21 April 2010

Jonathan Adler is my new BFF

Believe it.


Three weeks ago I got a call from the terrific Cathy Bame, the doyenne of Sub-Zero and Wolf. Cathy told me that she'd recommended me to the DuPont Corporation as a good addition to a party they were hosting in Chicago during my industry's big trade show, KBIS. DuPont was being particular about who they'd put on the guest list and somehow I made the cut.

A detail of this event that I found endlessly amusing was that the official host was none other than Jonathan Adler. To make it even more precious, the party was being held at Chicago's Adler Planetarium.


The connection between Jonathan Adler and the Adler Planetarium is coincidental by the way.

Anyhow, I was allowed to bring a date. I wanted to bring someone who would appreciate the humor of my being in the same room as the man I've made a virtual sideline out of mocking. The lucky woman I selected was none other than Cheryl Kees-Clendenon. Cheryl's a high-profile designer as well as one of the most amusing women I know. I figured that we'd have a couple of inside laughs and that would be the end of it.


The evening started with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and there were about 50 people in attendance. Most of them were DuPont marketing people, their PR agency and then the rest of the crowd were DuPont's high-performing sales people. It was a pleasant, if reserved crowd. Cheryl and I worked out way through the buffet tables and the bar and then we spotted him.

He's smaller than I thought he'd be. That makes him my height and build. It was an odd thing to be standing so close to someone who's work I've mocked so regularly. He was surrounded by a small clot of people and before I could work my way over toward him, the hostess announced that Adler was going to give a short presentation.

Jonathan Adler took the stage and proceeded to deliver about a half hour presentation on his life and his work. He reviewed his creations from his starting out days as a potter and then brought everything up to date with his stores and his interior design business. I uncrossed my arms after about five minutes.


The longer he spoke, the more I could see that Jonathan Adler's an artist who used to struggle and who can't quite believe his good fortune today. I started to see that he's an ethical business man. I started to see that he's a decent human being. He spoke candidly and honestly about his life at home with Simon Doonan, a man he married two years ago during a brief window of opportunity in California. That he was so forthright about his home life in front of a crowd completely not used to hearing such things made me see him in a light approaching the heroic frankly.

He took a few questions from the audience after his presentation and I wanted to stand up and shout, "Why aren't you an asshole?!" I passed on the opportunity.

After he was finished I walked over and introduced myself. His licensed product manager was standing next to him. Cheryl sells Adler lighting in her showroom. The four of us stood and talked for about five minutes and it was genuinely enjoyable. I'm glad I met him.

I will not be buying any orange giraffes any time soon and that evening showed me once again that I can dislike an idea but still like the person behind it. I was counting on getting a snarky post or two out of the evening but that's not at all what I got. No, what I got was a life lesson. From Jonathan Adler no less.

As an endnote, when Cheryl and I were leaving the party we ran into the VP of Marketing for DuPont Surfaces. She knew who I was and we exchanged pleasantries for a moment or two while waiting for the elevator. She told me that for the party, they'd made a concerted effort to reach out to the design blog community. "Oh really? I asked, "Who else was here?" She looked at me and said, "Well, there's you and we invited Apartment Therapy."

Apartment Therapy. Ugh. I hope I never meet Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and Oliver Ryan, the guys who started Apartment Therapy. With my luck they'll be decent human beings too and I'll be out of punchlines.

Jonathan Adler's stuff can be found on his website. And that my friends is a back link.

35 comments:

  1. Damn this unwelcome personal growth!

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  2. It's a lot of pressure to represent the design blog community all by youself, no?

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  3. It was surreal, frankly. Why me?

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  4. When I opened up your post and saw that first picture I burst out laughing. Your new motto..."Give Peace a Chance"???

    Sharon

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  5. I still burst out laughing when I look at that photo.

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  6. I am so proud of your personal growth Paul! Now maybe you will not harass me any more for liking Jonathan! Although I won't be buying any of his kid line anytime soon either. Just do not expect me to join you in all this touchy feelyesque growing crap. I am content to live unharmoniously in the world of people, thank you! Cheryl

    I did thoroughly enjoy being your date for the evening though! Count me on your list anytime!

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  7. Way to go Paul, it's great to have lots of BFF!
    I met and interviewed Jonathan Adler at High Point when his furniture line first launched. Then for several years afterwards I had one-on-one interviews with him. I always found him to be very down-to-earth, witty and incredibly charming.
    Very funny post! Have a happy morning!

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  8. Cheryl: What a lark! Last Friday, indeed that whole weekend was an endless parade of excitement and fun. Just wait'll I write about standing ten feet away from Margaret Russell at your round table last Saturday!

    Zoe: Thanks for the comment and the compliment. Trade shows make for odd bed fellows sometimes, no?

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  9. Wow, Paul! Lucky you. And I also hope that you never meet the folks from Apartment Therapy.

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  10. How did his comment comparing remodeling to S&M go over with the crowd? I heard some people got up and left. Perhaps he should have gone with potato chips instead (one is never enough, etc.).

