows and Surrealist porcelain vases, some of which sprout ostrich feathers. Jonathan’s vast and varied oeuvre – he now works in myriad stylistic idioms – merges seamlessly with our older finds. How come? The truth is, there are no supporting actors in our home. Everything is a star. Everything is there because we love it.

Jonathan Adler Manhattan apartment bedroom
Photography Douglas Friedman

Watching it all come together was astonishing and delightful. The look Jonathan achieved is glamorous, life-enhancing and really rather fabulous – and I can say that because I had nothing to do with it. I kvelled with pride as my potter threw every ounce of his creative chutzpah into the reimagining of our home. Jonathan had started with an atom and then, 25 years later, kapow, the Big Bang!

You could be forgiven for assuming that we, with our giant Lucite Pills and trippy visuals, live like hedonistic rock stars. Au contraire. The truth is, we lead a cosy, down-to-earth existence. (The Yiddish word is haimish.) Regardless of how eccentric or theatrical the vignette, there will always be a place in our home to plop down a Jonathan Adler handcrafted porcelain mug. jonathanadler.com

For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration July 2019

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