The building that houses John Derian’s new Greenwich Village shop was constructed before the Civil War, but it still took several layers of paint to make it look perfectly aged. Scenic painters covered the walls in a dark brown color, then added a white coat with an agent to help crackle it, followed by a shiny glaze, a matte finish, and a seal. The result is a subtly textured surface that reflects Derian’s thoughtful, whimsical vintage aesthetic.
He’d noticed the space on Christopher Street nearly two decades ago and wrote a letter to its owner, Celeste Martin, whose father bought a total of seven buildings in this corner of the Village in the 1920s. ?She never responded, but 18 years later, Derian’s friend texted him a photo of the shop with a “for rent” sign in the window. “And then I called and all this happened,” he explained on a brisk morning in October when construction had just begun. “I wasn’t planning to open another store or come here; it just seemed kind of meant to be in a funny way.”
The shop, which opened its doors late last week, fits perfectly within its surroundings. An ancient wisteria vine lays claim to the sidewalk between Derian’s shop and the French restaurant next door. A weathered metal dog sculpture (it was impossible to remove) sits by the entrance, a reminder of the place’s former life as a pet store. The front windows, which have display shelves that were wide enough for puppies to play, are now adorned with Livia Cetti’s handmade paper flowers. Derian has been dreaming up other window designs, one involving Steiff stuffed dogs as a nod to the shop’s past.
Inside, Derian, whose ever-expanding East Village shop has dispensed his unique brand of decoupage and design since 1995, has maintained the most charming elements of the building’s original design, like the exposed ceiling beams, and two fireplaces, one covered in a mosaic of seashells. Built-in shelves in the front of the shop inspired Derian to create a special space for his collaborators and friends Ivan and Benoit, of the French ceramics brand Astier de Villatte. “It was my love for their stores and aesthetic that made me think it would be something fun,” Derian says. Astier de Villatte’s first shop in Paris was once an 18th-century pharmacy, replete with requisite cubbies. Over a couple of visits and many emails, the trio designed the front room using the Parisian space as a guide. Lou Doillon’s hand drawn mugs now nestle near decoupaged dishes and curvaceous pitchers.
While the front of the shop intends to transport visitors to Paris, the back resembles Derian’s house in Provincetown. “It’s sort of like my two favorite places in one,” Derian notes. The second room is soft goods central, with stacks of blankets and sumptuous velvet pillows by Anke Drechsel. A lingering guest could perch on a couch to observe the multiple cats that clamber around the backyard against a bright pink building (on a recent afternoon, one was engaged in a death-defying tree climb).
Even though the place is smaller than his other stores, Derian embraces the idea of people simply coming by for appreciation and inspiration. “When I moved to New York, I liked just looking,” he says. “It’s not like I had any money to buy anything, so it was always fun to look because I love things.” Like all of his spaces, the shop on Christopher Street invites you to stay awhile, whether you’re deciding between two paperweights or entranced by the wallpaper. “I’m torn because I want it to be like a room,” Derian admits, “but then I have a store, I have to sell things.”