Building a bon bistro-style kitchen

26 April 2024 | Conscious Home, Featured, Reclaimed Renovations

Pull up a seat, because your favourite bistro might just hold the bon ideas you need if you are designing a kitchen or looking to refresh the room. 

Bistros may have emerged in Paris, but to this day they carry signatures that are shared in eateries across Europe. The interiors have a certain familiarity, quality materials, comfortable seating, and good finishings but nothing too flashy so you instantly relax. They are functional yet also intimate so offer a purposeful design mood for a kitchen, the room where daily practices play out from dawn until dusk.

deVOL kitchens

Here are some bistro design cues that have been on my mind while planning our renovation. I hope you find something that speaks to your taste in your kitchen.

Rattan furniture 

Vintage rattan kitchen shelves

I bought a pair of these 60s shelves for my kitchen from Andevost Furniture

Lately, rattan in restaurants is cropping up everywhere from lighting to cane details on bars to, of course, chairs. I just sourced a pair of cane-sided stackable shelves from the 60s to store jars, cookbooks and cocktail paraphernalia. I like cane because it is durable and brings a handcrafted softness to darker wood, which will be our material for open shelves. It also contrasts well with the stricter shapes of kitchen appliances. 

Part of rattan’s popularity is because natural materials offer a more sustainable choice for your home. There is a range of secondhand styles to suit different tastes and budgets, from antique Victorian to bohemian 1960s and 1970s pieces.

Vintage mirrors

My last two homes seem to suggest I am destined for kitchens without windows. During my first reclaimed renovation, I solved the dilemma by turning what was the kitchen into my walk-in wardrobe… This time our kitchen is interestingly positioned – in the heart of the home – in the middle of the hall that leads from the front door to the living room. It does get daylight from our glazed doors at both the front and the back of the flat, but I knew a large mirror would be a must to optimise the light. I sourced a large French bistro mirror circa the 1980s (to be revealed in my kitchen soon). But more misty antique foxed mirrors would also bring that bistro atmosphere with walls that have witnessed many stories.

Bistro tables and chairs

Antique bentwood chairs photo by Amazing Finds

Introducing an antique bistro table or quietly chic bentwood chairs could be all you need to create an eating area with enduring style. The classic Viennese bistro chair with its comfy curvacious steam-bent timber is model No.14 designed by Michael Thonet in the 1850s. The term ‘investment piece’ is banded around too liberally to justify big-ticket fashion items, but if you have the budget for an antique Thonet design or a chair by his contemporaries, J & J Kohn then they will hold their value. Many faithful reproductions for restaurants over the years also mean you have a good chance of finding furniture on the secondhand market – just look for quality materials. Collecting mismatched single chairs at vintage fairs or online could also save you money, and add character. 

Banquette seating

Restaurant-like booths and banquettes create inviting, comfortable nooks and maximise seating space. My American husband always loved the idea of creating a diner vibe for ours, which has gradually gone more European bistro with the pieces we are sourcing around it. We removed some kitchen cabinets to install our orange vegan leather banquette over a year ago, and it has completely changed the feel of the room. Even though it was a strange mishmash with the old kitchen, it’s been one of our favourite areas to hang out. 


Bistro marble tends to be less polished which I like

You might borrow the idea of marble, which can be seen on floor tiles, table tops and serving counters. I sourced pink reclaimed marble on SalvoWEB, which we will use for our worktop. I also spotted a marble table top (pictured above left) in a local antique shop, which we fixed to an Art Deco bistro table base for our banquette to surround. 

Dark antique or reclaimed wood

Masterful reuse of iroko in this kitchen by Retrouvius

Earthy-coloured timbers have a grounding, timeless appeal. It is not for everyone, but I personally love the elegance of reclaimed teak or iroko worktops or cabinetry. Keep your dark wood fresh with sleek hardware.

Set the mood with lighting

It is so easy to over-simplify lighting, but our kitchens fulfil so many purposes and your lighting has multiple functions that should be met. It must give you bright spaces for cooking, and maybe working if, like me, you like to set your laptop on the kitchen table now and then. You also need lights that will change the mood for entertaining and relaxation when you don’t want to highlight the culinary aftermath while you sit down to eat. 

Café curtains 

Café curtain clips in a bistro & kitchen cabinet skirts @eastlondoncloth

Think either heavy, often velvet curtains that circle the entrance and break the draught of the door to a bistro or sheers and lace curtains that dress windows and create privacy and romance. The window and door treatments of bistros can easily translate into your kitchen. If like me, you don’t have windows to play with, then you might think about adding a curtain skirt below your sink or adding ruched curtain panels to cupboard doors. I recently found antique French café clips to hang a curtain to divide our living room and hall to the kitchen, so have fun with your curtain accessories too. 

Vintage artwork and advertising prints

Le Bon Georges in Paris

Le Bon Georges in Paris

It might be more common to photograph a bistro tablescape, but I usually save my snaps for the walls on the way to the loo! Sometimes restaurants provide the best gallery wall inspiration. I am particularly thinking of vintage food and beverage advertisements and old prints that are popular in French bistros, which fit really well in a kitchen. 

Buying pieces rescued from restaurants

Designing with architectural elements and furniture salvaged from restaurants is an immediate way to create bistro-character. Look out for dismantling alerts on SalvoWEB for restaurants that are changing hands or being re-fitted. You can also check the Salvo Directory to find your local architectural salvage showroom as many businesses supply restaurants with reclaimed materials and also rescue elements for reuse during new fit-outs.

Check out my edit below or search Salvo’s latest antique and reclaimed listings here

Racines Paris bistro decor

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman or as credited

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