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Jonathan Rachman: “Stay true to yourself”

Stay true to yourself: don’t let anyone or trend influence your room (if you are a masculine man who loves pink for your bedroom, go for it!) As part of my series on the “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Rachman. San […]

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Stay true to yourself: don’t let anyone or trend influence your room (if you are a masculine man who loves pink for your bedroom, go for it!)


As part of my series on the “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Rachman.

San Francisco-based multi-hyphened creative, event planner to the elite and owner of Jonathan Rachman Designs adds author to his repertoire with the release of his memoir, The Garlic Peanut Story. This came from a desire to pay tribute to a beloved adopted sister and was written after her passing, via Jonathan’s letters of gratitude that reveal a tumultuous journey in an archipelago where persecution of LGBTQ remains commonplace.

Through The Garlic Peanut Story he expresses his gratitude for a sister whose love sustained him through a painful childhood while recollecting the pain of being born different and growing up queer in a large and dysfunctional family. He also goes on to contemplate on his travels abroad, learning to write and the discovery of gay mentors who empowered him with good counsel and kindness.

As an avid traveler, Jonathan has explored most corners of the world and his gorgeous interiors have graced the covers of many stylish magazines such as Elle Décor, Modern Luxury Interiors California, California Home + Design, Haven and KDHamptons to name a few. He caught his big break when he ventured to start his own business as a florist and was discovered by Marc Jacobs. He was asked to do the arrangements for his San Francisco flagship store and via word of mouth managed to pick up high end clientele, one of them being The Four Seasons Luxury Hotels.

For most, home renovation wasn’t on the 2020 vision board, but after half a year of shelter in place, we realize our personal space and professional needs must merge. As one of the Bay Area’s top interior innovators Jonathan has been helping clients reconfigure, redecorate and reorganize their homes to accommodate all the roles (from office to day care to gym) a modern living space now plays.

Jonathan never received formal education in interior design but rather trained in fashion and hospitality management in Switzerland. These two elements carried over to his design style and as a self-proclaimed romantic, he passionately believes that good design much like happiness, comes from within and should always tell a story. He also believes that every color, as well as hue and temperature have the power to affect us mentally and emotionally. Most people have been conditioned from early on either culturally or geographically to be influenced by how we perceive various colors. Now more than ever, as most are in quarantine, mental health has become a primordial part of his design process. Jonathan attributes his aesthetic to be a combination of East and West, he is not one to follow trends but is wise to respect those before him. Hubert de Givenchy, Monsieur Dior are the two legends that always inspire him: Classic and iconic.

Jonathan was raised by his parents and taught to always dress appropriately for occasions but reinforced through boarding school to “dress like a gentleman.” So now when he travels, he makes it a point to “be considerate of others” by keeping his look chic yet comfy. He can share his tips and “must haves” for long-haul flights and cures for jet lag as well as styling tips and recommendations for those on the go.

Every year Jonathan takes a “mini” round-the-world trip to his homeland of Indonesia, before traveling back through Europe to get back home to San Francisco and always travels with his partner of over 26 years. Jonathan credits their relationship longevity to both growing up with positive role models, since their parents remain together and are a prime example of a strong relationship to this day. Their motto as a couple is: Eternity is too short; eternity is not long enough.


Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I use #myunplannedlife a lot in conversing about my career. I never planned to be an author, let alone a published one. While my other career as an interior designer is extremely fulfilling (I do it with a lot of passion), my personal life dictates my heart to share my story, especially after my Sister passed away and left 2 little children at the age of 4 and 6 (then). Along with her amazing story, I have overcome my childhood’s real-life nightmare and feel the need to share them with the world in the hope that I can help others to overcome theirs. It is also my way to share the blessings I have been blessed with — it’s my way to pay it forward as well as to fulfill my promise to my late sister: to tell The Garlic Peanut Story.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

