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  • By Mel Studach

Leave It to Jonathan Adler to Turn a Sad Storage Area Into a Chic Downtown Office

AD PRO takes a tour of Adler’s first-ever office project—a glamorous home base for an all-women communications firm

When it came to designing a Manhattan office, Jonathan Adler had one goal in mind: to make it not look like an office. In the parlance of his client, the all-women communications firm Powell, that might be called “burying the lede.” But the New York–based potter turned design mogul saw it a different way. “The space needed to look glamorous enough to lure clients, and official enough to keep them,” he says.

Though Adler has been in business for some 25 years, the Powell space marked his first office project. “I guess when people think of me, they don’t think office,” he tells AD PRO. “It was a fun challenge.” A divine one, even. Adler drew from Powell’s logo and mascot Athena, the Greek goddess of war, wisdom, and strategy, to craft a narrative and aesthetic for the space—one that reflected the founders’ powerful business acumen.

Adler’s main hurdle had to do with the constraints of the existing space. Though Powell’s second-floor unit is located in a historic neoclassical building in Manhattan’s Financial District, it previously served as a storage area. What’s more, the only windows faced an air shaft. “When I first saw it, it was a little underwhelming,” Adler admits. The first order of business, he says, was to make the office “light, airy, and ethereal.”

To combat the dimness, Adler dressed the windows with translucent Austrian drapes, which both diffuse light and accentuate the space’s loft-like ceilings. He also utilized a bright neoclassical color palette of black, white, and gold to refract any existing daylight.

Despite having an all-powerful warrior goddess as a muse, Adler also sought to inject the office with his signature brand of glamour. “I wanted to create Athena, but instead of a helmet, she might have on a tiara,” Adler says. That meant sourcing Greek key–patterned wallpaper, pillows, and rugs (many of his own design), but also plush Art Deco–inspired seating, gold Sputnik light fixtures, and candy-colored Grecian busts. Adler also peppered in a few darker moments—geode-print wallpaper, black lampshades, and a watercolor portrait of grunge goddess Courtney Love—for good measure. All work in concert to create “a space that’s visually stimulating enough to keep those millennials off their goddamn phones,” Adler says.

Adler is on to something: According to a recent report, 90 percent of employees stated that they are able to perform their jobs better in a well-designed workplace. But of course, Powell still needed the functionality of a traditional office. Four communal desks sit perpendicular to each window, each with its own identical table lamp. To offer alternative workspaces and encourage coworking, Adler also designed private conference rooms that work for both power meetings and tête-à-têtes.

All told, Adler says he found that designing a residence and designing an office are not all that dissimilar. “I’ve always said that when I’m working on a residential project, I like to capture the essence of my clients at their most glamorous,” says Adler. “I think a good designer functions like a slimming mirror for his or her clients, capturing them at their very best.” He quickly adds, “Not that any of them need a slimming mirror.”

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