Wednesday, June 1, 2011
A Visit With John Derian
John Derian in his company's Lower East Side art studio
You may remember that I am a huge fan of the work and style of artist and designer John Derian, and that his two stores on East 2nd are some of my favorite places in New York. I've had my eye on John for this blog for a while, and recently I ran into him one Saturday afternoon at the Antiques Garage on West 24th Street. I introduced myself and, happily, he subsequently had a look at the blog and agreed to meet for an interview.
John is inspired by the nineteenth century and nature. He has a wonderful eye for putting things together in a way that is charming and evocative but also modern and clean. To me personally, he perfectly combines the old with the new.
For instance, when I arrived at his store for our meeting, John was excited about this mix of things pictured below. On the wall are linoleum prints by the British artist Hugo Guinness who lives in Boerum Hill with his wife artist Elliot Puckette and their two daughters. John reported that the prints are of "animals that live in the hedges." On the table are delicate, beautifully-colored paper flowers and paper potted geranium plants by the artist and floral designer Livia Cetti of The Green Vase. These blooms actually look real, but they will never die.
The wood table and chairs are teak and handmade in Belgium by the French company Massant, and, John said, they age gracefully outside. The mix of white, black, wood and a little color from the flowers makes up a simple but sophisticated arrangement. That to me is very John Derain.
John grew up in Watertown, Massachusetts, the youngest of six children. "I didn't fit in; I was the only creative one in my family," he remembers. "I was always making things. I built forts and things in trees and was always creating an environment." As an adult he produced wreaths and other decorative objects for gift shops, and then started making decoupage items, gluing nineteenth-century imagery to the bottom of glass plates. The decoupage business took off and John opened his store at 6 East 2nd Street in 1994. A close-by dry goods store which offers textiles, furniture, rugs and art, was opened in 2006.
An assortment of light fixtures hangs over the store cash register.
A profusion of paper flowers bloom at the front door.
Over a mantle, decoupage plates are hung in an overlapping arrangement for a collage effect.
In the dry goods store two door down, on a plain wood table an antique reading lamp shines over a paper geranium plant which has painted variegated leaves and one pale pink flower.
Four years ago John bought a house in Provincetown, Massachusetts which was built in 1789. With walls of seashell and horsehair plaster and wide wood floor boards, it appealed to his love of the rustic and organic, and he installed a shop in the back of the house. Wallpaper from the 40s was left untouched since John admired its patina. "My brother came to visit the house and said, 'Take your time renovating,'" recalls John. "I had already renovated."
The company art studio where all the decoupage items are made by hand is three blocks away on Chrystie Street, and John offered to take me there. In a bright and airy space, craftspeople cut paper, glue it onto the bottom of glass objects, seal it, and paint the back.
I hadn't actually realized that all the decoupage pieces were made by hand.
A view from the back of the studio.
Paperweights awaiting delivery; John Derain now sells to 800 stores.
Goods headed to Bergdorf Goodman.
John Derian makes the beauty of the past up-to-date for the twenty-first century; it's truly an inspiration.