interviewsVeterans and Startups

Veterans and Startups: Jonathan Adler

by Grace Bonney

Jonathan Adler, NYC
When I was deciding which area of the creative community I wanted to focus on next for Veterans and Startups, my mind immediately went to ceramics. Ceramics and textiles will always be my first love, and when it came to choosing a ceramics veteran, I immediately thought of Jonathan Adler. I’ve followed his work for as long as I’ve been blogging and his 20 years in the business have made him one of the most successful and prolific designers around. Although Jonathan’s work now ranges well beyond ceramics (he designs everything from furniture and lighting to rugs and handbags), his devotion to his original love, pottery, is infectious. I’ve really been enjoying watching his silly (in a great way) new web series, Inspiration Point, and love how he encourages his whole team to have fun, let loose and not take themselves so seriously. His advice for young designers (“Get a job, any job, at a design company you admire and be patient. Don’t expect to be an overnight success.”) is valuable and his experience growing a business to now support hundreds of employees across the globe is truly inspirational. Thanks so much to Jonathan for sharing his advice with us today. xo, grace

*Stay tuned for an interview with Brit McDaniel of Paper & Clay next!

Click through for the full post below…


What was the inspiration/reason for starting your company?

 I was unemployable – I had no choice.  It was potter or bust. 

 What is a day in the life of your job like? What takes up the majority of your work day?

My job is unfairly fun.  I’ve been at it a long time and I’ve gotten to the point that I focus on the creative and I have enough of a team in place that I don’t spend as much time on the business and operational side of my company as I did during the early years.  My day involves making pots, designing furniture, and scheming, plotting, and giggling with my fun and creative design team.

What is the thing you’re proudest of that you (or the company as a whole) have done?

 That’s a really tough question because I’m very proud of my oeuvre.  I’ve designed lots of stuff over the years and I’m very proud of most of it.  I’m also very proud to have built a company that creates hundreds of jobs in America and abroad.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 12.43.59 PM

We love your branding and the identity associated with Jonathan Adler as a brand- how did it come about, how did you decide on the look and what role does that play in the brand and company as a whole?

It developed organically because I never had a business plan or branding document or really any kind of plan.  Whatever your perception of my “brand” is, is totally organic.  It’s a reflection of me and my sensibility.  I think that the best way to brand yourself is to simply be true to who you are.

What has been the biggest ongoing challenge as a business, and what have you done to address or solve it?

My business is extraordinarily complicated.  I make stuff all over the world – importing, exporting, shipping.   The operational challenges of my business – and any business in which you make and ship fragile objects – are madness inducing.


What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting?

The best thing ever was when my pottery teacher told me I had no talent and should try to become a lawyer.  A naysaying authority figure is a great catalyst for success.

What do you wish you’d known (or what advice do you wish you’d had) about the homegoods business (or running a business in general) looking back?

I’m glad I didn’t know how challenging it is when I started because I never would have gone into it.  I have a Pollyanna-ish optimism and that’s served me well.  The only thing I regret is that before I become a potter, I didn’t get a job working for someone in this industry so I would understand the challenges but it’s probably best I didn’t.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 12.42.46 PM
Jonathan Adler at his Bar Mitzvah

What advice would you give to new businesses in your field starting out or what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

Get a job, any job, at a design company you admire and be patient.  Don’t expect to be an overnight success. And, probably the best advice I could ever give, would be to marry someone in financial services.

What are your goals going forward or next steps you’d like to take as a brand?

I’m an incredibly lucky designer.  I have the privilege of designing in myriad categories and techniques.  The more I do the more I want to do – unfortunately I’ve become an insatiable addict and my goal is design more, more, more and more still.



Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 12.40.27 PM
Jonathan and his team taking dance lessons on Inspiration Point, their new web series

Suggested For You


  • I love his work soooooo much…

    I’m French, and since there are no shop in France (hello ! Come over here !!), I had to bring back my beloved ceramic fox in my suitcase when I went to LA. You can’t imagine how well the people in the shop protected him (fantastic time at the shop by the way). Then my husband discovered that the JA shop in London could ship sturdy items, and surprised me with a butter dish for Christmas. Then I turned 30 and my family bought me two of the seahorse lamps, which are incredible.

    Oh, and I have an ongoing collection of greek-inspired blue vases. I may bot have the budget for some of the more expensive pieces, but if I ever do, I know where some of it is going to go.

    At what point do I need to check at a hospital ?

  • “A naysaying authority figure is a great catalyst for success”
    so TRUE! I had one teacher tell me that most likely I was going to fail and that I couldn’t write. At first I was devastated and then I thought, maybe he’s right; but who cares? I’m going to keep going and figure things out for myself. Here I am almost ten years later doing what I love, learning more and more every year and not giving a damn about negative people. Thanks for these interviews Design*Sponge!

  • “my mine immediately went to ceramics.” Typo. Pretty sure you mean “my mind immediately went to ceramics”

  • I love Jonathon’s work. I remember working at a gallery seventeen years ago in the midwest and falling in love with a piece. One of my colleagues said flippantly, “oh, that’s a Jonathon Adler. Some people collect him.” Ha. My latest addition is the unicorn salt and pepper shakers.

  • There’s a few typos you should fix… “What advice to you have to new businesses…” ++ This is too great of an interview to have multiple typos.

  • I love that JA did this interview, I know he is a big D*S supporter. He is one of my all time favourite designers. It is wonderful that he does not take himself too seriously, and enjoys what he does while having fun at it. Not to mention his beautiful work… I could go on and on. It has been so exciting to see his product line keep expanding.
    Go JA!

  • Big JA fan…I’m curious…as he sits at the potter’s wheel he’s wearing fantastic slip-ons…know where they came from?