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New York’s Coolest Cafe: 11 Design Lessons from Dae in Brooklyn

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New York’s Coolest Cafe: 11 Design Lessons from Dae in Brooklyn

November 22, 2023

If you were to peek through the Instagram messages between Julie and myself, you’d find that mostly, lately, we’ve been sending each other posts from @daenewyork: a bow-bedecked pillow, teeny tiny pats of butter in the shape of fish, a gleaming stainless steel counter.

Dae is a cafe, design shop, and event space on Smith Street in Brooklyn, the work of Carol Song and Suea Cho, who first met working as buyers at Opening Ceremony. We talked to Carol by phone: “We want to create our whole lives,” she says. “We’ve always been obsessed with Korean cafes, and they’re always ever changing, they’re always beautiful, and we knew that that was missing here.”

The duo looked for just the right spot: “We always knew we wanted to do it in Brooklyn. I always wanted a space that wasn’t heavily foot trafficked by tourists; I just wanted it to be more peaceful. Our dream was always to be three doors down from a corner, but this was the closest to it”—it’s a corner space—”and we fell in love pretty much right away.” Then came a year of transforming the totally blank space into a modern and bright cafe, enlisting friends from the set design team at JCrew and more than a few Korean makers, and occasionally doing battle with the City over the permits required to turn a real estate agency into a functioning restaurant.

The result is a space that’s intentionally simple in its components—a stainless-steel bar, blocky wood furniture—but with delightful, ever-changing details: plates stamped DAE, silverware sourced from hotels, a rotating array of handmade wares in the shop section. “People come in and say, ‘This is so fresh,’ but really it’s very much a Korean café,” Carol says.

Dae has only been open for three months, but Tiktokers and Instagrammers wasted no time finding it—and staged so many full-on photoshoots that taking photos inside has been (largely) banned. Fortunately, Carol and Suea shared all the details with us. Here’s a look inside, with lessons from just a few of Dae’s genius design moments.

Photography courtesy of Dae New York.

1. Select a timeless palette.

the corner space appealed for its brightness and location. &#8\2\20;it was  12
Above: The corner space appealed for its brightness and location. “It was a real estate agency before,” says Carol. “It had been separated into two buildings, and they had taken down the wall but it was just an empty space: It didn’t have a bathroom, didn’t have anything.” Carol and Suea fitted the interiors with simple, striking materials. “We’re both really into architecture and design. Frank Gehry was a huge inspiration: We always wanted wood, stainless steel, and as many natural elements as we could. We wanted stone, which we’re trying to figure out how to bring in.”

It’s a clean backdrop for what the duo hopes will be an ever-changing space: “We were buyers before, so every season I was like, What’s the new concept? We are both always looking for what’s new and trying to figure out how to keep it evolving.”

2. Mix knock-offs with the real thing.

the furnishings were a group effort, designed by carol and suea and built out b 13
Above: The furnishings were a group effort, designed by Carol and Suea and built out by creative friends and Carol’s husband, a menswear designer at JCrew. “He created all of the Donald Judd tables out of simple plywood,” Carol says. “The chairs are Scarpa chairs, bought from vintage dealer. That was our splurge, so we couldn’t afford real Donald Judd.”

3. Make stainless the centerpiece.

in the back is a custom kitchen, all in stainless. &#8\2\20;we knew we want 14
Above: In the back is a custom kitchen, all in stainless. “We knew we wanted a stainless steel countertop,” Carol says. “We wanted it to look like an infinity countertop, with nothing on it. I didn’t even want our point-of-sale system on it. It hasn’t veered too much from that.”
dae new york 7
Above: Carol’s husband, Eric, helped with the stainless-steel table design. Suea and Carol were also introduced to Seth Williamson through JCrew’s set designer, and Seth built out the stainless kitchen.

4. Take cues from hotel silver service.

&#8\2\20;the plaza hotel was a huge inspiration,&#8\2\2\1; carol says.  16
Above: “The Plaza Hotel was a huge inspiration,” Carol says. “When we were sourcing our silverware, we wanted to get all vintage New York hotel silver service. We found someone who was a big collector who said, Trust me, everyone’s going to steal these, so don’t get monogrammed ones. We were like, okay, you’re right. So we did get all vintage silverware from hotels, but not monogrammed.”
the silvery theme continues with all of the trays and serveware. 17
Above: The silvery theme continues with all of the trays and serveware.

5. Make simple things delightful.

one of the details that captivates: butter, recast. &#8\2\20;suea was doing 18
Above: One of the details that captivates: butter, recast. “Suea was doing food styling, and she was really into butter art,” says Carol. “The first week we opened, we got koi molds and were planning on changing our butter every week: We had bows, stars… It’s really not too hard; you have to bring butter to room temp and put it in the molds.” For now, butter art mainly makes an appearance at private events, but the duo still has hopes of making weekly molded butter a thing.

