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Snuggle Up with John Derian's New Book, Or Rip it Up—Your Choice

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There are few coffee table books I've looked forward to seeing as much as John Derian Picture Book, the designer John Derian's new... picture book. During the five years I lived in New York's East Village, I made an obnoxiously regular habit of passing through his trio of home and gift stores on East Second to ogle—here, an emerald velvet chaise; there, a paper-maché fox, a buttery stack of bath towels, rolls of green-and-cream vintage ticking, a Hugo Guinness grenade... It's a dangerous, magical place.

Derian is a collector and designer (of objects and spaces), and like his stores, his new book is designed to inspire. It's a coffee table book that really is what you'll want to pick up, flip through on an idle afternoon—a few inches thick and oversized, a bundle of his favorite drawings and illustrations from vintage books.

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The picture book, saddled by Derian's decoupaged plates.
The picture book, saddled by Derian's decoupaged plates. Photo by Stephen Johnson

Derian always had a predilection for print. "I collected things, crafted, drew pictures, and moved things around as long as I can remember," he told me recently over email. "In the early 80's I got into antiques and, after finding a box of broken up antique books and printed ephemera, I got hooked on paper."

Art wall, care of this book. (Yes, that's Derian snoozing.)
Art wall, care of this book. (Yes, that's Derian snoozing.) Photo by Stephen Johnson

He kept his favorite loose pages on hand for inspiration, and then patched them into the pages of this book—it's all full-bleed vintage prints of ships and figures and flora, on every single page. They're uncluttered by captions or page numbers, an unending stream of otherworlds from other centuries.

"Just enjoying it and looking at and connecting to the pictures is all I could hope for," he tells me—speaking directly to those of us who like our coffee table books light on jabber and high on delight—and you will want to just sit down and get a little lost in it when you see it.

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But on the other hand, he wouldn't mind if you had at his book with a good pair of scissors.

It was Derian's publicist who first planted this idea with me, saying she'd heard him make the suggestion to many who love the book: Carefully extracted, the pages could be the start of many other decorative projects, if you can stomach the idea of removing them. I, of course, love this. Maybe too much.

Photo by Stephen Johnson

"I think it's a great object and having it as-is is perfect," Derian says when I ask, careful to set me straight that the book is, of course, very lovely as a book. But then, permission: "Being a crafter I want people to feel that it’s okay to take the book apart, frame, wallpaper a room—and wrap gifts with it, too."

That might come off as preposterous, or very assuming of him indeed, but he's actually refreshingly sincere. This is a designer who can count Martha Stewart amongst his admirers; Anna Wintour wrote the foreword to the book; his store is full of beautiful, not-discounted antiques—it would be a lot more predictable if he was horrified by me asking about crafting with it.

Photo by Stephen Johnson

So if you can't stop flipping to the fuzzy peach, or the forest of trees, or the dead birds on a string, take them with you. Put them to use. Make your own art by starting with someone else's, the way poets and painters and very good recipe writers do. Here are some other ideas:

  • Cover an everyday vase or frame (using Mod-Podge!)
  • Line shelves or drawers
  • Put under the glass on a coffee table
  • Cut up into slivers to cover a set of decorative book ends

Doing so would be Derian through and through—he first made a name for himself by decoupaging prints of his favorite papers, as he calls them, onto ceramics and paper weights, and then stocking them in his shop, after all. (Yes, decoupage!)

"[I] liked how I was able to share the images I found in a sort of modern, more finished way," he remembers.

Photo by Stephen Johnson

Maybe all this cutting and glueing sounds f-u-n to you, the way it does to me. Or maybe you'll get the book and be horrified I ever brought such a thing up—in which case, as Derian put it to me: "So don't cut it up if you don't want to."

John Derian's new book is available where books are sold (like here!).

Tags: John Derian, coffee table books