by Lisa Anselmo
If someone were to say “Paris café style” to you, it would probably conjure up some immediate images: bentwood chairs, globe lights, wood paneling, maybe even a zinc bar. There’s a classic look to a café. A tad cliché, maybe, but it has stood the test of time, and somehow never looks dated, much like the American diner.
But even Paris cafés go through a relooking—makeover—every decade or so. Usually the changes stay somewhat within the vernacular: a new awning, a redux of their rattan Maison Gatti chairs, signage redesign. Mostly, it’s a much-needed refresh, yet it still feels Parisian: stylish, but not too trendy.
THE NEW DESIGN MOTTO: CONFORM OR PERISH
But we’re in a Pinterest world now, where design decisions are crowd-sourced. It’s not about creating a unique look based on your brand identity; it’s about fitting in. With cafés struggling to stay in business, they’re not just renovating, they are actually duplicating each other in a scramble to stay on the map. If one changes their red awning to blue, so does the next one down the street. Aided and inspired by social media, trends sweep the city from quartier to quartier like a contagion, stamping out the authentic and replacing it with the Instagram-able.
If you’re trying to attract customers, put that money into a good chef and better coffee, and keep the café as is.
Sure, you can argue that there’s a sameness to classic café style, but at least it’s timeless and uniquely Parisian, instead of this soulless caricature of Brooklyn that’s (super)imposing itself on the city. Everyone is conforming to the exact trends, churning them out with zero interpretation: the same industrial furniture, the same cold color palate, the same minimalist feel—like hipster McDonalds franchises—so the look is already played out, even before the paint is dry on that relooking.
GOOD DESIGN IS ETERNAL; BAD DESIGN IS FORGETTABLE
No one is saying modern is bad. We’re talking about bad choices. When you design anything based solely on the trend of the day, you risk a result that might not resonate longterm. It’s just bad business. Cafés spend a lot to renovate—money they can ill afford in this economy—and it’s heartbreaking when they choose styles that will look dated in a year, especially after they’ve gutted their original 100-year-old interior to do it, one that still looked perfectly on brand, and would have for years to come.
Designer Matthew Waldman is famous for saying “the future should not look like the past.” You could add that it also shouldn’t look like the fleeting moment. If you must modernize, think about how your makeover design will look in five years’ time. If it won’t hold up like your current interior, scrap your plan. At the end of the day, if you’re trying to attract customers, put that same money into a good chef and better coffee, and keep the café as is.
Behold, the top 5 trends in café deco that we’re over already:
1: THE NAKED EDISON BULB
An obligatory element in any café makeover. A cool look…5 years ago. It’s a café, not a lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Put a lampshade on that thing; you’re burning our retinas.
And speaking of lampshades…
2: THE GIANT WICKER LAMPSHADE
The first time we saw this it seemed sort of design-y, but after the 50th café, Paris is starting to look more like a cheap beach resort. Baskets are for bread.
3: THE METAL STOOL
About as comfortable as sitting on a barbed wire fence, mais non? We’re assuming you don’t want us stay long. Even more fun for your fanny after that thing has been baking in the hot sun all day. Youch!
4: THE TINY TERRACE TABLE
Oh, sweetie, no. Do you really expect two people to eat at this flimsy little thing? There are limits to how far to take a trend. You may have reached it.
5: THE TROPICAL WALLPAPER
Giant palm fronds, pink flamingos—it’s so oddly specific, and so woefully out of place. Yet there it is, hopping from café to café, like a conga line. Even my local has gone Copa Cabana bananas.
Is anyone doing these trends right? Check out Mon Coco, at 6 Place de la Republique. The decor is more thoughtfully done: classic bentwood chairs are paired with the “Brooklyn-style” industrial table; a whimsical straw chandelier (instead of the ubiquitous basket lamp) hangs over a plush blue velvet booth; instead of tropical wallpaper, a mural by a street artist nods to the area’s gritty vibe. It makes a unique statement because it’s an extension of who they are, vs. what’s trendy, so it has a far better chance of holding up as time goes by.
Which Paris café has your favorite interior design? Let us know!
LISA ANSELMO is a writer, branding expert, speaker, and coach, and has worked at such iconic American magazines as Allure, InStyle, and People. She is the author of My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), and has been featured in New York magazine, Travel and Leisure, Bustle, House Hunters International, Expatriates Magazine among others.
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