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Jonathan Adler’s hilarious tips to help you ‘werk’ from home during coronavirus

Designer Jonathan Adler and husband Simon Doonan at home in New York.
Designer Jonathan Adler and husband Simon Doonan shelter in place on New York’s Shelter Island.
(Jonathan Adler )
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Jonathan Adler always manages to make you laugh, even during the COVID-19 crisis.

After establishing himself as one of the nation’s leading designers blessed with a sense of humor (the No. 2 item in his style manifesto is, “We believe that when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right. Unless the husband is gay”), he has followed up his spring/summer furniture collection with the appropriately named LAFFF guide to videoconferencing (included at the bottom of this article). “In difficult times like this,” he said via email, “it’s important to remember to LAFFF.”

Adler’s Midcentury Modern-inspired tailored sofas, chic acrylic dining tables and sparkling chandeliers may read as modern luxury goods, but his skill is creating interiors that are happy and fun (which makes him the perfect person to talk to during a pandemic).

We caught up with Adler by phone while he sheltered in place on New York’s Shelter Island with husband Simon Doonan of “Making It.” Adler weighed in on working from home; wearing glasses to camouflage eye bags during video conferences; back-channel texting while Zoom-ing; and “being vigilant in the fight against resting bitch face.”

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Besides death and misery, the pandemic has brought new habits and unexpected changes. Some are keepers.

What is your workday like under quarantine?

I start every day with a management Zoom call. I text. I sit at my dining room table with an insouciant and carefully choreographed background that presents me in the best light. I wear glasses always because it covers my bags. If I didn’t have glasses on, you’d encourage me to go the nearest plastic surgeon.

Any Zoom tips?

Back-channel texting while Zooming is really important. You need to be able to appear to be engaged while looking at the screen. You should be able to look at your computer while looking at your cellphone so that you can text during the meeting.

Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan and Foxy Lady.
Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan and their dog, Foxy Lady, at home on Shelter Island.

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What is the best way to appear engaged?

Everyone is talking about lighting and angles and fashion and design, but the No. 1 message in a Zoom meeting is that you need to be vigilant in your fight against resting bitch face. When you’re not talking and pretending to listen, people can see how uninterested you are. Use the Zoom screen and always try to look interested and amused even though you are probably neither.

How do you look your best while teleconferencing?

I always have my iPad propped up so I can avoid the sagging-flesh look. My left side is my best side, so I have a lamp placed so that I’m bathed in dewy light while looking very insouciant. It is all very carefully choreographed.

What do you miss about being at the office?

I think one of the crises of working from home is the fact that people don’t have the opportunity to have the snarky bonhomie that people can have in the office.

What is your work-from-home setup?

Simon and I are perched at our dining room table. We are very, very lucky to be able to work and then go on a beach walk. We saw a baby seal sitting on the beach recently. We are in a pavilion plunked down in the middle of nature and it’s magical.

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What’s inspiring you right now?

I, like the rest of America, am lucky to live in a clean, dust-free house as we have all become hard-working prairie women and are darning every sock, churning butter and grinding our own toilet paper. Spotless surfaces are inspiring me and lifting my mood.

How are you spending your time?

I’m reading a lot of depressing books and watching violent television shows including “20,000 Streets Under the Sky,” by Patrick Hamilton, which is about the spiritual and romantic despair of impoverished barflies between wars in England. I’m also binge-watching “Gomorrah.”

Has your business been hit hard by the pandemic?

I’m being glib, but I’m trying to stay safe and sane and solvent just like everyone else. Our website is doing really well. Any opportunity we have to keep people employed is an incredible thing. I’m doing my part to shop, shop, shop and keep the economy going. I’m on Amazon all day. Every time I receive a package, it feels like Hanukkah. I put on my gloves and mask, bring the disinfectant and voila — clothespins.

What’s a highlight of sheltering in place?

One of the main things the coronavirus has revealed is how protean people are — they are now over the moon to get a roll of paper towels. So we adapt.

Do you dress up for work?

When my pop was in the hospital many years ago, there was a guy on his floor who was a colonel in the military. He told me that if you are trapped behind enemy lines, grooming is one of the key survival tactics. I have always remembered that. I owe it to the world to look my best. As part of our prairie routine, Simon has become my personal hairdresser. Yesterday, he gave me a haircut and I have mental-patient locks right now.

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What about Simon?

I’m not going to lie: My husband has not taken my advice.

What’s he wearing? Pajamas?

He has succumbed to comfort and has been wearing a polar fleece zip-up from Uniqlo. It’s a grape … or burned cranberry color. I’m not really sure. Ultimately, we have landed on claret. We call it his frowzy (frumpy, drowsy garment). It is harshing my mellow. I look sharp, and he is bringing me down.

Here, Adler shares his LAFFF guide to videoconferencing:

L is for lighting. Dimmers have never been more important than they are right now. Make sure you’re bathed in soft lighting coming from the front. Banish the backlight.

A is for angles. Choose your best side and keep the camera at a slightly jaunty angle so you’re not captured straight on. And make sure the camera is a little bit higher than you want it to be so you’re not looking down, thus creating multiple chins and sagging flesh.

F is for fashion. DO NOT SUCCUMB to the impulse to wear your pajamas all day and let your beard grow. Dress as if you’re going to a power meeting and you’ll be more focused and effective.

F is for festoon. This might be the only time your colleagues get to see chez vous so make sure everything looks KAPOW! A banana bud vase, a provocative needlepoint pillow, a Muse vase with fresh flowers — these accessories will lead to a promotion once this nightmare is over. You’re no longer Hilda from the typing pool. Courtesy of your carefully composed frame, now you’re Hilda the impossibly chic and connoisseurial creative director in waiting.

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F is for fight against resting bitch face! Don’t forget that everyone can see you and you don’t want to look like a mouth breather. When I’m videoconferencing, my husband keeps passing me notes reminding me to look “interested and amused.” I perk up my posture and put a positive pout on my puss. The result? Glamour. A wry smile, bright eyes, beautiful lighting, sharp fashion — you owe it to your colleagues to be life enhancing and jealousy inducing. Even if you feel dire, you have to fake it till you make it.

Hoarding toilet paper, “forgetting” your mask, late-night hooking up? We want to hear your dirty little secret — anonymously.

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