6. Ask: Is it special? Can it live forever?

part of the space is reserved for a small housewares shop. &#8\2\20;both of 19
Above: Part of the space is reserved for a small housewares shop. “Both of us are Korean, and with our first buying trip we got so excited with everyone we met, so 90 percent of our makers are Korean, but there’s some European makers, some people from Brooklyn,” says Carol. “Everything is handmade, everything has a story, and we’re treating everything preciously. We know that’s something we really want to uphold: We’re not trying to mark these down and make them cheap or disposable and dilute the value in any sort of way, so we ask, Is it special? Can it live forever?”

7. Channel museums.

the duo worked with seth williamson again to create the wooden shop tables. &am 20
Above: The duo worked with Seth Williamson again to create the wooden shop tables. “We wanted a shadowbox feel, like a museum, so you’re looking into this artifact display,” says Carol. “He’s a set designer so he knows exactly how to bring it to life.”
Above: “We worked with a Korean artist named Kim Giseok of Tact, who did the stainless steel shelves on the walls,” says Carol. “He’s everything we wanted for the shop.”

8. Wrap in cloth.

&#8\2\20;bojagi (보자기) is a traditional korean wrapping 23
Above: “Bojagi (보자기) is a traditional Korean wrapping cloth that comes in many different forms and is utilized for everything from wrapping gifts to food coverings and easy transport,” the duo writes on Instagram. Dae offers bojagi gift-wrapping on items bought in the shop; best yet, the cloths are 100 percent cotton and can be reused.

9. Don’t forget the sound system.

the space set for a private party. note the clear glass stereo on the wall, cus 24
Above: The space set for a private party. Note the clear glass stereo on the wall, custom created by maker Erica Cox in Korea. “We were really specific with what we wanted, and we had to fit it into the wall,” Carol says. In Dae’s early days, the pair played K-pop: “We were obsessed with this girl group called NewJeans, and this sounds silly but it was attracting too many TikTokers. They were just coming and dancing and it was getting pretty crazy, so now during the daytime it’s either ambient music or kind of moody goth music.”

10. Put your stamp on it.

carol and suea hoped to create an &#8\2\20;old world hotel vibe&#8\2\2\ 25
Above: Carol and Suea hoped to create an “old-world hotel vibe”, from the days where everything—from the sconces to the silverware—bore the name of the establishment. For now, they’ve started with their bread and butter plates. “We had them custom made in Korea; it was cheaper for us to do it there. We found a plate that we liked, came up with the logo ourselves, and had them stamped,” Carol says.
a look at the menu, which is also frequently changing. 26
Above: A look at the menu, which is also frequently changing.

11. Put a twist on tradition.

many of the elements in the interior are straight out of korean cafes, though c 27
Above: Many of the elements in the interior are straight out of Korean cafes, though Carol says it’s not always recognized. “There’s this piece that looks like a stage, and a lot of people are like, Are you going to have music there? It’s actually a traditional thing in homes in Korea: People eat on it, sleep on it, dry fish on it. We wanted to have one, but we modernized it with some curves.” The cotton quilt and pillow—complete with bows—offer a sneak peek of an artist collaboration, coming soon.
New Yorks Coolest Cafe 11 Design Lessons from Dae in Brooklyn portrait 7 28
Above: Window seating.
dinner outside. &#8\2\20;there were some ideas we haven’t been able  29
Above: Dinner outside. “There were some ideas we haven’t been able to do, like we wanted to do a rug on the ceiling,” Carol says. “We want this old beautiful intellectual architecture feeling with our own fun twist. So I guess that’s a little preview of what to come.”

For more, head to Dae New York.

And for more three more inventive cafes, have a look at:

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Frequently asked questions

What is the concept behind Dae Guek?

Dae Guek is a Korean-inspired cafe in New York City that combines traditional Korean design elements with modern aesthetics. It aims to create a unique space that celebrates Korean culture and offers a cozy atmosphere for customers.

Where is Dae Guek located?

Dae Guek is located in New York City. The exact address can be found on their website or by contacting them directly.

What type of food and drinks does Dae Guek offer?

Dae Guek offers a variety of Korean-inspired food and drinks. Their menu includes traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbap, kimchi pancakes, and Korean fried chicken. They also serve a range of beverages, including specialty teas and Korean-inspired cocktails.

Can I make a reservation at Dae Guek?

Yes, Dae Guek accepts reservations. It is recommended to make a reservation in advance, especially during peak hours, to ensure a table.

Does Dae Guek offer vegetarian or vegan options?

Yes, Dae Guek offers vegetarian and vegan options on their menu. They understand the importance of catering to different dietary preferences and strive to provide options for all customers.

Is Dae Guek child-friendly?

Yes, Dae Guek is child-friendly and welcomes families with children. They have a relaxed atmosphere that is suitable for all ages.

Do they offer takeaway or delivery services?

Yes, Dae Guek offers both takeaway and delivery services. Customers can place orders through their website or popular food delivery platforms.

Are there any special events or promotions at Dae Guek?

Dae Guek occasionally hosts special events and promotions. It is recommended to check their website or social media accounts for updates on any ongoing or upcoming events.

Does Dae Guek have free Wi-Fi?

Yes, Dae Guek provides free Wi-Fi for its customers. You can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while staying connected.

What are the opening hours of Dae Guek?

The opening hours of Dae Guek may vary. It is best to refer to their website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information on their operating hours.

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