Here is your guide to creating a classic French bistro-style kitchen! I’ve yet to meet someone who spent any time at all in Paris and didn’t come away smitten with the dining culture of that great city. Bistros and cafés anchor countless neighborhood corners spilling over with regulars and guests who come to savor the atmosphere as much as the food. They serve as the meeting place, neighborhood hub, and rendez-vous spot, a place to relax or to refuel —the social and political pulse of the city.
It can be translated into English like “Café’s counter is nation’s parliament”. Bistros and cafés serve as a center of social and culinary life in Paris.
What Is A Bistro In France?
A bistro, a café, or a troquet is essentially a casual French type of restaurant that served tasteful, inexpensive French traditional food. The dishes and menu are often homestyle cooking or baking and are simple yet refined and put a spin on classic dishes. Parisian bistros were originally small and unpretentious cafés run by immigrants from Auvergne called “bougnats”, who left their poor lands during the Industrial Revolution and who came to Paris to open their small business.
Bistros differ from restaurants as they are more casual; they often have a café style atmosphere, more relaxed, and sometimes even counter or serve yourself style. Bistros are often family-owned — Monsieur cooks while Madame runs the dining room and keeps an eye on the cash register, in most cases, though the reverse is sometimes seen. Some of them can also be gastronomic and Michelin-worthy, they are called “bistronomiques” (a blend of “bistrot” and “gastronomique”).
Etymology Of The Word “Bistro”
The etymology is unclear and is presumed to come from a regional word: “bistraud” which, in the dialect of Poitou, first meant “a servant”, then “a wine merchant”. For others, it would be similar to the word “bistouille” used to speak of a coffee mixed with brandy typical of northern France, or even the slang “bistingo” meaning “cabaret”.
Also, a popular etymology of the word “bistro” claims that it originated among Russian troops who occupied Paris following the Napoleonic Wars. The legend says that, when the Russian Cossacks arrived in Paris in 1814, they were entering the cabarets and bars and asked to be served very quickly and Russian for “hurry!” is Bistrot. However, this etymology has been discredited by some French linguists, as there is no attestation to the occurrence of this word until the end of the 19th century.
6 Décor Ideas To Transform Your Kitchen Into A French Bistro
You may not be able to uproot your Parisian bistro of choice, but you can bring a little of its essence home. Here are the six kitchen décors to create a classic French bistro-style kitchen.
1. Paris Rattan Café Chairs
Paris café chairs are truly essential if you want to bring the style of French bistro and café to your kitchen. I’ve always loved these stylish chairs and it’s funny how popular they are right now, even for homes not decorated with a French vibe. They really do go with every style and also make a great stool for a kitchen island as well. Below, I’ve curated a collection of the best Paris café rattan chairs to shop for.
- Serena and Lily – Riviera Side Chair
- Williams-Sonoma – Parisian Bistro Woven Side Chair
- Front Gate – Paris Bistro Side Chair
- Pottery Barn – Lulu Rattan Bistro Dining Chair
- Williams-Sonoma – French Bistro Dining Side Chair
- Pottery Barn – Isabell Rattan Armchair
- Pottery Barn – Parisian Woven Dining Chair
- Wayfair – Ionia Patio Dining Side Chair
- Maison Drucker – Bistro Rattan Chairs
- Maison Gatti – Bistro Rattan Chairs
Where Paris Café Chairs Come From
Made from rattan and in all colors, Paris café chairs are easy to be recognized. What would be Parisian terraces without these famous rattan chairs? They were born when Haussmann built his sprawling boulevards, which would become the new ‘highways’ of Paris and home to the city’s first big brasseries. Large restaurants and Parisian cafés saw rattan chairs as a worthwhile investment, due to their elegance and longevity.
Nowadays, “authentic” French café chairs —made of rattan cane and rilsan— are still handcrafted and custom-made by only two French companies: the Maison Drucker (founded in 1885) and the Maison Gatti (founded in 1920). Everything is customizable: you can choose the model, the color, as well as the “caning” and the pattern of the weaving. The chair is then assembled in several hours by the craftsmen. So, next time you’re heading to a Parisian café look at the back of the chair in search of a label: it should be written “Maison Drucker” or “Maison Gatti”.
