Jonathan Adler Packs Nothing When He Travels
Credit: Dan Gottesman

Jonathan Adler’s Shelter Island hideaway looks exactly how you want the summer retreat of renowned home decor designer to look. There’s more than a hint of mid-century in this modern abode, carved into the coast and overlooking the parade of yachts that scoot along the river that separates the island from the North Fork of Long Island. Inside, no inch has been ignored: A life-sized dog statue doubles as a hat rack, the numerous chairs that hang from the ceiling are aligned as if they are the home’s chakra, and a close inspection reveals countless references to owls in the decor. To borrow Adler’s catchphrase, the whole thing is pretty darn groovy.

We recently spent an afternoon at Adler’s home (which he shares with his husband, Barney’s inimitable creative ambassador Simon Doonan). The occasion: A luncheon hosted by Adler and Ford, which is working with the designer as part of the company’s Mustang Icon50 program, celebrating the muscle car’s 50th anniversary. With summer here, we used the opportunity to grab Adler and ask him about how he works design into his frequent travels.

What are your travel must-haves?
When I travel, I pack nothing. My goal in life is never to check a bag. And when I see people with guides, I think that’s the wrong way to do things. I think it’s better to immerse yourself without a guide. To get lost.

Do you use your travels as design inspiration?
I look for inspiration, especially in the color palette or in nature. Here I am at the beach, and a shell can inspire a pot. I just got back from Capri and the color palette can certainly inspire me based on a location or nature. The Glass Menagerie was inspired by the colors of Capri. The Grenade feels like sea creatures. I am always in search of nature. Any time I even go to a city I seek out the nearest hiking trail. Having said that, going to Capri, they have the best hiking on the planet.

What are the places that inspire you the most?
I try to go only to singularly groovy locations—places that are inherently blessed with good design.The places that really inspire me are Palm Beach; Big Sur is the most striking place I’ve ever been. The first time I was ever there, I just gasped. I’m always on the hunt for extremes, whether it be the desert in Utah at Amangiri, or the mountains at Jackson Hole.

How do you find design inspiration when at home in New York?
When you know a place well you tend to get into a routine and its so challenging to break a routine, but you just have to force yourself. My New York is: I go to and from work on the same route. So as long as I just take a different route, I find something new. I recently stumbled upon a rad Synagogue in Tribeca that has incredible architecture. There are so many weird architectural moments in NYC that you forget about. I think my favorite place in N.Y.C. is a thing in Soho called The Broken Kilometer. It’s a Dia Art Foundation permanent installation on West Broadway. It’s empty and fantastic.