Designer Living: Abigail Ahern mixes colour and humour

The author of The Girl's Guide to Decorating ignores traditional boundaries and thinks interiors are often taken too seriously.

Where do you live and how long have you lived there?

I've lived in Dalston, east London, for 10 years. There are coffee shops and farmers' markets. It feels like a village with an eclectic vibe, even though it's in the city.

What made you choose the property?

It's a beautiful four-storey town house and it had loads of potential. I knew I could completely transform it.

What is your home like and what does it say about you?

The walls and floors are painted an inky, dark grey and some of the walls are black. My furniture's eclectic - I have a vintage Chesterfield sofa and an antique wing-back chair. These vintage finds sit alongside modern items like my bright pink coffee table. When you use dark colours on the walls, you have to introduce bright pops of colour, otherwise it feels depressing.

What is the key to creating a happy home?

Decorating is often taken too seriously. It's important to add humour so I like to play with scale, adding supersized pieces to small spaces or tiny pieces to large rooms to bring an Alice in Wonderland wow factor. Quirky elements introduce a feeling of irreverence and levity, so I have penguin lamp bases and ceramic poodles.

Which item could no home of yours be without?

The first thing I ever bought for this house was a concrete rocking chair and it's still my favourite possession. It looks great in any room and will always be with me.

Where do you like to shop for pieces for your home?

I'm a big fan of flea markets for individual pieces. I scour graduate design shows and art fairs to find unique buys, too.

Do you incorporate elements of your work into your home, or do you like to keep your domestic environment separate?

I have tons of my own products at home. Everything I sell is something I live with myself.

What are you working on right now?

I'm about to design a new collection of bed linen, textiles, lighting and wallpaper inspired by Morocco. I'm hoping to launch it in January 2012.

What inspired you to choose the career you did?

I left college and worked for five years on the picture desk at the publishing house Conran Octopus. That's when I fell in love with interiors. When my husband and I moved to New York, I got a job working for an architectural company and studied interior design at night school.

How would you describe your style?

It's traditional with a twist. I mix classic designs with tongue-in-cheek elements.

Who are your favourite designers?

I'm a huge fan of the American interior designer Kelly Wearstler. Some of her work is quite mad, but she always brings something different to the table. I also love Jonathan Adler. His interiors are really thought-provoking.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

New York. Every time I go back there it feels as if I'm going home. Sometimes I think I'd like to live in a cabin up a mountain and make jam all day long, but much as I hanker after countryside living, if I was there longer than a weekend I'd go a bit crazy. I'm inspired by life in the city.

How do you like to relax?

It sounds very middle-aged, but I love gardening and cooking, or walking my Welsh Terrier, Maud. I'm not really in to television, so in the evenings I catch up on interiors books and magazines.

What is the best way to simply and instantly update a room?

Paint is cheap and it can transform a room from ordinary to extraordinary in half a day. People are getting braver with colour - they're coming over to the dark side. I'm all for diminishing the lines between floors, skirting boards and ceilings so it all merges to become one background canvas. It's a battle of will to persuade people to ignore the boundaries, but a room looks so much more sophisticated if you do.

Visit Abigail's online boutique at


Published: August 25, 2011 04:00 AM


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