French Bistro Decorating Ideas

Written by meg campbell
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Pin
  • Email
French Bistro Decorating Ideas
Pedestal tables have heavy cast-iron bases and marble tops, ideal for outdoor use. (open-air cafe image by AGphotographer from

The traditional French bistro is, at heart, an exercise in simple, homestyle food. From its inception, the decor was secondary to the atmosphere created by the energy of its loyal patrons. Over time, bistro-style decor came to be associated with the carefree nature of the bistro itself. Boldly painted walls---usually yellow, sometimes red---were offset by checkered flooring, sculpted tin ceilings, heavy pedestal tables and the classic lines of the bistro chair. Although modern variations on classic bistro style exist, the traditional decor is as fresh as it was when it was introduced to the cafe crowds of Paris.

Other People Are Reading


The ideal bistro floor is the classic black and white checkerboard. Almost any flooring material can achieve the effect, from inexpensive linoleum sheeting to large square ceramic tiles. You can even buy easily removable black and white carpet tiles and lay the pattern yourself. Old wood floors can be painted in a checkerboard pattern for a different effect, but old wood also fits in with the theme; plenty of traditional and modern French bistros have wooden flooring. Another option is a play off the checkerboard pattern: a white floor of small hexagonal ceramic tiles with randomly placed black hexagons gives the space a cleaner look while maintaining the bistro aesthetic.


Pendant lighting is a quick way to further the look. Traditional bistro pendant lights are single pendant lamps with the light directed downward. Clear glass shades, rather than frosted, were typically used, but today's bistro pendant shades can be transparent, opaque or coloured glass. Reverse pendants, with the light directed upward, also are widely used, as are pendants and wall sconces with frosted globe shades. Almost any pendant-style light fixture will help translate the French bistro theme, which leaves you free to choose one that fits in with the rest of your decor, too.


Perhaps the two items that most conjure up the atmosphere of a French bistro are bistro tables and chairs. Although many different styles of simple chairs are used in bistros today, it's the model 14 bentwood chair, designed by Michael Thonet in 1859, that's the quintessential bistro chair. The chair has been described as elegant and functional, and after serving as the chair of choice in French bistros for decades, it became known as "the bistro chair." Today, the same company manufactures it as model 214. The traditional bistro table has a black pedestal base made of heavy cast iron so it's able to support a round, weighty Formica or marble top. The table is meant to seat two people comfortably, but accommodates up to four.


Plain white porcelain dishes were the standard in the old bistros, and the tradition continues. Heavy-duty porcelain, diner-style, is simple and lasts a long time because it's more resistant to chipping than the run-of-the-mill dinner plate. You can find vintage or vintage-inspired porcelain dinnerware with delicate designs along edges and rims at an online store, such as that in the resources of this article, or check estate sales or flea markets. Mix and match your plates, cups and bowls to keep it interesting.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.