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

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  14
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.”