How to Decorate a Southern-Food Restaurant

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Whether your Southern-style restaurant specializes in chitterlings, shrimp and grits, fried chicken or gumbo, the right decorations reinforce your Southern emphasis. How you decorate your Southern-style restaurant depends on the vibe you're after. You could be a homey Southern barbecue joint, soul food place, farm-to-table restaurant, low-country fine-dining establishment, seafood shack or bistro; each type of venue calls for its own distinctive set of adornments. Leading Southern restaurants offer insights into decking your halls.

The Southern Aesthetic

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As a style, the Southern sensibility is not uniform or easy to cubbyhole. As an Alabama-based interior designer notes, what distinguishes the "Southern style" from other styles is its emphasis on history, craftsmanship and durability. At the same time, the "Southern" style isn't a static concept, and is subject to prevailing trends. As one Dallas designer puts it, the farm-to-table movement is galvanizing the inherent bounty of the South. Customers will expect Southern classics to be reinterpreted according to the new imprimaturs for local sustainable sourcing. Aesthetically, restaurateurs can opt for an eclectic mix of old and new.

The Site Itself

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On an aesthetic level, the architectural context of your Southern restaurant is a decorative touch in itself. By housing your restaurant in an historic building, you steep the place in the Southern idylls of the past, letting the place speak for itself. The Barn at Blackberry Farm, for example, is a turn-of-the-century collection of structures nestled in the Smoky Mountains on a 9,200-acre homestead, while Elizabeth's on 37th in Savannah, Georgia is a fine-dining restaurant offering coastal seafood specialties in a 1900s Southern mansion.


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Known for its rich comfort foods, Southern cuisine doesn't have to boast loudly about itself in order to be heard. From a design standpoint, you can replicate the uncomplicated, laidback style of the South by eliminating the frills from outside your restaurant and sticking to simple colors. Scott's Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, South Carolina, for example, features a blue-and-white color scheme on its rustic and cozy storefront, with blue-trimmed dormers, as well as a covered porch with blue columns. The Bar-B-Que Shop in Memphis, Tennessee features piglets painted on its understated storefront windows.

Interiors and Furnishings

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To capture what travel website Culture Trip calls the paradoxical clean-yet-rugged Southern feel, indoors, the City Grocery of Oxford, Mississippi avails of exposed brick walls and pinewood flooring. The Farm House, located in downtown Nashville, expresses its Southern sensibility through its use of repurposed barnwood furniture, handmade accents and memorabilia from Tennessee's history. Inside the 19th century building in New Orleans that houses Restaurant August, you'll find mahogany paneling and crystal chandeliers evocative of sumptuous old New Orleans. The Dovetail in Macon, Georgia incorporates the artwork of local artists to evoke the whimsy of the Georgia State Fair. Consider what ambiance you are looking for -- country, antique, fancy plantation -- and think what interior touches would evoke the right feelings.