The word interesting is very subjective. What happened after I shared my memoir, The Garlic Peanut Story with my audience and people who didn’t know that I have written this book is their shock at how profound (as well as sad and unbearable) my childhood was. From the outside, they saw me as this vivacious, positive, peppy and outgoing individual (and they were not wrong), but they didn’t realize the pain, the nightmare and the misery I went through in my life to get where I am now. They see me singularly as the glamorous celebrity designer — the jet setter and globetrotter. People don’t realize I have a past, a story that is humbling as well as painful. They see me as one persona and are still reconciling with the story I am sharing with them. What happened next is that people started to open up about their own childhood or past with me and the “it happened to me to” and we started to have dialogues. I gave the permission to share their story, to overcome the social stigma and the taboo of the unspoken and hidden stories in our lives. Strangers have now become family and family have become strangers — but I am so happy to be able to share my story with the intention of spreading the love and to support and help other people who experienced similar pains.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funny not funny 🙂 I was so obsessed with 2 things as a first time author: I was so self-conscious about English being my third or fourth language and wanted to make sure that I wrote in a way that was grammatically perfect and especially in the tenses I used in describing my childhood stories…my obsession to be grammatically perfect delayed the process of achieving the end goal, which was completing my memoir and sharing my stories. As I had my breakthrough in writing, I learned to let go of my perfectionist attitude and let the words and the stories flow through and I learned to go back once a chapter is finished. Later I learned to trust my editor to do her job in helping me with the edits. Another obsession of mine was that I could not believe that this child with so much pains and miseries in his life was me…throughout the process of writing of my memoir I constantly questioned about his life with laughter and tears as I was in disbelief of the inhumane things that happened to this child. As emotional and as painful as it was to re-live my life all over again through my writing, I also learned to re-forgive , re-love and simply focus on my goal: to share the message of love and forgiveness and to look at the bigger picture vs. dwelling on the past.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

As an author, I am focusing on the release of my first memoir, The Garlic Peanut Story https://thegarlicpeanutstory.com as well as planning to direct my first film based on my book. It is a message of love and forgiveness which I strongly believe would help so many people to overcome their nightmares, be it simply by sharing them or opening a dialog as well as giving people permission to share their stories, with a message of : it is not your fault — what happened to you as a child was not your fault but as an adult, we can overcome the pain by forgiving those who have wronged us as well as by focusing on sharing the love we have received. This is a very intimate and personal story to my heart, here is the summary of the book: This startlingly poignant memoir springs from a desire to pay tribute to a beloved sister. Separated by time, geography, and the dislocation of modern-day life, two vastly different lives pursue divergent paths, irrevocably torn asunder by the ravages of terminal illness. Through letters written to his adopted sister’s children, we learn of gratitude for a sister whose love sustained him through a painful childhood. In an archipelago where persecution of LGBTQ remains commonplace and educational institutions offer little respite from bullying, predators lurk unchallenged. Children slip through cracks while adult lives are filled with prayer and atonement. A terrified child is sustained by the pure love of a sister. Written after her passing, letters of gratitude reveal a tumultuous journey. Jonathan documents the pain of being born different and growing up queer in a large and dysfunctional family where undertones of cyclical and inherited violence lurk. In the hurly-burly of a vast household populated by disparate siblings, sycophants and hired help, there seems to be no shortage of relatives to care for the family, but one particularly sensitive child falls through the cracks into his own personal hell, while perpetrators remain invisible. While themes of sharing, prayers and atonement dominate adult lives dedicated to God’s works of charity, evil acts are perpetrated, as innocence and light are violently taken from a child. Travel abroad to study, learning to write and discovery of gay mentors, who empower with good counsel and kindness, brings liberation. It is this love that drives the author to reach out, and in giving thanks to his beloved sister, to expose the need in this world for more acceptance and awareness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When my husband and I came out to my parents, as people of faith, they asked us to read out loud this verse from their bible: 1 Corinthian 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This verse is more relevant than ever in 2020 and in my life. My parents have shown us that love is bigger than hope and faith simply by embracing us as their children (and they embraced my husband as one of their own and treat him the way they do their other children’s spouse). More importantly, after living a horrendously painful childhood filled with miseries, physical and emotional pains, in the end, love prevailed. Love protected me, healed me, and carried me through life then and it still does now. I owe my life to those who have always believed in me, supported me and loved me — no matter who I am. This to me is even more profound now, more than ever.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Haha, now this is funny….while there are so many people throughout many generations in different parts of the world who helped me to get where I am (Hillary (Clinton) says it takes a village, I say it takes a whole world and globe to raise me). But if I must pick one, hands down it is my late sister, Wewe (pronounced way-way) who showed me her love unconditionally, the first person who accepted me, loved me and supported me as I was from early on in my childhood. Throughout my unbearable childhood, she was the one who made it bearable as I described in my memoir. Not only did she love me, she literally protected and saved me from my perpetrators. Later on, her love sustained me in my darkest time. In fact, it is her story that inspired me to be an author. Her life and love inspired me to hang on, to push through and to grow. I call her my angel on earth then, she is truly my angel now.

