Study No. 4 · Derek & Kristin James · Musician + Interior Designer
Up an old wooden staircase in L.A.’s storied Laurel Canyon, sits Derek & Kristin’s rustic 1948 hippie dream-cabin. Upon entering, it’s instantly apparent that Kristin is an inspired interior designer; having worked with Kelly Wearstler and Commune, and currently with her own private clientele. She’s also a classic liberated California mama, simultaneously tending to their crazy-adorable baby Jackson, while reading Joan Didion passages and making us delicious grapefruit and yam green juices. Derek, like his musical Laurel Canyon forbears, is a rock ‘n roll drummer, playing under his solo moniker NUG and with The Entrance Band, who’ve gained a cult following for their psych-y California blues. When not touring with artists like Mazzy Star, Sonic Youth, or Cat Power, he’s a DJ, which explains the couple’s meticulous LP library. Music and books are important elements in their lives, so Derek hand-built a shrine-like wall of ebonized wood shelving to hold their collection of favorite reads and listens. In the spirit of famous Laurel-dwellers, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell (whose former love nest up the road was immortalized in the ‘69 Crosby, Stills and Nash song, "Our House", and in Mitchell’s ‘70 LP, Ladies of the Canyon), Kristin & Derek are each other’s creative muses; living in harmony among the Eucalyptus trees and colorful canyon history.
In the James’ living room, there's a cozy brick Big Sur-style fireplace blazing next to a perfectly beat-up ‘60s jukebox, Navajo rugs scattered about, and indigenous California fauna planted in handmade pots. Overhead, an antique crystal chandelier big enough to hang on, illuminates a romantic sleeping nook, reachable only by the library’s bookcase ladder.
Their library contains Kristin’s books on design, literature, nature and counterculture, as well as Derek’s music biographies, and LPs representing eclectic genres. When they see a copy of a book or record they love in a thrift shop, they’ll often buy it as a gift for a friend. Here are two reads they believe can “change the world”; Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz (1986), and Be Here Now by Ram Dass (1971).
Kristin is a whiz in the kitchen, and seeks out vintage cookbooks with an earthy, organic slant. Here, some of her favorites reside below mid-century bowls, which she collects along with Heath Pottery’s California-made ceramics.
Some of Kristin’s grooviest cookbooks: The Grub Bag by Ita Jones (1971), California Cooks! by Rowena McLean Marks (1970), Getting it all Together: The Down to Earth Cookbook by Linda Maull and Nancy McIntyre (1971), Farmers Market Cookbook by Florine Sikking (1975), Flavors of India by Shanta N. Sacharoff (1972), and Wokcraft by Charles Schafer (1972).
Above are Kristin’s five most treasured books. Derek’s are displayed below.
Derek James + Kristin Korven James
K: Interior Designer
Describe your relationship to books:
D: Books are tools for inspiration and information. They have a way of transporting the reader inside someone else’s experience, which ultimately gives us a whole new perspective on the wonders of life. These insights we get from books are often life-changing and monumental.
K: I have a compulsive habit of buying books that are beautiful and inspiring to look at, though I'm really more interested these days in spending time with the books that require reading. Go figure!
You are currently reading:
D: Miles Davis' autobiography Miles
K: Massage for Babies
D: Lester Bangs, Roald Dahl, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski.
K: Joan Didion
In a bookstore or library, you head straight for:
D: Music Biographies
K: Cookbooks. Also beat-up landscape and interiors manuals.
If your home were ablaze, which 5 books would you save:
D: For sentimental reasons, I’d take some of the books that used to belong to my parents, like their 1st editions of Bob Dylan’s Tarantula and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind. I’d also go for The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, John Fahey’s How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life and Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung.
K: Pedro Friedeberg, Journals of the New Alchemists, my grandparents' 1st edition of Hollywood Babylon, Cat High: The Yearbook, and my stash of old Nest magazines.
Your library is organized by:
Roughly by subject matter (music, food, architecture, design, science/nature, crafts, art, film/Hollywood, occult, etc.)
Your favorite place to read:
D: In a van, on tour.
K: Inside the greenhouse/nursery room at our house.
Last great book you read:
D: The Life and Legacy of the Byrd's Gene Clark was the last book I couldn’t put down. Just Kids by Patti Smith was also excellent.
K: Just Kids was the best book I've read in years. I wanted to start over the moment I finished.
Last book to make you laugh out loud:
D: Pamela De Barres I’m With the Band was hilarious. I also laughed my ass off reading Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.
K: Yoga for Pregnancy . . . published in the 70's and the photos are hysterical.
Books you loved as a child:
D: C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe , Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.
K: As a young child I was mesmerized by Eric Carle's books The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Grouchy Ladybug. The artwork was hugely inspiring to my own arts and crafts. As an older kid I was really into the TimeLife series Mysteries of the Unknown.
Most beautiful book in your library:
K: Pedro Friedeberg’s 2011 monograph
D: Counterpoint (L.A.), Bart’s Books (Ojai, CA), Myopic (Chicago)
K: Family and Counterpoint (L.A.), Bart's Books, Powell's (Portland, OR), and pretty much any weird used book store I can find in a small town.
Books on your wish list:
D: There’s a rare photography book called Young London: Permissive Paradise by Frank Habicht about “Swinging London” in the 60’s. It wasn’t published in the states and covers all the bases; fashion, music, film, art, etc. It’s so beautiful! Let me know if you ever see a copy for under $500 ; )
K: I need to complete my Foxfire collection, Children's Spaces, Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, and about a million trillion art & architecture books that I couldn't even begin to list.
Favorite private and/or public libraries:
K: I love a small run down library. They always have the cool out of print books. Nothing bums me out more than a brand new library that seems to only have publications from the past 20 years. Also nothing beats the smell of those old libraries and books. Musty and dusty… so nostalgic.
Fictional character you most admire:
D: I don’t read much fiction, but perhaps Charlie Bucket or Maniac McGee.
K: I don't think I've read a lick of fiction in over 15 years. Now that Derek and I have a child, I'm sure we will soon be up to our ears in fun-filled fiction.
Guilty pleasure read:
D: I’m dying to read the Anthony Kiedis biography, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. That goes for Tommy Lee’s Tommyland too.
K: I own stacks of books that I've yet to read, and still, I indulge in re-reading the same Didion & Sontag essays over and over.
What book would change the world, if everyone were required to read it:
D: Marvin Gaye’s biography Divided Soul by David Ritz
K: Be Here Now by Ram Dass
Kristin reading from Joan Didion's essays on California life, Where I Was From (Vintage, 2004)