Interior Designer Jonathan Rachman Shares His Love of Travel, Jet-Set Style and Where We Should Escape To Next
“My passion is traveling,” says Jonathan Rachman, San Francisco-based interior designer and owner of Jonathan Rachman Designs. He has explored most corners of the world (English is his fourth language), and his gorgeous interiors have graced the covers of many stylish magazines. If you follow Jonathan, you know that his sense of humor and joie de vivre are infectious, and his photos of Bali make us want to jump on a plane.
The globetrotter and tastemaker recently shared his “Top 10 Travel Tips” on @kimhopkinstravel, (which is my sister’s amazing new luxury travel company) and we are delighted to feature the complete interview here.
Kim Hopkins Travel (KHT): Where did you grow up and how long have you lived in San Francisco?
Jonathan Rachman (JR): I was born and grew up on the island of Sumatra (in Indonesia), before studying in Switzerland. I lived there as well as Paris, but San Francisco has been home on and off for almost 35 years. In between, I have moved back to Switzerland and Paris as well as Portland (OR) and Carmel (CA). The first time I opened my business was as a florist in 2002, then I started the interior department in 2005, sold the floral portion in 2009, and kept the interior part that became Jonathan Rachman Design in October 2009.
KHT: Who or what has influenced your interior design style?
JR: More then who, I think it is the places I have lived and visited so often. I’d like to believe I am perfect combo of what’s best from the East and West. I don’t follow trends but respect the classics. I was never educated formally in interior design, and most probably break many formal design rules, but good design, like happiness comes from within. I am a self-proclaimed romantic and my design typically exudes romance, be it in the traditional, modern, transitional, maximalist or any other styles. It always tells a story. I was formally trained in fashion and hospitality management and these two elements of my past carry over to my design style. Hubert de Givenchy, Monsieur Dior are the two legends that always inspire me: Classic and iconic.
KHT: Please share your favorite hotel and restaurant in San Francisco.
JR: I have two favorite hotels in San Francisco, the first one is the Taj Campton Place for immaculate, discreet service and a great location. While it is very dated and in need of interior upgrades, the service and and the staff are excellent. I have stayed there since 1991 when it was the Kempinski. The small bar is a local hiding place, a gem.
Another favorite is the Loewe’s, (it used to be the Mandarin Oriental and soon to be the Four Seasons). Also a discreet hushed luxury. I recommend any 45th floor room and above and ask for the bridge-to-bridge suite where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Trans America and Bay Bridge as well as the city skyline. Stunning!
Two restaurants are dear to my heart: Zuni Cafe is our best neighbor at J.Rachman the store. Beside being an extension of my office (who doesn’t want a restaurant as your private dining room during day time), it’s been around for more than 40 years, and the staff are like family. They were given the James Beard Award for Best Service. Their brick oven roasted chicken with bread salad as well as Caesar salad are a must (and the balsamic Bloody Mary is bloody yummy). We share clientele and you can spot Drake or Gwyneth or the Obamas as well as our local royalty, some of whom have sweetly visit my store, J.Rachman.
Another favorite is Chef Nancy Oak’s iconic restaurant Boulevard. My husband and I go, let’s just say too often during the week (pre-pandemic). We celebrated here when we picked up our legal marriage certificate, and we always bring our friends and family here to linger for hours. Denise Hale and my de Gournay family and I have the fondest memories here. Nancy and her staff always make us feel so at home, they know our favorite tables, drinks and routines.
KHT: Your photos of Bali make us want to book a flight. Please share your top three places to stay or visit in Bali or Indonesia.
JR: You make this super-hard and Bali is our second home (we have about 12 favorites), but we are sentimental loyal travelers. For this reason, here are our three favs:
The Oberoi Beach Resort (by the beach obviously, think of Diana and Julia).
Amandari (in the hills and by the river in Ubud, where we became Aman junkies instantly and the rest is history.
Tandjung Sari (the original boutique hotel in Bali (Sanur), where The Beatles, Mick and the Queen of Denmark hung ou,t and Nehru declared “Bali is Morning of the World”
We call them our Bali Trinity, tied by these common threads:
- My husband and I spent a lot of times in these properties with our family; beside casual visits, we also celebrate family reunions and milestones, including our parents’ 60th and our birthdays, with more than 60 people from 14 countries.
- The management and staff are not only sincere, warm and welcoming, they go out of their way to make things happen for us including: Finding my childhood food or making dishes not on the menu; planning our parties effortlessly, and more importantly, they have become our ohana (family) through out our 27 years of romance.
- While each has its specialties and location benefits, both The Oberoi and Amandari, designed by the one and only Peter Muller and inspired by the original boutique hotel of Wija Waworuntu: Tandjung Sari! While some Bali hotels and villas go generic modern, these three still have the old-school Bali charm and will always keep them that way, and that’s how we prefer it.
KHT: You are known for your stylish wardrobe. What is your travel uniform?
