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Davelle: 13 Ideas to Steal from New York’s Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant

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Davelle: 13 Ideas to Steal from New York’s Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant

March 25, 2019

A magic thing about New York is the way that, every now and then, you stumble upon a little jewel box—a room, a restaurant—on a side street, behind an innocuous storefront, where you least expect it. When Julie and I both spotted a photo of Davelle, a new restaurant on the Lower East Side, a while back, it seemed just that sort of small gem: not much from the outside—easy, even, to walk by, if its grate were pulled across the front its narrow shopfront—but inside, a bright and thoughtful little world.

In opening Davelle, owner Yudai Kanayama set about transforming a tiny space on Suffolk Street—formerly another Japanese restaurant—into an evocative celebration of his native Hokkaido, Japan, with sea urchins and round, gold peaches on the menu. But he also had the architecture and history of New York in mind: “A lot of Japanese restaurants usually do the same approach when they do renovations, which makes a lot of them look similar,” Kanayama told me. “The concept for the interior of Davelle is maximizing the potential of NYC’s old building structures, with original antiques only.” (All of the furniture is from the early 1900s, he tells me.)

With such a small space—it has only three tables—Kanayama was able to choose each detail of the interiors with care. “Big restaurants would be only able to buy reproduction, because original costs more and they need a lot of them,” he says. “But we are a small restaurant, and didn’t want to compromise on small details.”

Step inside, and take note of a few fresh, thoughtful ideas to emulate.

Photography by Arata Takabatake.

1.  Keep a low profile.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Outside, Kanayama and team embraced the Lower East Side grittiness, with a fairly nondescript little shopfront and a simple sign.
Above: Outside, Kanayama and team embraced the Lower East Side grittiness, with a fairly nondescript little shopfront and a simple sign.

2. “Graduate from cold industrial design.”

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant  &#8\2\20;This is what we kept saying when we designed the space,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says. &#8\2\20;We didn’t want to make this space the industrial look that’s been everywhere here in New York. So we took different approach: Let’s build something that we can only make here, not in Japan.&#8\2\2\1; Their tact: taking down the interior walls to expose the original bricks and cement, then adding a floor of reclaimed New York wood.
Above: “This is what we kept saying when we designed the space,” Kanayama says. “We didn’t want to make this space the industrial look that’s been everywhere here in New York. So we took different approach: Let’s build something that we can only make here, not in Japan.” Their tact: taking down the interior walls to expose the original bricks and cement, then adding a floor of reclaimed New York wood.

3. Add soft leather.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant For the front banquette, which borders two of the restaurant&#8\2\17;s three tables, Kanayama and team opted for custom millwork topped with &#8\2\20;leather sourced by us at the local leather shop.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: For the front banquette, which borders two of the restaurant’s three tables, Kanayama and team opted for custom millwork topped with “leather sourced by us at the local leather shop.”

4. Water down and scratch off paint.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Another element that makes the space feel as though it&#8\2\17;s been there forever: plenty of texture on the walls. &#8\2\20;The cement walls and wood frame around the window are hand scratched,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says. &#8\2\20;Plain white surface didn’t go well with the space&#8\2\2\1;; on other walls, he says, &#8\2\20;we put some texture using paint with lots of water.  our best to make them not too artificial,&#8\2\2\1; he adds. “&#8\2\17;Natural&#8\2\17; was the key word for our space.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: Another element that makes the space feel as though it’s been there forever: plenty of texture on the walls. “The cement walls and wood frame around the window are hand-scratched,” Kanayama says. “Plain white surface didn’t go well with the space”; on other walls, he says, “we put some texture using paint with lots of water. [We did] our best to make them not too artificial,” he adds. “’Natural’ was the key word for our space.”

5. Hang a low-fi paper scroll as menu.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant On one side of the small room, the team preserved an existing marble mantel, presumably from a long ago time when the building was a residence. Behind it, the day&#8\2\17;s menu—coffee shop during the day, Japanese inflected restaurant in the evening—is scrawled on a low fi roll of brown paper. (For something similar, see Solutions for Living: Simple Everyday Designs by George & Willy.) Note also the large mirror, a sure way to make a small room feel more spacious.
Above: On one side of the small room, the team preserved an existing marble mantel, presumably from a long-ago time when the building was a residence. Behind it, the day’s menu—coffee shop during the day, Japanese-inflected restaurant in the evening—is scrawled on a low-fi roll of brown paper. (For something similar, see Solutions for Living: Simple Everyday Designs by George & Willy.) Note also the large mirror, a sure way to make a small room feel more spacious.

