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Jonathan Rachman on Survival, Style and Timeless Taste

by Ryan Leeds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday March 27, 2021

Jonathan Rachman does not have time for fake flowers. The prolific, San Francisco-based interior designer has attracted an A-list clientele and travels the world for projects. His new memoir, "The Garlic Peanut Story" reveals intimate details about growing up in Sumatra, Indonesia, his sexuality, and coming to terms with his sister's untimely death.

EDGE recently spoke with the opinionated and skillful bon vivant from his West Coast studio about his memoir and design aesthetic.

EDGE: What inspired you to put pen to paper?

JR: My sister passed away 15 years ago this May. When she died, it changed my whole world. She left a four- and six-year-old behind. Originally, I wrote a letter to them to remember her from my point of view. My husband suggested that I write a book. The book transformed into a vehicle that I hoped would help other people who suffered abuse and showed the healing power of forgiveness.

EDGE: How have readers and family reacted to your story?

JR: The first two books I signed were to my niece and nephew, although they haven't yet read it. I'm about to send about 30 books to family members. I don't know how they will respond, but I'm strong enough not to care because it's my perspective and memory. I've received the most touching and heartfelt notes from readers, though, which has meant so much.

EDGE: You write a lot about the frequency of Methodist church attendance from your youth. Have you maintained your faith?

JR: I'm so glad you asked this. I gave up my Christianity when I was 18 because I was force-fed it in my youth. I don't need a formal title to have a spiritual belief. I also think there is too much hypocrisy with so-called "Christians." However, when I came out to my parents with my husband, they were unexpectedly accepting. At that moment, I forgave them for everything. I think I'm a better Christian than people who actually call themselves Christians.

EDGE: You talk about the anger you felt after your sister passed. What advice do you have for people who are grieving a loved one?

JR: I don't have any advice. There is no road map to grieving. My sister was never angry with anyone, so any time I find myself in that state, I ask if she would react that way. The answer is always 'no.' That's my way of honoring her. I don't think I'll ever be over her loss, and I'm ok with that.

EDGE: Let's turn to your professional life. How did you land your own design firm?

JR: My husband quit his job and helped me launch a flower shop in a hair salon. I used to help my mother design the church flowers. One day, six or seven people crowded around me and watched me work. One of those people was Marc Jacobs, who commissioned me to design flowers for his fashion stores. That opened the door to designing flowers for Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Oprah. Eventually, I met the wife of the Ambassador to Austria. She hired me on the spot to design the flowers for the United Nation's 60th-anniversary party. At the party, someone sought me out and asked me to design an 11,000-square-foot home. The rest is history. It was all word of mouth.

EDGE: What tips do you have to spruce up your living space?

JR: Don't be afraid of wallpaper. Depending on your budget, there are various inexpensive types of custom, handmade wallpaper. My favorite is de Gournay. A lot of people decide on paint first, but it should be the last thing you do. It's one of the easiest things to change. Once you are committed to a sofa or drapery, you're stuck with it. Don't follow any trends. Be you, in life and design. If you're a straight, 300-pound man who likes pink in your living room, then make it pink. Know who you are and what you like and dislike. Know the personality of your house or apartment. You may like Jonathan Adler's style of kitschy, fun pop of color, but it may not work in a country home. Always know when more is more and less is less and know when to edit. Always have real flowers around. Also, have clear lines between your work and personal life.

EDGE: Are there particular brands on both the more affordable end and higher ends that you prefer for wallpaper?

JR: de Gournay is on the higher end, but Schumacher is more affordable and so is Thibaut.

EDGE: What are the biggest mistakes people make when approaching design?

JR: Following trends is the biggest one. Trying to be so contrived and forceful. Making your home look like a showroom by getting every piece from the same brand. If you have a small space, don't think that you need small furniture. Think about the scale. Also, no faux flowers! No silk or plastic. They collect nothing but dust. I call them "dusted flowers."

EDGE: We know that you aren't a fan of trends, but are there any that are current or up and coming?

JR: Although I know them, I never follow trends. I would say that Maximalism is back with a vengeance. There is a desire to have personally collected items versus stark, generic furnishings or brand names that everybody knows. The trend for me goes back to personality and making it your own.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater, food, and nightlife journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine and The Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.