Paris – In the early hours of the morning, after the cafés in Paris have closed and the streets are quiet, strollers have a rare chance to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the French capital. You can smell – but not see – baguettes à l’ancienne baking in boulangeries as you make your way along the tranquil Seine, uninterrupted until the flower vendors open their stalls.
The nocturnal tour reveals another icon of Paris asleep: the city’s infamous bistro chairs, stacked high in the corners of every darkened restaurant, awaiting the show that sunrise brings. Introduced in 1885 by French company Maison Drucker, the rattan chair outlived la belle époque, but bistro culture currently begs an update.
Last year France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies reported that 25 per cent of Parisian bistros – about 300 – closed their doors between 2014 and 2018. As a result, many proprietors are campaigning to secure UNESCO heritage status for their establishments.
While the threat remains imminent in the wake of Uber Eats and grocery-store salad bars, an upgrade of the classic bistro experience by means of design may also promise survival: enter the Corso chair, a new version – by Studio Robert Stadler – of Maison Drucker’s iconic rattan chair.
Stadler’s chair is a streamlined interpretation of the original seating, which he created by swapping the wooden base for an aluminium one, while utilizing the know-how that went into manufacturing the traditional model and adding colour to padded seats, backrests and legs. Corso is humidity-resistant, an important feature in a chair that is often exposed to all sorts of weather, and it’s much easier to stack than was the original design.
Some may argue that a chair is just a chair, but they probably wouldn’t be French or a Frame reader. The rattan chairs of Paris tell an age-old story, and now, with a 21st-century stamp of endorsement, bring a dash of colour and a vote of confidence that seems to ensure the constancy of bistros in the city of light.
This feature is part of Frame 127. You can purchase a copy of that print issue here.