The walls in John Derian’s East Village workshop are lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. Glass trays are stacked high and every available surface is covered in decoupaged paper weights, cake stands and lamps. Light from the vintage factory lamps overhead dance on the reflective surfaces. At the tables sit people who are hard at work, cutting, pasting and shaping trays and plates by hand. Just as in John’s decoupaged pieces, there’s a vintage feel to the whole space.
John Derian grew up in Massachusettes as the youngest of six. As a kid he was often the odd man out, left alone to create and build things as he pleased. Choosing not to follow the more traditional 4-year college route, John let his interests and passions lead the way. Always open to creative and intriguing opportunities that presented themselves, John was approached by an artist and furniture maker who suggested he try gluing on the back of some glass plates she had. He took them to his studio and used original papers to create a Victorian looking plate. From there things grew naturally. John’s love for “old things”, his unique aesthetic and his dry, witty, sense of humor blended perfectly with the historic decoupage process for which he has become so famous.
The polished craftsmanship of a finished John Derian piece can often cause people to forget the word “handmade”. Being in the studio with John, he easily reminds us that each and every step of the process is truly handmade. After an image is printed, it is individually hand-cut – with a pair of scissors. The piece is then assembled by skilled artisans who glue the image to the glass (sometimes collaging multiple images onto one piece) and then smooth it out, trim it, and affix the velvet backing. A separate artisan then cleans the piece and paints the edges gold. Meticulous attention to detail is a must, requiring each and every person to deeply concentrate as they work.
In addition to the larger studio where John’s staff is hard at work, there is another more intimate space where John’s creations come to life- his own personal studio that resides just around the corner in the basement of his apartment building. We follow him down some steps into a dark, narrow, concrete room full of antique furniture. Eyes wide, we admire the pieces, some of them hundreds of years old. As we make our way through, John points out special items and shares a couple of stories about how he stumbled upon them. He clearly loves the hunt and adventure of exploring near and far to find hidden treasures. Leading us into the adjoining room, his workspace is surprisingly bright. The basement windows rest at sidewalk level and allow light to pour in and bounce off the crisp white walls. John explains that he doesn’t get as much time here as he’d like, but it is obvious that this is where the really creative stuff happens. When alone in his studio, John experiments with new decoupage ideas and works on numerous other projects and collaborations – a book due out next year, a furniture line with Cisco Brothers, and an ongoing collaboration with Astier de Villate, just to name a few.
Our last stop – the John Derian stores on East Second Street. Whether the focus is textiles, furniture and antiques, or decoupage, ceramics and other eccentric home accessories, each store is uniquely beautiful, drawing you in the minute you walk through the door. Perfectly curated and beautifully merchandised, John is a mastermind at creating a compelling space to shop. Alongside John’s own work we discover amazing finds from artisans around the world, several of whom we recognize – John Robshaw, Coral & Tusk, Astier de Villatte, and others. From the enthusiasm he exudes when telling us about his favorite pieces in each store, it’s clear that John is passionate about supporting those whose work he loves – something we can relate to!
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