Home Style: 20 Questions With Abigail Ahern

08/06/2011 10:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

Abigail Ahern is an internationally renowned interior designer, owner of one of the coolest interiors shops in London, author of the truly inspiring A Girl's Guide to Decorating and that friend whose flawless style you admire and envy in equal measure. Her idiosyncratic style is bold, sophisticated and, without wishing to appear tragic, I want my house to look just like hers.

Here, Abigail talks flea markets, Alice in Wonderland on acid and crossing over to the decorative dark side:

1. Abigail, where do you call home?
Home is a 1860s Victorian terraced house in East London.

2. What drew you to your current house?
A whole host of reasons attracted me to the property from the orientation (west facing), to the walled garden. The fact that it had been left pretty much untouched for 50 years was also a great attraction. It meant we could stamp our own personality on the space.

3. How did you get your start in the interior design business?
I started working for Sir Terence Conran's publishing house on the picture desk, specifically researching the interior design tomes so it really kick-started my passion as I spent every day ploughing through libraries, from private ones belonging to photographers to huge picture agencies seeking out unusual and fabulous interiors.

4. How would you describe your signature decorative style?
It's idiosyncratic; a little bohemian coupled with old style Hollywood
glamour whilst embracing a bit of a rock n roll vibe if that makes any sense at all!

5. Has the way in which you style your own homes changed much over the years?
When we first moved into our pad I painted everything white and after rattling around in it for a few years felt I wanted a change. I wanted a more funked up sophisticated vibe so crossed over to the dark side and painted every wall and floor a sludgy inky hue and have never looked back.

6. What three words would you most like people to use if describing your home?

Alice in Wonderland on Acid (ok that's 5 words - am I allowed that?) pretty much nails it.

7. Apart from your own, whose is the nicest home you've ever visited and why?
The nicest home I have visited belongs to Nikki Tibbles one of the most
fabulous florists around. I photographed her home for my book and hers stood out with her trailblazing use of colour, her affinity for mixing objects of different styles and eras. Her adventurous use of colour and more than anything for adding a big dash of tongue in cheek humour to the space.

8. Other than at your own shop, where do you tend to find pieces for your home?
Antiques markets and flea markets like Newark in the UK and Porte de Vanves in Paris. 1st dibs is also an excellent online resource plus stores like ABC Carpet and Home in NY and Rosanna Orlandi in Milan.

9. As an internationally renowned interior designer, do you feel pressure to have your home look perfect at all times?
My home is pretty laid back and the vibe is relatively relaxed. So no I
don't really feel the pressure of it looking perfect at all times.

10. What was the last thing you bought for your home?
A super-sized table lamp, ceramic with a bronze glaze and a giant size shade is the most recent purchase. It's sitting on the smallest little table

11. What's on the walls in your home?
Home is filled with art: art I've brought from galleries when travelling, auctions, flea markets, etsy. It doesn't follow a theme – if I respond to it emotionally, I buy it.

12. What's the worst decorating decision you've ever made?
In the early days I think my worst decorating mistake was not following my heart. Playing it too safe, not experimenting enough. I think to a degree that comes with confidence and experience.

13. What's the most you've ever spent on a single item of furniture?
The most I have spent was actually on a chandelier it cost a whopping £15k, but then it will always be with me wherever I go and it totally and utterly transforms which ever room I hang it in.

14. What's the most amazing furniture bargain you've ever found?
Probably a console table at a junk shop. Ornately carved and beautifully proportioned I brought it for £30, sprayed in tomato red and wham bam it looks pretty cool.

15. What is your favourite wall colour?
Favourite wall colour of all time LAVE by Ressources.

16. Who would be your dream interior design client and why?

It would probably be Donald Trump. I would love to convince him (although I feel it may be an impossible task) to re-do the Manhattan apartment with something a little more sophisticated. I would keep the glamour, but ditch the gold and opulent ornateness and instead masterfully mix and layer objects to create a truly enchanting idiosyncratic mix that would enhance the individuality of his space. Who knows - it might even filter down to those homogenised hotels of his - then we would really be talking!

17. Feature walls – yes or no?

Feature walls get a bit of a bad rap but actually in isolation I really like
them I think they can add the wow factor to a room and enhance the
individuality of a space.

18. Are your kids allowed to style their own bedrooms?
We don't have kids but if we did then yes absolutely they would be allowed.

19. Do you think style is innate or can it be learned?
I think you can learn about style the same way you can learn about fashion - the key is to have the confidence to experiment and push the boundaries a little. It might not always work but it's fun along the way. Mixing pieces, masterfully layering objects, adding some high voltage hues takes a super duper dose of confidence, but if you get it right magic happens and it becomes addictive.

20. Where and what would be your ultimate fantasy home and why?
Having lived stateside for quite a number of years it's dear to my heart, so my ultimate fantasy home would be NY State. Somewhere in the country, but not too far from the city so that I would get the best of both worlds. I would like to build from scratch and incorporate some laid back rustic charm coupled with some rock n roll glamour. With a big garden please where I could keep bees, grow veg and potter!

Abigail's book A Girl's Guide To Decorating, published by Quadrille is out now, priced £16.99 (hardback)


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