space of the week

John Derian’s Expanding Universe

“I knew John always loved this building,” says film-production designer and close friend Kevin Thompson. “Because it was falling apart,” he adds, while standing in the front room of John Derian’s new shop (18 Christopher Street; Kevin spied the “For Rent” sign in the window of a former pet store last September and asked his friend to take a look. What John saw was very different from what customers will see when they enter the 500-square-foot space composed of two compact rooms that are sure to generate house envy. The diminutive, early 19th century Federal-style building is the mirror of its next-door neighbor, and features an astounding decades-old wisteria vine that has migrated up and over the sidewalk to attach itself to the closest tree. Their tangled embrace is a much-noted attraction of the block. It is fitting that John has leased this little jewel box: His team of dedicated design pros has created the appearance of decades of benign neglect. Kevin supplied a team of painters to “sun bleach” the wallpaper in the back room so it appears as if exposure had lightened certain areas. The paint job, which appears to have been applied back when horses were clopping down the cobblestone streets, was applied only weeks ago.

John opened his first shop of handmade decoupage tabletop pieces in 1995, in a little shop in the East Village on 2nd Street, between the Bowery and Second Avenue. He’s since added two more stores next door to the first one, where he features rugs, furniture, fabric, and wall coverings. All of this is on plentiful display in his newest retail digs, where what’s old is new again — and better than ever, if you are John Derian.

“Once I saw the space, I was inspired to do the front like the Astier de Villatte shop in Paris,” says John. “It was an 18th-century pharmacy with cool cubbies and a lot of charm. Their work looks beautiful in that space, and I thought it would be great to repeat.” John conferred with the brand’s owners, Benoît Astier de Villatte and Ivan Pericoli, to get the look just right.

The newest location in the John Derian retail empire opens to the public on Friday. The storefront formerly housed a pet shop, but with much ingenious renovation to turn back time, the interior looks as beguiling as the exterior, seen here. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
“The two fireplace openings were there, but without mantles,” John says. He added the mantles, noting, “Amazingly enough the seashell surround was there.” Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
“I did the back of the space like my house in Provincetown; the simple paneled walls were made with actual 18th-century boards from a house upstate,” John said. The sepia-rose wallpaper is from one of John’s collaborations with Designers Guild. The Cisco Field Bench sofa against the wall (without windows) is one of Derian’s best sellers. The Cove sofa — the one against the wall with windows — is an update of an 18th-century sofa he found upstate. The large ottoman is upholstered in an old rug. Atop the ottoman is a stack of his print books, John Derian Picture Book. It’s all for sale, of course, or you could just beg to move right in. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
Alex Gorodetsky and his team of scenic artists at Charge Scenic worked their magic on the wallpaper and paint treatment after Miracle Man did the carpentry and wainscoting for the space. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
The 19th-century toy horse is bewitching, as is every single thing in the shop. The lampshades are by Nathalie Farman-Farma. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
For decoupage loyalists, there are new pieces to lust for. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
Paper-flower artist Livia Cetti’s floral wonders abound in many varieties in the shop. Just to gaze at the shelves filled with milky white Astier de Villatte pieces shown here made me feel good. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
Inside a Creative Retail Master’s Charming New Shop