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Posts from the ‘My Home & Life’ Category

The perfect room according to Abigail Ahern

I am being inundated with requests to “kiss and tell” about Abigail’s Masterclass I attended in London in May. So, today is my summary of the essential components that make the perfect room (according to Miss Ahern). There is enough information for about 10 separate posts, but decided to put it all into one, least you start getting fed-up with me banging on about Abigail.

Abigail’s main message centred around creating a “Push and Pull Dynamic”: imbuing a space with visual interest and a sense of the uncanny. Ideally, there should be a tension between fun and rigour, refinement and rebellion, high-end and low, and modern and traditional. Great in theory, but she took us through how to do this. The photos I am using to illustrate these points are not necessary ones that reflect Abigail style but do make the point!

Relaxed furniture arrangement

Abigail loves sofas, beds and tables to be positioned away from the wall and at different angles as it creates a more informal feel. Circular as opposed to square or rectangular furniture also add to ease of flow.

Jenna Lyons Brooklyn brownstone via Ken Levenson Architect

Andrew Corrie and Harriet Maxwell MacDonald Soho Loft via Living etc

Layer, layer, layer

Give a sense of the 3D by putting things in front of each other. Arrange bookshelves with books stacked both vertically and horizontally and include paintings, objects and memorabilia one in front of the other, but not too perfectly arranged. Rugs look great layered on top of each other.

Thomas O’Brien Apartment via Design Sponge

Paris apartment of photographer, Marie-Pierre More via Marie Claire Maison

Play with proportion 

Huge mirrors, lamps and lights create a magical Alice in Wonderland effect. This can be achieved also be contrasting scale i.e. placing a mirror that is too large for the accompanying mantelpiece or a massive vase next to a tiny one.

Home office of Michael Minns and Jonathan King via 47 Park Avenue

Spanish apartment of Mikel Irastorza via Houzz

Embrace imperfection

The effect of this on the senses is ease. So go for off-kilter symmetry e.g., hang your chandelier way too low and off centre; scatter a variety of mismatched cushions in an haphazard manner, arrange different styles of chairs around an old table, include lamps of varying heights, fill bookshelves with art works and vases. Walls painted as blackboards that are scrawled all over with messages are really cheap and effective.

David Alhadeff’s Brooklyn loft via Design Sponge

Hanne Graumann’s Copenhagen apartment via Duel Home

Ambient lighting

Each room in Abigail’s house has between 7-9 lamps with low watt bulbs; this creates a cosy ambience and if your walls are painted dark, then frankly, they will require a bit of extra lighting assistance. But be careful not to overlight the room from above.

Abigail’s dining area via her own blog

Create Contrasts

This can be done in a variety of ways by mixing up contemporary and traditional furniture, varying texture so soft fabrics contrast with hard bricks or wood, shinning surfaces appear next to rough ones. Use a variety of patterns, but if you do then restrict the colour palate.

via A White Carousel

Be Brave and Unexpected

Allow about 10% of your decor to be fun and tongue in cheek. Embrace humour and quirky items. Have fun with bold colour.

Mark and DJ Duckworth’s Upper West Side Apartment, New York via Lonny Magazine

Madrid apartment of Jaime Lacase vía Elle Decor España

The Upper East Side Apartment of Emma and Herve featured in Milk Magazine.

Painted Out Room, preferably dark

Paint the walls, floors, window frames, doors, skirting, ceiling . . . actually everything in the same colour. It creates a sense of space and cosiness.  White is great, but dark moody sludgy colours are even better according to Miss A.

Paris apartment of Florence Baudoux via Richard Powers

And, finally flowers

No room would have Abigail’s mark without masses of flowers.

The Design School in Abigail’s Home via her blog

That’s just my take on it. For those of you who can easily get to Melbourne, Sydney, New York or London, I highly recommend enrolling in Abigail’s Masterclass and be inspired. You can do so here. I’d be fascinated to hear what you take from the class.

If you are based in Australia, stay tuned as I have some very exciting Abigail Ahern news to announce in a few weeks.

Out of action

Just a little email to say ‘hi’ and apologise for being out of action this past week: my 3 year old has been down and out with a nasty cold. We have been spending days tucked up together reading books and watching The Incredibles (over and over again). Consequently, everything else has ground to a halt.

I’ll be back on board next week and thanks for your patience.

Even though I am currently transfixed by dark layered interiors I still love the peace and calm of a minimal white one like this . . . Wishing you a wonderful and healthy weekend.

Lessons Learnt from Abigail Ahern: Flowers, flowers, flowers

This is the first of a new series about design lessons I have learnt and I am going to start it with a few insights from Abigail Ahern’s Masterclass last month.

Fill your house with an abundance of flowers: they had texture and create immediate layering.

