Welcome to Explain Your Tchotchkes, a feature where Eater asks restaurateurs about why they picked the decorations, knickknacks, and other notable design details in their dining rooms. As a Chinese Food Week special, here's a tour of Cafe China.
Cafe China is the two-month-old Midtown restaurant from husband and wife team Yiming Wang and Xian Zhang. This is their first restaurant, and Yiming designed the space herself, taking inspiration from the Shanghai deco style of the 1930s. A few of the pieces in the room are from China, but many of them were plucked from Brooklyn flea markets or created especially for the restaurant. Here's a tour from Yiming.
Yiming Wang, owner: "I came from a finance background, but I didn't get too attached to the corporate world, to banking. I was trying to get into the design field. At one point I put up a Craigslist ad, trying to design for free, but it didn't get any response. So, this is really my first design project. I was inspired by the old Shanghai style. Shanghai became a metropolitan city in the '30s, so that was an important era for the city. That's when they got all of this exciting influence from Europe and the west, and that's when a lot of brilliant ideas came out. The Shanghai deco is very unique.
"I designed this myself, and I found this frame from the flea market. It's the same image that's on our business cards.
"I just made this mirror from a drawing, but I had to incorporate so many different people — the metal guy, the glass guy, and the carpenter. I got the idea from a movie, Coco Before Chanel. I had a very strong impression from the last scene where she walks down the stairs and she's surrounded by curving mirrors. I didn't check the details, because I didn't want to have exactly the same thing.
"The room was not ideal at all — it was a sports bar. So, I thought I could enhance the space a little bit by putting this credenza here, so as to define different areas. I didn't want to have something solid to completely block it, because I think people want to be seen, so I put the curtain there. The walls are green-blue because blue is a color that changes under different lighting. Daytime and nighttime, it feels different. I love that, because you always feel very fresh.
"I got these posters from Shanghai. They are actually reproductions. Some of them used to be cigarette ads, and a few have images of Zhou Xuan, she was a singer from the '30s. I play her music here too.
"Many of these books are by Eileen Chang — she's my favorite author. The Chinese name of the restaurant is taken from her book Love in a Fallen City, and it has layers of meaning. It means a fallen city, literally, and also, she fell for the city. Ang Lee made a movie from one of her books called Lust, Caution.
"These lamps are from the Brooklyn Flea. They have the same colors, but if you look at them, they all have different shapes. I have nine of them now, and I like how they're unique but there's also a uniformity.
"I got this in Brooklyn, in Bed-Stuy, at a store that was closing. It looked like garbage on the floor, but it's made of lucite mirror, which is from the '30s or '40s."