6. Display—don’t hide—extra seating.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Tucked into the (nonworking) fireplace are two &#8\2\20;antique church chairs, the extra chairs we use when we are busy,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says. Display and utility, suited for a tiny space.
Above: Tucked into the (nonworking) fireplace are two “antique church chairs, the extra chairs we use when we are busy,” Kanayama says. Display and utility, suited for a tiny space.

7. Source mercury glass.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Above the bar are a row of &#8\2\20;early \1900s mercury light shades from the Czech Republic,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says. We love this look; for a do it yourself option, see DIY: Vintage Looking Mercury Glass Pendant Lights for \$\25.
Above: Above the bar are a row of “early 1900s mercury light shades from the Czech Republic,” Kanayama says. We love this look; for a do-it-yourself option, see DIY: Vintage-Looking Mercury Glass Pendant Lights for $25.

8. Make time an element.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant The simple bar, which has only a handful of seats, is topped with &#8\2\20;unfinished brass, to get nice texture as we use it,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says.
Above: The simple bar, which has only a handful of seats, is topped with “unfinished brass, to get nice texture as we use it,” Kanayama says.
Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant The bar from above. Besides the millwork on the bar and the front banquette, the team did not work with a designer: &#8\2\20;Most of the things were discussed between partners and we gave direction to the contractor on site,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama says.
Above: The bar from above. Besides the millwork on the bar and the front banquette, the team did not work with a designer: “Most of the things were discussed between partners and we gave direction to the contractor on site,” Kanayama says.

9. Break a few tiles.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant In the bathroom, a thoughtful detail on the floor: &#8\2\20;We bought regular, plain white tiles and broke them into smaller pieces and put them on the floor,&#8\2\2\1; Kanayama explains. &#8\2\20;It’s a simple white tile mosaic art by our friend Mika, who also did all of our wall painting.&#8\2\2\1; The D is for &#8\2\20;Davelle,&#8\2\2\1; which references Japanese slang for &#8\2\20;chatter.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: In the bathroom, a thoughtful detail on the floor: “We bought regular, plain white tiles and broke them into smaller pieces and put them on the floor,” Kanayama explains. “It’s a simple white tile mosaic art by our friend Mika, who also did all of our wall painting.” The D is for “Davelle,” which references Japanese slang for “chatter.”

10. Bring back dried flowers.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Along the exposed brick wall: imperfect and ad hoc bundles of dried flowers.
Above: Along the exposed brick wall: imperfect and ad-hoc bundles of dried flowers.

11. Source the smallest details with care.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Everything inside Davelle is antique or vintage, Kanayama says. This includes the hangers for patrons&#8\2\17; coats: &#8\2\20;French antique hangers from the fifties,&#8\2\2\1; he says.
Above: Everything inside Davelle is antique or vintage, Kanayama says. This includes the hangers for patrons’ coats: “French antique hangers from the fifties,” he says.
Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant The hardware and light switches are vintage, too, sourced from &#8\2\20;an online shop that sells antique fixtures.&#8\2\2\1; (Meljac makes our favorite vintage inspired switches; read more at Beautiful Basics: The Brass Light Switch and More by Meljac.)
Above: The hardware and light switches are vintage, too, sourced from “an online shop that sells antique fixtures.” (Meljac makes our favorite vintage-inspired switches; read more at Beautiful Basics: The Brass Light Switch and More by Meljac.)
Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant A vintage glass fixture in the front window.
Above: A vintage glass fixture in the front window.

12. Mix high with low.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant Among the table settings: simple ceramics and newsprint.
Above: Among the table settings: simple ceramics and newsprint.

13. Rethink pink.

Davelle 13 Ideas to Steal from New Yorks Tiniest Jewelbox Restaurant The only indication of what&#8\2\17;s inside: small, pale pink lettering on the front window. At Davelle, pink—on the menus and in the logo—feels fresh, not overdone.
Above: The only indication of what’s inside: small, pale pink lettering on the front window. At Davelle, pink—on the menus and in the logo—feels fresh, not overdone.

Step inside more tiny New York restaurants here:

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on June 12, 2018.

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