Thank you for that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Hahahaha this question is so funny; it makes me truly laugh out loud. I always say I am not that Marie Kondo, but I am a Mary that fills up those condos. Anyway in all seriousness, as a professional interior designer, here are my 5 tips:

1. Stay true to yourself: don’t let anyone or trend influence your room (if you are a masculine man who loves pink for your bedroom, go for it!)

2. I believe in hierarchy of a house, this means yes, your formal living room should be more elevated than your man-cave or media room, but it doesn’t mean it should be stuffy. Make all of your living space livable which brings us to my number 3

3. I am a self-proclaimed romantic as a person, as a designer: I’d take a cluttered room with story vs a sterile one. Collect and buy with intention and stories…I collect accessories and artifacts that mean something to me, that reminds me of someone important in my life or my past that I want to remember. Don’t decorate your space with unnecessary tchotchkes that simply collects dust. But if you must collect dust, collect them with intention and passion.

4. Loved ones in the form of portraits or photos as well as family heirlooms bring so many memories and joy into a space. Besides a romantic, I am also extremely sentimental — the portrait of my sister sits perfectly on my nightstand and I light candles on her birthday or when I think of her. I still have my childhood blanket my mother sent to me for my birthday as an adult and I keep my father’s tie in my closet prominently and wear it on appropriate occasions and send him pictures of me wearing it. I have my parent’s pictures holding hands that I took from behind them unbeknownst to them and kept them on my office desk. All these objects and pictures not only give me joy but keep me warm on the inside.

5. Last but not least: fresh flowers — I was once a florist for celebrities (hello Oprah, Sarah, Marc, Madge….) celebrities or not, treat yourself like one — fresh flowers in your space, every single one of them always spark so much joy!!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Easy for me: to spread the love and to pay it forward, to share what I have learned from my Sister and my parents : to forgive and to love even those who have wronged us. The Garlic Peanut Story, my memoir is my starting point, and I am not stopping in spreading the message of love and forgiveness.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I love your questions and while I have been pretty blessed to break bread with some celebrities and royal families, I would love to have breakfast with the Obama’s especially Michelle (Barrack can join us of course) as well as with Oprah: not only do I admire them as humans, as women (I love amazing strong women who make differences in others people lives), I also believe that they have the power and venues to help me to spread the message of love and forgiveness. Why? so together we can spread my story not for my vanity as it is bigger than my sister and me. For lunch, I want to sit down with Prince William and Harry along with their respective spouses: As a child and youth, I was obsessed with their mother, Lady Di. She was one of my muses and role models: a gorgeous lady with status who used her power and status to help others and embraced those who need her love. She is no longer with us, and I do believe that her children are sincere human beings who also believe what their mother believed and continue her good work. The same reason why I wanted to sit with the Obamas and Oprah, I believe William and Harry and their family can help me in spreading my message of love and forgiveness…Last but not least, the founder of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton — for the exact same reasons as the above. His message of humanity and love touched my heart and I know he, too, can spread my message of love and forgiveness farther than I can ever do on my own.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

How can our readers follow you on social media: on instagram: @thegarlicpeanutstory and @jonathanrachmandesign on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jonathanrachmandesign and https://www.facebook.com/jonathan.rachman/ as well as https://www.facebook.com/JonathanRachmanAuthor

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