Few places are as inviting as a French café–a table for two, a glass of wine or a cocktail, and the opportunity for relaxed conversation, or even romance. It is no wonder, then, that many people try to achieve the special ambiance of the French café in their own homes.
Putting together a cozy yet sophisticated room that reflects French café decor is not a difficult task. Finding just the right items and assembling them with quintessential French flair can be a fun and rewarding project, with beautiful results. With a little guidance, you can find yourself looking no farther than your own kitchen, or even patio, for a welcoming change of scenery that invites you to linger. And you don’t even have to know how to speak French to achieve this look.
Start with a small table and chairs. A small round table with two or four chairs works best. It can be wrought iron or wood and should look as pretty without a tablecloth as with one. Typical café chairs include wrought iron or bentwood, both with small proportions. If you have enough room, you could use two small two-person tables to establish more of a café look.
The French are also practical about glassware: stemless wine glasses are often used and you’ll find two or three simple glass types holding all kinds of beverages. Beer usually comes in glasses, not large mugs or steins. Coffee and tea are served with small spoons for stirring. Not all the dishes need to match and you might want to look for interesting small pitchers with floral designs for serving milk and cream.
If you want to use a tablecloth, choose a simple one of linen or fine cotton in white or maybe a blue checker pattern, if you’re looking for more color. Small white cloth napkins are also a nice touch.
Your table does not need too much dressing up: a small vase with a few blossoms or a cream colored votive in a glass holder will provide just the right touch. The secret, again, is small and cozy, suggesting a secret rendezvous.
French cafés often have limited menus and sometimes the day’s offerings are chalked on a board at the entrance. Look for a small chalkboard in a pretty frame that you can hang on the wall and on which you can write the soup du jour or the wine and cheese pairings that you are serving. If you’re preparing a special meal for a special someone, you can post all the courses to help set the mood.
Window treatments are another area where you can achieve a French café look. Classic “café curtains”–curtains threaded on a slim rod that cover only the bottom half of a window give an authentic feel. If you can find them in a non-fussy cotton lace, all the better, but a subtle checker will also do.
Wall decor is an area where you can really use your imagination. A nice, retro, wood-framed analog clock, especially one with Roman numerals, will help set the tone. Vintage or new French language signs and posters are widely available–roosters especially lend a very French touch. You can also hang pottery plates or small copper pans on the walls or install small shelves to display painted plates or pitchers. For even more atmospherics, purchase a CD or two of typical French chansons–Edith Piaf is always a good place to start.
One of the best things about the French café look is that it is an affordable one, attainable on any budget. And you soon may find that everything–even the most humble grocery-store chardonnay– tastes better and feels more festive in your own French café