Here are some photos of Abigail’s shop in London.

What’s really interesting is that they are all fakes! Yes, that’s right. Decking out your house with this amount of real flowers every day of the year is really only possible by those living in the country with access to bounties of free blooms, or those with a line of credit at the local florist. Alternatively, invest in some high quality fakes. These days they are so well done it’s hard to tell them from real ones especially if you have a few scented candles burning at the same time.

Last week my house was photographed for a magazine and, with Abigial’s inspiration in mind, I combined both real and fake flowers and scattered them throughout the house and below are the results.


A few tips to remember: don’t put fake flowers near natural light as your secret will be revealed; and forget posies and flower arrangements, the latest in floral design is putting clusters of vases or bottles together each with one flower or stem.

The photo below is from the Masterclass, run in the attic of Abigail’s house. It’s painted in Farrow & Ball’s Railings which is the most divine colour. Flowers (and pretty much anything) looks incredible against it. I am pretty excited that I managed to get a sample of this colour and it’s being sent to me in Australia. If I love it as much as I think I will, my plan is to have it colour matched and to start painting!

Photo by me (Kate Challis)


A fresh new (wallpapered) look for Urban Kaleidoscope

I have finally launched the new urban kaleidoscope site. Yay! I am incredibly excited and pleased with it and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Initially, I had  engaged a super-cool design team to redo my banner. After waiting four months until they could fit me into their schedule, I found their concepts uninspiring and off-the-mark. Feeling quite downhearted about it I asked my friend and occasional assistant, the ever-so talented Emilie Smith, what she’d do. And this is what she came up with.


If you are reading this on a web browser then make sure you press the refresh button!

Thanks also to Ben Freda for dealing with all the techie-coding side of things. Thanks to Ben it’s now also easier to post comments (a lot of you were telling me that you found it difficult and confusing, so I listened and I changed it – great feedback).

Thanks also to my husband who came up with the tagline “an art historian let loose in the world of interiors”.

I am absolutely thrilled with the results!

Now that’s done, I am thinking about a total rebrand and making away with “Urban Kaleidoscope” and calling it “Kate Challis”. Conventional wisdom says to have a URL that is not your own name, but I rarely follow convention. Also, as I am becoming clearer about the function of my blog and what it is about I think it being my own voice and own name is beginning to make more sense.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Keep Urban Kaleidoscope or change it to Kate Challis?

London Calling: Early 20th century aesthetics

What struck me in the 8 years that I was absent from London is the new-found love that the British have for early- to mid- 20th century aesthetics.

Two shops that do this particularly well are Leila’s Shop and Labour and Wait, both in Shoreditch. While they embrace this aesthetic neither shop can be called retro or nostalgic. They sell things that people need: in the case of Leila’s it’s mostly independently grown food and at the Labour and Wait a variety of functional English classics still required today.

Labour and Wait has only been around for 12 years, but when you enter it is like stepping into an earlier time: lidded enamel buckets, aluminium dustpans and brushes, chalk and slate, wooden dolly clothing pegs, waxed linen string, a selection of wooden handled brushes with real bristles, stainless steel razor blades, heavy linen and cotton cleaning cloths, balls and tins of twine, British Army Knives, soup laddles, feather dusters and even the humble potta-dotted handkerchief are all for sale.

The selection of stock is the antithesis of the $2-Made-in-China-Shop filled with cheap plastic disposable items which won’t last. Labour and Wait takes you back to a time when things were made to last and were a pleasure to use.

I was introduced to Leila’s Shop by a long-time friend, the bespoke furniture maker Marianna Kennedy. In her showroom in Spitafields one afternoon lamenting that “there is nowhere to buy food around here anymore” she untied her paint-covered apron, invited me to dinner and said “let’s go for a walk”. I had no idea where we were going and I didn’t care. Half an hour later, having discussed a variety of topics including Spitafields real-estate, the Basel Furniture Fare, blogging and Georgian architecture, we were at Leila’s Shop.

It is a small, but well stocked shop selling groceries from independent suppliers and producers including seasonal fruit and veg, locally made breads, juices, chutneys and jams as well as cheeses, Polish sausages and small goods. The way you shop at Leila’s is to look at what she has and then decide on what you are going to cook. The stock is limited, but everything there is of the highest quality and is beautifully presented, including Victoria Sponge on the counter. It’s slow food at its best. While I took some photographs Marianna busied herself choosing supplies for dinner.

Several hours later dinner we devoured our dinner of succulent English asparagus with real salted butter, salad with radishes and an olive oil, lemon, mustard and garlic dressing, barbecued chorizo sausages withcrusty bread and a chunk of cheddar. Hmmmm . . .

Photos by me (Kate Challis)