StyleNest met up with one of Britain’s most successful and unique interior designers, Abigail Ahern.
Quirky, eclectic, whatever you want to call her style, there’s no denying Abigail Ahern has it, and sets it. With a wonderfully whimsical store on London’s trendy Upper Street full of home wear gems from animal lamps to giant faux flowers, a series of design books under her belt, and of course a successful interior design business; Ahern is without a doubt one of the UK leaders in her field.
We caught up with Abigail, who mainly lives and works in London to find out what taste means to her, her favourite haunts around the city, and to steal a couple of interior design tips whilst we’re at it.
Tell us about your new book, Decorating with Style.
It’s full to the brim of savvy tips and ideas to transform your home to the next level. Beautiful photography, sketches, projects and tons of little black book sources all hang out together to create a book that demystifies interior design, breaking it down and showing just how easy it is for anyone to implement.
You’ve had such a successful career in the interiors industry from opening a shop to designing interiors around the globe. Did you always see yourself being this successful?
Not at all. It’s sort of happened organically – nothing, as odd as it sounds has ever been planned. The thing that has steered me in good stead however is following my gut and my intuition. Having said that, I’ve always put one hundred percent into anything I have done but never expected the attention both the store and my designs have received. Its flattering, over whelming and incredibly gratifying.
You talk about the balance of tastefulness in your new book. How would you describe your own personal interior taste?
Taste is all in the eye of the beholder as they say. I have a system however, 80% percent of my interiors make sense so they are beautiful, glamorous, coordinated etc. And then 20% make no sense what so ever. Fundementally when you enter my rooms I want you to feel my interiors are beautiful, not crazy, hence the 80/20 split.
Can you remember the first piece of furniture you ever bought?
Yes, clearly – a concrete chair which cost a fortune and caused my husband not to speak to me for a whole week. We had just finished the renovation on the house, had not a penny in the bank apart from some money saved to buy a sofa. He was thinking some sort of leather, boyish, God-knows-what type thing but I came back with a concrete chair that only one of us could sit on at a time. I still have it I might add; it’s my most favorite thing.
Apart from Abigail Ahern of course, what are your top three interiors brands?
Jonathan Adler for introducing quirk; Ochre for producing the most exquisite sofas, and Rockett St George for curating and selling a selection of fabulous home wear.
Your animal inspired lamps are some of your most recognised pieces. Tell us a little about that collection and the inspiration behind it?
As crazy as it sounds I got the idea when I picked my dogs up from school one day (they go to dog school once a week). Out they trundled with all their pals and I suddenly thought wow these would make the most perfect lamps. Drew them up, gave them to a model maker and the rest as they say is history.
How can Style Nest readers update their living space with a couple of well-selected home accessories but little budget?
Colour and lighting are the most transformative thing you can do to a space. The trick with colour is go off radar so any accessories like cushions, vases, ornaments in beautiful hues like burnt orange or Barbie-esq pink, teal or saffron will lift a space out of the mundane. Lighting is the second most transformative thing you can do – there are some totally cool finds on the high street right now from BHS to B&Q to RockettSt George. The trick is go for a smattering of all three – so table, floor and wall, and not to eliminate shadows. Shadows add depth create mood and give a space intrigue.
We’re always trying to find new ways and interesting ideas to introduce more storage into our homes. Do you have any top tips for our readers lacking the space they need?
Take storage up the ceiling it makes the world or difference, be it with wardrobes, cupboards in bathrooms or in the kitchen. Not only will it make your room look and feel taller, but it will give you oodles more storage.
You’ve been heralded as an interiors ‘style spotter extraordinaire’. What trends can we expect to see emerging for the year ahead?
I tend to follow my heart – trends are difficult because they’re so transient. Gold is huge for interiors, from fabrics to work surfaces, lighting to taps. It’s an incredibly warm colour and looks beautiful any time of the year. Pattern is also huge. For example, tribal-esq, Moroccan inspired patterns elevate interiors to a whole other level and squishy, comfortable fabrics like velvet and cashmere are more popular than ever. It’s a simple tip but if your furniture looks and feels comfortable so will the vibe of your room. But the most important thing is to only buy into what you love not what’s ‘in’ or what is ‘out’ as you will soon tire of it.
You live and work in London most of the time. Where are your favorite London haunts?
For eating: I’m obsessed with Tow Path Café along the Canal in Hackney, especially for breakfast on the weekend, Polpo in Soho, Cecconi’s, Borough Market and Maltby Market. Oh and Gordon’s Wine Bar on the Embankment is perfect for dark winter weekend afternoons. Candle light, glass of wine and a pork pie after a stroll along the South Bank – lovely. For drinking: Pizza East, the Duke of Cambridge, and anywhere that lets my dogs in.
Where are the best places for sourcing unusual interiors pieces and artwork for the home?
Antique markets and auction houses are great as you can get the most amazing bargains. I am often found at Kempton market every other Tuesday at 6.30am, torch in hand in the winter, seeking out finds.
Your style is often described as ‘eclectic’. Where do you think you got your unique sense of style?
I grew up in a pretty eclectic house so I guess a lot stems from there. But in all honesty, I got into design back to front. I pretended to be an interior designer in the States -odd I know but the architectural company who interviewed me for a job thought I had designed all the houses that were in the books I had brought with me. I had merely found the images as a picture researcher. I also thought I was interviewing for an intern role but ending up getting the job and heading up an entire department I knew nothing about. I really was the weirdest interview, and I had to blag it day by day and study by night. Oddly enough, I think it’s why I look at interiors a little differently – my designs come from my gut, not a textbook.
What’s your pet hate when it comes to decorating and interiors?
Interiors that match, furniture against walls, lack of lighting, floor-to-floor carpeting and little imagination. I could go on.
In addition to your brand, you also run interiors master classes around the world. What can customers expect to learn from theses?
This is one of the most favorite parts of my job. In the classes I teach people to take risks, push boundaries and think completely differently about spaces. If it’s in London I take people around my home, overseas its more theatre style but it’s a totally collaborative day with my pupils, it’s not about me just standing up preaching, “do this do that”. More than anything, it’s about giving people the confidence to follow their hearts. The best part is that all the people who come to the classes often keep in contact with each other, we’re like one big support group and I love it.
What’s next for Abigail Ahern?
An expanded schedule for classes in London, NYC and Australia as I can’t keep up with the demand. A range of accessories for a leading high street retailer, a range of accessories for my own store, and hopefully a little holiday somewhere in between all that.
DECORATING WITH STYLE by ABIGAIL AHERN, published by Quadrille (£16.99)