Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

John Derian, a Creative at Work and Play

July 1st, 2016
Lower East Side, Manhattan

Renowned designer John Derian made his first decoupage plates in his bedroom in Cambridge Massachusetts nearly thirty years ago. He got inspired after discovering  a box of unique antique prints in a flea market.

Production has since shifted from Derian’s bedroom to a 4,000 square foot studio in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a two-minute walk from his three shops, where he sells his coveted nostalgic decoupage pieces, as well as a whole host of other irresistible homewares. Derian’s dreamy handmade designs are sold in over 600 top-notch interiors shops and via catalogues worldwide.

-And yet. Plus ça change.  Derian says that he still enjoys doing the same things now that he did as a kid.

I liked crafting, building forts, rearranging furniture, drawing and play acting … I don’t remember school at all. I had a crazy imagination. I just remember fantasising about making stuff.

Despite growth Derian remains in many ways a one-man band, making all the creative decisions himself.


 I’m the hunter and the gatherer. I’m the father and the mother and have thirty kids between my studio and my stores.

Derian uses English, French and German prints from the 18th and 19th centuries as the starting point for his decoupage images which are then applied onto a range of household objects –  a paperweight, a bowl, a dish, a platter.


He sometimes collaborates with others, such as French ceramics maker Astier de Vilatte where his iconic imagery is splashed onto AdV’s classic white tableware.



Or these one-of-a-kind cat collages for fashion designer Anna Sui …


Derian does 4 shows a year – two in Paris and two in New York – where he introduces some 600 new objects. Typical themes for Derian are quirky, colourful, charming, useful and hand-made.  Vintage prints featuring slices of stone will debut on trays and office cups this August.

I collect things throughout the year and then twice a year I go through a pile of what I’ve collected, or I might go through my archive and see what I haven’t used. Sometimes I have things pinned to my wall for five years, and I think, will somebody understand this, and then, of course, they do.

For those of you who can’t get enough of Derian’s eye for the ephemeral, this October sees the UK  launch of  John Derian Picture Book (cover below) an extra-large tome packed with 400 magical, full-page images, with a foreward written  by Anna Wintour. Derian hopes people will open the clothbound hardback, leaf through its extra-thick pages and tear out a page or two to be framed and enjoyed.

COVER. John Derian Picture Book

In addition to his own designs, the Lower East Side shops also sell vintage and antique imports, bed and table linens, stationery, plate-ware, vintage and new lighting, and an ever-changing mix of one-of-a-kind curios. (For those who can’t make it across the pond, some of Derian’s pieces are sold in the Conran Shop, Liberty and Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.)

Fancy a hand-made puppet?


A pony for the urban dweller?


or perhaps a wilt-free plant made from hand dyed tissue paper and vintage pots…


Derian explains that he gets unusually attached to objects, the same way others might for a painting. Objects carry the essence of the people who made them, who loved them, says the Cambridge native.

 I feel connected to things. They do kind of speak to me.

Derian lived in the same apartment for twenty years and thought

if this bowl were to break, I’d have to move.

Luckily, for Derian, the bowl did not break. Not yet, at least.

July, 2016