JR: I was raised by my parents to always dress appropriately for occasions, while my boarding school reinforced “dressing as a gentleman”. While traveling must be comfortable, it doesn’t equate with what I call a ‘nasty outfit’. Do dress up when you travel, be considerate of others and keep it chic yet comfy.
Thom Browne, El Ganso and Boggi Milano are my favorite designers for my jackets and blazers. They are crisp, tailored and have lots of options for comfortable materials with various sizes of pockets, while Zegna has the best breathable outer coat with civilized hoody and detachable vest. Brooks Brothers‘ crisp white or gingham shirt or Peroni custom shirts are always chic and can stand wrinkle potential like no other. Sacoor Brothers and Tod’s driving shoes are so comfy yet sturdy for an easy change from “take off and landing” to “slippers and socks” mode.
I always bring my Bonsoir of London PJs for long-haul flights (yes, I slip into them cozily for sleeping, after my cocktail in the air). I designed and always carry a J.Rachman brown leather messenger bag (handmade in Italy) to sit perfectly over my taupe Rimowa roller.
KHT: Please share your top tip for long-haul flights or your go-to cure for jet lag.
JR: That’s easy for me: Fly great airlines, get the best seat (better yet, suite!). I adapt instantly to the flight schedule: I drink, eat and sleep by design (again, noted airlines have designed their flight, schedule and amenities for your comfort). Sleeping in my own PJs and noise-canceling earphones with my own flight playlist are a must. Have a flight ‘routine’ or I call this long-haul flight hygiene (as in sleep hygiene).
Never think about the time zone you just left. Take off and instantly live in the destination time zone. Splurge, have the hotel pick you up in a comfy method of transportation, let them worry about logistics, start relaxing, and immediately after check in, unpack and place your personal items to feel as if you live in the room or suite. We bring framed pictures, our own candles, books and flowers. A massage at the spa helps me to continue to relax. In London, the Aman at the Connaught, the Oberoi Spa and Amandari spa in Bali are our favs. And if it happens to be aperitivi time, we hit the cocktail spots, have dinner, then we sleep naturally, hopefully with the pillows we love.
KHT: What is the one place or hotel everyone should add to their bucket list?
JR: Haha, again, you make this so tough…so many, but here are a few. I am an old soul by nature and everyone should stay in at least one of the grand dames of hotels: Claridge’s in London, and and its cousin in Singapore: Raffles. As an Aman junkie, while any of the Aman will do, Amanjiwo and Amandari are my top picks.
KHT: Please share the most exotic place you’ve ever stayed
JR: You ask tough questions and exotic is so relative. As an island boy (in many respects) I love secluded island, away from the crowds. There is an island owned by our client, and for obvious reason I cannot disclose, but let’s just say, his generosity afforded us to stay in utter privacy (except the pilot, the staff who pampered us, and the local island flora and fauna, somewhere near the equator.) I am not big on small airplanes even if it’s a luxurious private jet, but for this island, I’ll suffer through the flight and clutch my husband’s arm the entire time.
I am also obsessed with ‘Out of Africa’, the book, the music, the movie. My visit to Baroness Blixen’s farm at the foot of Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi as young person stays forever in my heart and mind. A sweet fact: Her heir, a dear friend, came to my store and handed me a note written on the letterhead from the farm, along with her picture with her great aunt.
Another place is Way Kambas National Park in the province of Lampung on the island of Sumatra (where I was actually born), but never went until a decade ago. This is where we like to visit our “adopted” elephants in the sanctuary. It is still so undeveloped and that is part of the charm.
KHT: How long have you been with your partner? Please share the secret to a happy and successful relationship.
JR: The long answer: Today, as a couple, we have been together exactly for 26 years, 5 months and 9 days. In the nearly 27 years we have been together, we have only been separated physically 71.5 days (split in 20 different trips we couldn’t be together). While legally we have only been recognized since March 12, 2014, we are blessed to be so in love and never take it for granted. Our motto as a couple is : Eternity is too short, eternity is not long enough.
We believe growing up with parents who are also in a strong relationships and having role models like them (who still hold hands after 63 years of marriage), were a big influence. (Stephen’s parents passed away but they too stayed together until the end.) Happiness comes from within and when two happy people decide to be in committed relationships, that too, makes a happy couple.
KHT: Where in the world is your dream destination?
JR: Another a-ha moment here as I used to want to hit every corner of the Earth and in some ways, I have done that. However, I now realize it is not the place but the person I am with that is more important than my destination. As a romantic and sentimental person, I have decided where my husband is, I am content. As for destinations, there are places he and I have never been together as a couple, and that is more of my goal, so New York is an example to bring it full circle. To be in New York with the love of my life, as well as India and Kenya (I have been many times, he has not). We also make a commitment to visit a new place for us each year, for as long as we can, while we are blessed to be together on this Earth…
KHT: Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and travel tips Jonathan.
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