How to decorate with a bistro theme

Written by ann mazzaferro
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How to decorate with a bistro theme
The chalkboard menu is indispensable to a French bistro. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

The word "bistro" first appears in the monumental 1884 edition of "Larousse Gastonomique," a French food dictionary and encyclopedia. The term was used to describe small, inexpensive restaurants where a speedy meal could be purchased. The iconic style of French bistros brings style and panache to any dining room or kitchen and allows room for your own interpretation. The same governing principles that apply to bringing a touch of French bistro to your home decor can be applied to a prom or fundraising dinner as well.

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    Gather the pieces that will anchor your design. Since bistros are a form of restaurant, bistro-style decoration is best suited to dining rooms and kitchens. For dining settings, choose tables and chairs that mimic the twisted iron furniture of traditional Parisian street cafes. Kitchens with a bistro theme can be established by installing hammered zinc countertops -- a staple of many older bistros.

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    Pick out a clearly defined colour palette that dictates your paint choices and accessories. Classic black and white, wine-bottle green and rich merlot red immediately call to mind a snappy Parisian bistro, while a rich, warm palette of russet, chocolate, gold and cream establishes a rustic country bistro. Don't limit your paint to the walls; cabinets can be painted as well to unify the theme. For a modern, urban bistro feel, accent the colours with brushed stainless-steel appliances and try vintage replica appliances for rural bistro designs.

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    Accessorise your space with appropriate accessories. Every bistro has a chalkboard menu that displays the day's choices, and this element is easily added to your dining room. Choose a small freestanding chalkboard to perch on a countertop, or hang a chalkboard in your dining room for a whimsical way to answer, "What's for dinner?" Vintage posters for wine and spirits create bistro ambience, as do prints by French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The French artist was famed for his depictions of brilliant cafe society at the end of the 19th century.

Tips and warnings

  • Add some French bistro ambience quickly with candlelight, a bottle of wine and some classic French cafe music. Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Serge Gainsbourg were revered musical artists in France, and their music is a staple in French cafes and bistros. These tricks will allow you to create a French bistro atmosphere quickly and on a tight budget.

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