New York designer says Watertown, Cambridge influenced his art

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Designer John Derian says growing up in Watertown influenced his dark, eccentric style.
Designer John Derian says growing up in Watertown influenced his dark, eccentric style. Courtesy of T: The New York Times Style Magazine/Elizabeth Clark Libert

Designer John Derian recently returned to Watertown in an article for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, paying homage to his birthplace, which influenced his art and the three dark, eccentric antique & curiosity shops he owns in the East Village.

Derian refutes the stereotype that children have to grow up in the countryside to appreciate hidden oddities in nature, saying, “Kids can find cool, secret things anywhere.’’ This attitude is evident in his shops, John Derian Company Inc., which sell handmade decoupage plates, paperweights, coasters, bowls, and an assortment of “one-of-a-kind’’ curios. Most of them feature some manner of flora or fauna – bats, skulls, beetles, shells, feathers, flowers, and more.

For many, Watertown hardly conjures up the slightly morbid elegance Derian infuses in his work. The Boston Globe describes the town of some 32,000 as “sleepy,’’ popular for its big-box stores like Target, Best Buy, and the retail shops in Arsenal Mall. But those more familiar with the area say it’s also regarded for its working-class neighborhoods, established cultural scene of arts and restaurants, and large Armenian population.

For Derian, Watertown and the surrounding Cambridge and Boston areas held plenty of secret spots for him to escape and find inspiration in the 1970s. He took the The Times on a circuitous trip around the cities pointing out his favorite haunts: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, the Armenian Massis Bakery and Cass the Florist in Watertown, and The Brattle Theatre near Harvard University.

Story continues after gallery.

Fresh ideas for redesigning your outdoor space:

Derian still finds splendor in the time-warped parts of his hometown, like the entrance of a now-abandoned Watertown Library, and the Deluxe Town Diner where he and his brothers would eat while his father worked late at Star Market. Though he’s now a successful designer who hangs out with Martha Stewart and has been featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Country Living, W, GQ, and Elle Décor, Derian hasn’t forgotten his roots, reminding other aspiring artists that beauty can be found anywhere, if you look for it.

Read the full The NY Times Style Magazine story here.