Designer John Derian shows that, from side tables to trinket trays, this classic is worth reinvention.

By Caroline Biggs
July 07, 2020
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Courtesy of John Derian

If you aren't already privy to the design potential of decoupage, then now's the time to discover it. A centuries-old decorating technique, decoupage involves gluing colored paper cutouts to a surface or an object to create a layered effect. And though the process itself dates back to 12th century Siberia, there are a number of modern ways to use decoupage in contemporary spaces today.

John Derian knows a thing or two about decoupage. As the founder of John Derian Company, he's made beautifully decoupaged plates, trays, and vessels his business. "Decoupage is unique because you can use imagery from 17th, 18th, and 19th century instructive books," he explains. "People can learn about new things unintentionally." Whether you make your own decoupage vases using images from a botanical book or purchase an already made vintage-inspired piece, employing decoupage in your home is as easy as it is artful. From side tables to catchall trays, read ahead for five fresh ways to use decoupage to dress up your space.

On your walls.

Forget your traditional notions of a gallery wall; Derian says decoupage can be applied directly to your walls for a one-of-a-kind art display. "Many people have done big decoupage walls," he says. To create your own decoupage wall at home, try using a widely available print that can cover a lot of surface space, such as vintage newspapers or a mix of iconic wallpapers, and be sure to stick to a single accent wall or small powder room, since you'll have to hand-apply—and perhaps eventually remove—each piece of paper.

To cover side tables.

Looking for a fun way to revamp a humdrum wooden side table? Consider covering the top your nightstand or entryway table in decoupage. Start by sanding down the tabletop and painting the base (to match the decoupage design) if necessary. Apply your favorite paper prints with decoupage glue and finish with a clear top coat to breathe new life into any old table.

As catchall trays.

If you love the look of decoupage but aren't ready to commit to a large-scale piece, then this is the project for you. With nothing more than glue, printed paper, and a flat-bottomed tray, you can decoupage a custom catchall tray to corral your baubles in style. Not in the mood for crafts? No worries. You'll be pleased to know that beautiful decoupage trays are widely available to order online.

For table settings.

Searching for an artful way to dress up your dinner table? You can decoupage glass dinner plates and other flat pieces of dinnerware for an eye-catching table display. Just remember to wipe each dish clean after using since they won't survive the dishwasher, or better yet, invest in an already decoupaged plate or two online so you can gently hand-wash them without worrying.

On lamp bases.

Nothing livens up a table lamp faster than a fresh decoupage finish. Transform the base of a plain-looking lamp by covering it with images cutout from a vintage plant or flower book, or employ a sheet of gorgeous gift paper for an easy-to-DIY design project this weekend.

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