Designer, author, expert at glamorously styling up shelves, coffee tables and mantelpieces, Abigail Ahern is widely held responsible for our enduring obsession with dark interiors. Her distinctive decorating style is all about layering, clashing, and daring, but surprisingly her tastes weren’t always this way. Here she tells us about her first proper home in the States where she lived for a time and which – wait for it – had a white picket fence…
Abigail in her London home with her dog Mungo.
“My first real home was in America, a sweet little place with a white picket fence in the midwest. I didn’t really consider decorating until my husband and I relocated to the States. Before that I was continuously shunting from rental to rental in London.
I loved that house. It was a classic huge American 60’s build, with two beds. I actually played it very safe (not like now!). We didn’t have a ton of money so most of the house stayed in the neutral palette we had when we moved in. In the living room I had a jute rug, and two large sofas in a taupe and white check neutral palette. I decorated it quite simply and plainly, which at the time worked for us but certainly wouldn’t now!
Workspace in Abigail’s London home before she started decorating with much darker shades.
I remember still having quite a few metallic accents and accessories though – I’ve clearly been a magpie for a long time! I began to experiment with lighting too, clustering a collection of table lamps together. The lights themselves were very simple, but I loved the effect. Honestly though? Looking back I can’t believe how boring I played it. There was nothing particularly weird or wonderful about it. But I did begin to collect art at this point. I put together a real hodge-podge collection, from high-end paintings I found in galleries in LA, to flea market finds, to high street posters. Even now, whether it’s landscapes, portraits, prints or oils I’m only into buying something that I really love.
I loved the sense of space in that house most of all. It was built mainly over one floor so it felt quite loft-like and airy. It also had a huge garden with massive trees and a sloping lawn – such a luxury and a revelation after London living.
My love for decorating came much later. For me, the house meant freedom. I was in a new country in my early twenties, and at that stage of life I was out of the house much more than I was in.
I learned that the more light sources, the better. I learned to love open-plan living, and to overload on metallic accessories. These are about the only constants from decorating then to my style now though, which has just rocketed off in a different direction completely.
Before and after: The changing style in Abigail’s London home from light and airy to dark and texturally layered.
In my early days of decorating I hadn’t really forged my own style, and I just sort of followed along. So when the trend was all bleached and Scandi, we were bleached and Scandi, then minimal etc.
Over the years, decorating has given me confidence to push boundaries, particularly playing around with colour, scale and form. This has actually resulted in my successful business, but has also given me a home that I now never want to leave. At that point, I think hadn’t even realised that a room could have a personality. Now things are obviously very different, and as I’ve grown in confidence I constantly take risks and break boundaries.
At that age, I was all about expressing myself and my personality through fashion instead, and hadn’t made the jump to transforming interiors yet. It used to be all about clothes – amazing pairs of shoes, designer jeans and god knows what else used to get my heart pounding. Nowadays I’ve replaced a shoe fixation with obsessing over paint, vases, artwork, cushions, door hardware – you name it!”