Centsational Style: Restaurant Redo

By Kate Riley August 10, 2009

We have a row of fine dining restaurants in the downtown area of my hometown.  Years ago, we made friends with Marco, the owner of a Zagat rated Italian restaurant called Risibisi (meaning ‘rice and peas’ in Italian).  A few weeks ago, Marco hired me redo his front window.  My task was to inject some style, texture, and romance into his window display without spending a fortune.  I was delighted to be entrusted with the task. 

by night

Let me give you a brief tour of the inside of the restaurant before I show you the upgraded window decor.  His menu features rustic Italian cuisine, with an elegant presentation.  Handmade gnocchi, risotto, beef carpaccio, osso bucco, cioppino, seasonal specials, with wines from Italy – and all made with fresh, local, sustainable products.  Our meals are simply scrumptious every time we dine.   

My favorite thing about dining in this restaurant is not only the food, but the ambiance.  Dim lighting, paired with mandolin guitar and Italian vocals transport you to a place far away.  Take a look at some daytime photographs of the interior, and you’ll get the feel for the mood of this restaurant.

Entrance with brick wall, rope divider, iron candle sconces, and art displayed in carved wood frames:

brick wall entrance

Bar Seating Area:

bar area

Wine Bar, surround designed with salvaged wood shingles:

wine bar

The Onyx Bar where we’ve shared many a glass of Super Tuscan – it has an intoxicating glow by night:

onyx bar close

Stunning globe chandeliers:

light fixtures

Floor to ceiling linen curtains, hanging rope divider:

hanging rope 

Vase in Entry:

My first project was to upgrade the look of the floral display in his beloved Murano glass vase.  He had been paying a florist for weekly arrangements, and was dissatisfied with the quality and the cost.  He definitely wanted to keep the vase, but he wanted branches instead of flowers – ones he didn’t want to have to replace every week.  I chose two kinds of willow, forsythia branches, and sage cassia to complete the airy display.  

Front, Before:

risibisi vase 

Front, After:

branches in vase 

Rear, Before:

vase rear before

Rear, After:

branches from rear

The light travels beautifully through the wispy tall branches.  This look is much better than those expired lilies!  At Christmastime, I’m going to hang miniature metallic bulbs from a few of the branches. 

Front Window:

As for the restaurant, you can see from the first set of photos that there are a lot of warm tones in this space.  It is rugged with its brick wall and rope detail, but a softer balance is achieved through the globe chandeliers and the linen fabrics.  Marco loves rich reds and golds, so I used those deep warm tones to transform his front window.

It was an odd shaped window, very little depth on one side, greater depth toward at the other end, so achieving balance with this asymmetrical layout was a challenge. 

The only decor in existence was some terra cotta pots filled with succulents sitting on top of some decorative rocks.  Nice, but not nice enough. 

Window, Before:

risibisii window before

Window, After:

window after

Here’s what I did with my budget.  I purchased three planters in deep red and mustard gold.  Then I invested in two 38” silk olive tree topiaries to sit in the window divide and provide height and a natural element without blocking the view.  Originally, I wanted real olive trees in the window, but I learned in a west facing window they’d never survive, especially next to vents.

Playing off of the globe chandeliers, I purchased some rustic iron orbs from a local nursery.  I also bought two candleholders I found at Marshalls, and some red glass votives from Pier One. 

window final

I love the sculptural element of the orbs inside of this planter pictured below.  How rich is the color of of this urn?  I plan to light it up during the holidays with twinkle lights.

rustic orb in pot

The orbs are repeated in smaller sizes, moving to the other side of the window space.

rustic orb

Instead of buying new planters for all of his succulents, I saved him some money by simply priming and painting his terra cotta pots with two shades by Ralph Lauren: Orchard Yellow and Village Red.

painted pots  painted pots yellows and reds

Planter Before:

terra cotta before 

Planter After:

terra cotta after

Finally, I added some patterned pillows for his window bench seating. 


