One look at photographs of Jonathan Rachman’s work -whether private design projects, his contributions to San Francisco’s venerable Decorator Showcase, or his new luxury lifestyle journal Di Sini Di Sana – and it is clear that much of the inspiration is drawn from his extensive travels. With an artist’s eye and a collector’s imagination, his designs manage to take you on a fantastic journey while simultaneously creating a feeling of home. As he prepares for his second go-round as a featured designer at the Showcase (open April 26-May 26 at 3660 Jackson Street, and benefitting San Francisco’s University High School’s financial aid program), we were lucky enough to spend some time discussing passion, personality and perspective.
Congratulations on your second year as a featured designer for the Showcase – and what an exciting space to design, the Great Entry Hall & Main Staircase in a grand Pacific Heights home built in 1907 for Rose and Alfred Sutro. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration?
The design is titled “Pure Heroine Chic” and is inspired by the fashion icon Kate Moss, “the usher of heroin chic style” and the unforgettable song “Royals” from Lorde’s album, “Pure Heroine”– it’s a collision of fashion and music in High Style Luxury. The design features sleek gradations of monochrome juxtaposed with splashes of gold, pattern and texture. Kate Moss is known for her heroin chic style; we prefer to glorify the chic heroine.
Much of your design seems to be created in response to the inspiration you find in travel – how does a bit of wanderlust influence you?
All of my projects are designed with meaning, and for my clients often there is a passion from a place they once visited, filled with wonderful memories. It is a perfect place to begin, whether the vision is one of tranquility or fantasy or spirituality. Often I travel with clients on buying trips all over the world and the inspiration continues.
You make your home in San Francisco. What path led you here? Where else could you imagine living?
I was born in Sumatra, went to school in Switzerland, lived in Paris – what other city than San Francisco can combine all the attributes of such varied experience? I have been here, on and off, for 26 years; I opened my first antiques and floral design shop in San Francisco and then my design firm. If I wasn’t here, my other beloved places are Oahu, Bali, and Jackson Hole.
In the design world you are well known for your collections – can you tell us the secrets to creating a meaningful anthology rather than just an agglomeration of acquisitions?
Do it with passion. A beautiful collection comes from what speaks to you and evokes emotion, often with some sentimental value. There is no right or wrong, and it doesn’t matter what others think, as your collection tells your story. You do need to know your limitations, whether space, budget or practicality.
My collection of silhouettes reminds me of family, and I love to concoct stories about who these people were. The collection dates back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries – I even have a wax silhouette of George Washington.
What is most important when meeting a client for the first time and hearing what they hope to achieve with their project?
It’s a very intimate relationship, between the client and designer. Everything I do must reflect their passions and taste, so I must get to know them. I like to first meet in the space and understand how it will be used – yes, the obvious, is it a hotel, a home – but more importantly the personal – a family home, a bachelor’s pad, a country retreat? The first conversation must be about the scope of the project and the function of the space. A realistic, honest conversation; every project is personal and reflects the individuality and the heart of the client. I can’t help but fall in love a little each time.
The words ‘thoughtful elegance’ have been used to describe your design approach. What does that mean to you?
I put my heart and soul into every project, a lot of thought and connection with the client and the space. Elegance means different things to different people – sometimes it is sumptuousness and luxury, sometimes restraint and delicacy. In truly understanding the purpose of the space and the hearts of the clients comes ‘thoughtful elegance’…however it is defined.
Travel allows us a chance to find new perspective, to recharge and reflect. Where is your next trip?
This Spring I will be in London for a photo shoot for my magazine, and back to Bali where I am working on a villa development project. I adore both places, and find very different creative inspiration – well, everywhere I go.
Jonathan, it’s been such fun talking with you – I feel like we are sitting over coffee or cocktails, even though it’s actually a phone call. I know you enjoy entertaining; who would be your dream dinner party guests?
I don’t have a dinner party to dream about, because I’ve already lived it! To celebrate my 40th birthday, we brought together 60 people from sixteen countries in Bali. It felt like a dream to be surrounded by my ‘ohana’ – my family by choice – in a place I love. Perhaps that is my greatest collection, the people I’ve gathered throughout my life who have become family.
“Love prevails.” As Jonathan and I chatted, the conversation spanned design and travel to passion and sentiment. He and his partner recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary, and when I asked their secrets to such a long and loving partnership, Jonathan gave relationship advice, and – perhaps -the key to his great success as a designer. “You must have honesty and flexibility, a willingness to work together, and the ability to compromise without forgetting yourself.” Secrets to twenty years of happy togetherness at home, and the key to creating and nurturing relationships with clients, as he creates passionate spaces and designs with meaning.