2. French Wood Bistro Chairs
Any kitchen space can become a chic French bistro spot with some dreamy bistro chairs. And if there is one iconic French bistro chair it is definitely the Thonet No.14 chair! The design was a response to a requirement for cafe-style chairs. Indeed, the seat was often made of woven cane or palm for the seat to let spilled liquid drain off the chair.
This chair was designed by Michael Thonet and introduced in 1859, becoming the world’s first mass-produced item of furniture. It is made using a unique steam-bending technology, known as bentwood, that required years to perfect. It earned a gold medal when it was shown at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris. With its affordable price and simple design, it became one of the best-selling chairs ever made. You can shop the Ton No. 14 caned dining chair at Williams Sonoma. Crafted by TON in the original Thonet factory, this chair is based on the famous Chair No. 14.
3. French Bistro Tables
To really lean into the French bistro vibe consider adding a bistro table to your eating area. I’m in love with this beautiful round marble pedestal bistro dining table from Pottery Barn. Traditional French bistro tables are usually small, round, or square and without lip so people can cross legs beneath the tables in perfect comfort. They usually feature decorative iron scrolled or pedestal bases. Tabletops are either wood, marble, or scrolled iron.
French bistro tables can be used in a variety of settings. They make wonderful dining tables in the kitchen, occasional tables, or even desks. They make excellent front hallway tables as well; you can put your keys or the mail, or just place a vase of pretty flowers on them.
4. Intimate Lighting
To create a classic French bistro-style kitchen go for subtle and intimate lighting. The best bistros feel snug and inviting —especially in the evening when soft, low light floods the space with warmth. So think vintage lighting or lighting that is very opaline. Also, prefer table lamps and sconces instead of using a central pendant light like a chandelier (if you have, it can be dimmed to give a great effect). Layer in low-hung chandeliers, sconces, pendants, and floor or table lamps to create a diffused glow.
5. Bistro-Style Tableware
The easiest way to add some French bistro-style to your table is to opt for a classic dinnerware set in white porcelain, like this one from Williams Sonoma. Tableware doesn’t necessarily have to be the same color or pattern, but it should at least have a complementary style. In terms of glassware, you can opt for the original French tumblers, like this set of Duralex Picardie Tumblers, or these La Rochere Perigord Tumblers. Also, for red and white wines, opt for small classic balloon glasses or goblets like these La Rochere Perigord Goblets or these Café Globets. Do not forget the “carafe d’eau” (water carafe), I love this beautiful La Rochere Perigord Carafe. Also, prefer to use cups and saucers, rather than mugs. Mugs are not very “café” in my opinion.
Finally, one very important feature to keep in mind is the addition of metal detailing. Indeed, anything in copper, brass, or even chrome can make space feel warmer. You can add copper candlesticks to your table for example. You can also include these materials by adding tableware or salt and pepper mills with metal detailing —like these Peugeot Paris Salt & Pepper Mills. For more, check out my ultimate guide to set your table the French way.
6. Vintage Artworks
Many French bistros feature quite a bit of vintage art on the walls. So, if you want your French bistro-style kitchen to really pop, you’ll need to have the proper style on the walls. For your kitchen, seek vintage food-related art or artwork that is French in nature. Colorful wall artwork that advertises champagne, travel regions, and French goods will help to give a kitchen its character. Group a series of them together or make a splash with just one oversize artwork as a focal point.
Finally, a staple of any French bistro is the chalkboard used for showing customers a glimpse of the menu. This cute and practical wall where you can write all your ideas and plans will give your kitchen a French bistro chic vibe.
Et voilà! I hope this guide will help you to create a classic French bistro-style kitchen! What do you think about French bistro-style? Please, share your thoughts in the comments.
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Bonjour! I’m Leonce, a French native and the founding editor of Leonce Chenal, a modern lifestyle platform for lovers of everything French. With my previous experience working for top tech companies in London and Paris, I created this platform in 2018 to offer discerning Francophiles an authentic experience through carefully curated content about French fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Merci for visiting, and à bientôt!