Push the boundaries for a winning look
Thursday 4th July 2013, 10:11AM BST.
It’s refreshing and unusual to meet an international interior designer who believes decor rules were made to be broken, trends can be trashed and money doesn’t buy style.
But blonde, leggy Abigail Ahern has never been one to mince her words or conform to a stereotype, and she ably proves her point by creating adventurous decor that dazzles and rooms that rock.
Her shop is a well-established destination for style connoisseurs and her new home accessories Edition collection, full of quirky character with animal lamps and vibrant colour, launches at Debenhams in September.
“Style has absolutely nothing to do with money. I’ve seen hundreds – no, thousands – of tasteful, colour co-ordinated spaces that are expensively decorated and yet flat, dull, uptight and bland,” she says firmly.
“They don’t seduce, tantalise or increase the pulse rate because they’ve been decorated to within an inch of their lives. What a yawn!”
Her own style is “indefinable”, she says, as it evolves constantly and “flirts with going over the top, but I always stand a little bit back from the edge as I want it to feel beautiful not crazy”.
Dithering over decor choices, poring over paint charts and generally stressing over the whole interior business is definitely not her way, nor does she believe it should be ours.
Her own rooms burst with colour and artfully-arranged possessions sourced from auctions and flea markets, a heady mixture of vintage and modern.
“Interiors that ooze style are not perfectly co-ordinated, nor can they be bought out of a catalogue,” declares the designer, who reveals how she creates inspiring spaces in her new book, Decorating With Style.
“But, and this is a big but, if you want life-changing interiors – the ones that make your heart beat just a little bit faster – you need an open mind and a big dose of self-belief.
“The trick is to experiment and have fun along the way. Push the boundaries, pick pieces that tug at your heartstrings when you see them, and make you feel uplifted.
“Too much tastefulness is dull and too much fun is tacky. It’s all about getting the balance right.”
Follow Ahern’s guide to creating three of her favourite looks: Classic, Boho and Rock ‘n’ Roll:
Who does it suit? Those who are bored of passing fads and predictable trends and want a look that stands the test of time, while reflecting the beauty of the past. Calm and order, not be confused with dull, appeal but they’re brave enough to give a home their own cheeky decor stamp.
How do you create it? “With a nod to the past and a wink to the future, classic style is all about balance, symmetry and order,” says Ahern.
“It’s a style that marries luxe materials – think metallics – with super-glam fabrics such as cashmere and leather. Woods are often dark, furniture often crisp and defined and symmetry abounds with pairs of lamps, urns, mirrors or vases.
“Combine dark wall shades with white woodwork for an iconic look, but don’t be too predictable – this style is about beautiful, relaxing order but we also want a jaw-on-the-floor ‘wow’ effect.”
The ideal backdrop for the look is moody, earthy colour tones for walls – terracotta, taupe and moss – or the darker tones of olive, peat and charcoal.
“If that’s too heavy for your taste, opt instead for linen, lilac and stone, but avoid anything jarring – a classic room needs to feel warm and inviting.”
Top tip: Architectural features, curved lines and decorative mouldings work perfectly with this style. Source them from salvage yards, or DIY stores for modern reproductions of cornicing, coving and ceiling roses.
Get the look: Hare lamp, £85, and Schnauzer cushion, £40, from Abigail Ahern for the Edition range at www.debenhams.com (available from September). Mud beaded chandelier, £2,750, from Abigail Ahern’s shop and online (www.abigailahern.com).
Who does it suit? Decoristas with a rebellious, hippy streak who like to do their own thing, have a quirky, eclectic mix of possessions and always have an eye for a bargain because their budget is tight!
How do you create it? “Boho’s all about experimenting, expressing yourself and being as creative as you like. It’s a fabulously fun approach and I love it because there are no rules,” says Ahern.
“To pull the look off you need a good eye for colour and a big dose of wild abandon. Styles and shapes aren’t important – it’s all about a mix and match attitude, creating spaces which have a global influence but a casual feel.”
It helps not to be too precious about what you buy. The coolest boho interiors are filled with stuff gathered from car boot sales and auction houses, as well as hand-me-downs.
“Boho interiors ooze personality. Dispensing with formality, they are enchanting spaces where you instantly want to sit down, hang out and fling off your shoes!” says Ahern.
“Glam up the setting with lace, beads, sequins and shells – pile on the accessories as the more layers and textures you add, the more exciting the space will be.”
Walls can be painted in any colour, but cosseting neutrals – ivory, milk and buttery taupe – work beautifully. For a confident hippy vibe, splash on colour, partnering red with green or orange with purple, or opt for jewelled and metallic colours and get loud with stars and stripes, squiggles, diamonds or flowers.
Top tips: Pieces that tell a story, from flea market art to souvenirs, so it looks as though you’ve travelled the world, is the essence of this look. Comfort is everything, so squishy sofas, inviting armchairs and large coffee tables are the order of the day.
Get the look: Hand vase, £102.50, and Rasta floor cushion, from £628, Abigail Ahern’s shop and online (www.abigailahern.com).
Rock ‘n’ roll
Who does it suit? It’s all about bad-boy bling, drama and indulging your wild side. Your decor taste runs to the lean and mean – with sleek, shiny surfaces, animal print and in-your-face glittery accessories.
How do you do it? “Rock ‘n’ roll decorating is flamboyant, sophisticated, a little saucy, carried off with a huge dose of confidence,” says Ahern.
“So think animal print rugs, gold accessories, graphic cushions, some super-cool graffiti wallpaper – all statement-worthy stuff.
“The trick is to scale down the tack and up the luxury vibe. It helps to identify a few anchors. For me a rock ‘n’ roll interior usually starts with colour, followed by either a large piece of artwork, or maybe an amazing rug or a massive gold chandelier. These are known in the biz as ‘conversation starters’.”
No colours are off limits for this look, so think black instead of white, plus cobalt, crimson and other high-voltage hues, she says.
Top tips: Overdose on shine from mirrored occasional tables to metallic wallpaper and lacquered coffee tables and chairs. Cool art is essential, from Banksy graffiti to pieces that you love. So are stand-alone statement pieces for drama which should be strong and masculine in style.
Get the look: Wall mounted bulldog, £55, and Pink flocked candle sticks, £28 each, from Abigail Ahern for Edition at Debenhams (available from September). Zebra rug, £995, Abigail Ahern’s shop and online (www.abigailahern.com).
- Decorating With Style by Abigail Ahern, with photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes, is published by Quadrille, priced £16.99. Readers can buy it at the special price of £12.99 including P&P. To order, call 01256 302 699 and quote reference 8RS