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  11. Kathy: Let's hope!

    Kim: While I didn't notice anyone get up and leave, there was a lot of nervous laughter in the room. Nervous laughter and stone-faced silence from the DuPont people. I think I was the only one who laughed.

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  12. I have the biggest crush on Monsieur Alder. I may not always like everything he designs (though some pieces are quite fab), but I know it all comes from a happy place.

    If I could attend a dinner party with him and his husband, I would die a happy girl.

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  13. P.S. Apartment Therapy nearly always sucks. Too many White People Problems.

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  14. I used to think that his stuff came from a really cynical place but I was dead wrong. There. I said it. It a was a surprisingly pleasant realization.

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  15. Adler was one of my first design discoveries as I was transitioning from backwoods country caterpillar to glamorous design butterfly so he'll always have a special place in my heart. Even after I learned about REAL mid-century modern ceramics...

    I would love for you to meet the AT guys so you can post about it! I'm selfish like that.

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  16. Just goes to show that nice people can make stuff that you don't like. I don't want you to ever meet the AT people if there's a chance that you're going to like them though, that would just disrupt my reality way too much.

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  17. I think that running out of punchlines is the last thing you need to worry about. You are a bottomless font of wit and humor and this post makes my point.
    Adler is adorable and so is Simon Doonan. I don't think "cute" is the look they're after, but they sure do it well. I find myself agreeing with just about everything Raina writes!

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  18. The way you tell it, there's hope for many PITA's in our lives. But I'm not getting my hopes up. Too many fuglies are more than skin deep and no amount of warm fuzzies can soften their abrasive edges...
    But there are exceptions to the rule of rudeness and I'm glad you encountered another one.

    This was heartwarming, hilarious, and happily handled. We all need more BFF's.; I also know there are some that will never make the jump into humanizing hyper-space.

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  19. *Love* this post! I probably wouldn't buy most of Adler's stuff (as if I could - hah!) but find the creative spirit behind it inspiring. Thank you for having the humility to write about your revelation; I know it's a hard thing to do sometimes! As for DuPont, yeah, fun crowd; my dad worked for them (as a chemist) for 27 years and his endurance there is a testament to his ability to smile, nod, and just do his work to support his family. He's at a university now (Penn) and can finally stretch his wings...

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  20. you old softie you.

    i've always looked to JA as a bit of role model- as you said, he's an artist who has made himself a success, yet doesn't take himself too seriously; anyone on his level who can still laugh at themselves is OK in my book. plus, i think his stuff is cute and have no problem with most of it (in small doses- homes that look like the JA store are a bit much).

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  21. Modern Sauce: Please let's not hope for any chance meetings with the AT boys, it will ruin my career.

    Nim: Happy birthday! Your comment lets me know that I'm home and all is right with my world again.

    Melody: Thanks! I'm glad you see eye to eye with Raina so much. She is a wonder.

    Rich: Thanks as always. I knew I would get a post out of that party, but that's about the last one I was expecting.

    Girls of The Moggit: The back link to me on your site is a quote about Jonathan Adler if my memory serves...

    Anna: Your Dad's a chemist? I have been searching high and low for a research chemist to help me write a series on household chemistry forever. Could he be the one?

    Christian: Under my rough armor beats the heart of a sensitive guy. Don't tell anybody though. I stood next to Margaret Russell last Saturday and for a moment I knew what it was like to be you. What a weekend!

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  22. *giggle* Have you notice you look like you could be brothers?

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  23. I think that's just the aura of sexiness middle-aged men who are also 5'7" exude.

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  24. 1. I love his pottery!
    2. Hysterical. Truth is stranger than fiction!

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  25. I'm still trying to make some sense out of it. Hah!

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  26. LOL, Paul.. my birthday isn't for two months :P I've just been planning (and yes, I really do plan my birthday party two or more months in advance). It helps me not break my budget at the last minute and allows for anyone who's coming from a great distance time to book that weekend off :)

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  27. I figured that out from your Facebook page earlier today. Happy birthday two months in advance then!

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  28. OMG, that's too funny!!!! But it's kind of cool when you meet someone you really have no desire to meet, and they turn out to be not as bad as you thought :-)

    Here's a guilty little truth for you -- every time Victoria and I chat online, Victoria signs off with Jonathan's line from Top Design, "See ya later decorator" :-)

    Kelly

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  29. loved this post. Oh Paul, you're all soft and mushy inside that tough exterior. :)

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  30. All I can say is that Margaret Russell was frosty and reserved and thank God for that. I couldn't handle one more paradigm shift.

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  31. Paul, I love how your brain downloads these amazing blog posts. You crusty? No, you're just a mushmellow with a pen that morphs to a rapier sword to skewer the absurdities in life!

    I value your opinion so if JA can be your new BFF then he can be mine too. :)

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  32. Thanks Christine. Adler's certainly been responsible for more than his share of absurdities but he's a nice guy. I'm mor ethan willing to share my new BFF, rest assured.

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