I am just loving this rich and romantic red.

rich reds

Window, by night:

risibisi indoor night

From the outside, the candlelight provides greater ambiance and draws evening strollers into the romantic space:

candles from outside

So for about $500 dollars, we upgraded the vase and the window with rich color, texture, varying height, and greater style than existed before. I especially like how the iron spheres in varying sizes add a hint of modern whimsy and a rustic element as well. 

Next time you’re in the Wine Country, stop on by and visit Marco, and my window display.  I’ll meet you at The Onyx Bar for a glass of red.


  1. Hi Kate!

    You did a wonderful job! My favorite would have to be the first vase during the day. Love the height of the arrangement. And of course the window with the candles lit for night:0)

  2. Looks wonderful!I love the orbs in the vase. What a great effect. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Just beautiful. Amazing how much impact the color and the subtle changes you made really make everthing so much more intersting and vibrant. Great job!

  4. Wow, you really reaaaaally made a difference with your budget. I actually like the arrangement in the vase much better the way you did it. :) The window looks fabulous. Very inviting. I would totally walk in to eat or check out the bar if I was strolling by. :)

  5. This restaurant sounds right up my alley, rustic Italian is the best (especially with a glass of red)! You did a beautiful job and really brought everything up a notch. I am sure the owner is THRILLED with the results (and the pricetag). Great job!

  6. You did a much better job than the florist he was paying. I love the colors and the richness even if I'm not into those colors. Perfect for that setting.

  7. This a fantastic makeover! You did a great job working with the existing ambiance. Love the orbs, and can't wait to see it all lit up for Christmas!


  8. Beautiful beautiful!! I'm sure he's wishing that he hired you for that transformation years ago!

  9. I looks great! I love how you used some of things he already had and warmed the space up with warm colors and pillows. I too am in the middle of decorating a restaurant. I’ve been looking all over for some restaurant décor photos to get some inspiration but have not been able to find anything. I’m on a tight budget so it’s been interesting decorating a large space and keeping it within the budget. I’m actually going to hunt for some think, rich, fabric to drape down a long wall today….wish me luck!

    GREAT JOB!!!


  10. Those garden orbs are really gorgeous. I think between those and the color palette, you captured the restaurant's mood perfectly. I hope Marco is thrilled with it. Do you do any design work on the side on a regular basis? (I remember you redid your Husband's office terrace…)

  11. You did a wonderful job Kate. I think the candles in the front window must look beautiful at night. Another job well done by you–not to my surprise of course. :)

  12. You made this project look fun and easy, but I'm sure it was no easy thing to get such a great look within the constraints and budget.
    It looks just wonderful at night time.

  13. What an amazing transformation on a budget! Your flower arrangment is such a huge improvement, and the window display is now so much more inviting. Wish you were nearby – a Mexican restaurant up the street from our place could benefit from your creativity. They have so many huge hanging plants in the window that you can't even see inside!

  14. love the rich red and gold color scheme. very romantic!

    my only suggestion – those votive candles look as if they're a bit too close to the back of the bench seating. way too easy for someone with long hair to toss their hair back and have it catch on fire.


    great look, tho, overall. I love it!

  15. The window looks much richer and more inviting now! Next time I'm in Petaluma I'll have to check it out. I love the downtown area!


  16. Beautiful! Magnificent use of color, texture, lighting and definition. I will *borrow* the painting idea to give new life to my terracotta pots. Once again you have delivered inspiration with such little effort. Brava!

  17. What a great transformation. Very professional looking. I love it. This would draw me in better than the before photo. Great work. I wish I had half your talent.

  18. Wow I got so excited when I came across this post! I usually click around on people blogs for decorating inspiration….endind up on blogs mostly from the south. At first I was like “oh yay finally a blogger close to home.” Then I realized this redo is in a restaurant that we love! We just moved to Petaluma last year and LOVE it! We love our little down town…I will think of your blog from now on whenever we go into Risibisi =)

  19. We love this restaurant. I remember how it looked before you did the makeover. It’s much better and much more inviting. And, I love the colors. Great job!!

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