Skip to content

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.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Trish P #

    Kate, this is the most perfect inspired and incredibly generous post. Passing this onto all us UK readers is a bloody brilliant gift and I thank you for it heartily.

    It’s kind of gratifying too, to realise that a few of these things come to us along our own journeys of hits and misses, trial and error. It is super inspiring and such grist to my decorating mill. As that other great Brit Winston Churchill did once say, never, never never give up.


    July 13, 2012
  2. Brilliant summary, really enjoyed reading. I just learnt a lot and got some great ideas too. Thanks.

    July 13, 2012
  3. sue #

    glad you enjoyed abigail’s masterclass… i went to one last year & it was worth it just to hang out in their amazing house, nevermind the bonus lessons which were plentiful! you’ve summed up her decorating ideology really beautifully, much better than i could have! thanks for refreshing my memory… i’m going to print this out & pin it up for continued inspiration! sue

    July 15, 2012
  4. kate #

    Sue, your comment has made my day. Thanks.

    I am about to launch into painting my first room dark – it’s a bit of a test really in the entrance/hall. How has your space or have your ideas changed since attending Abigail’s class?

    July 17, 2012
    • sue #

      look forward to seeing photos of your venture into the dark side! i rent unfortunately, so no such exploits for me… i’ve always wanted a dark, dark study with a massive work table in the middle and the walls lined with books, so when i saw a photo of abigail’s design school (she held the classes in her dining room when i went) i almost fell off my chair… i guess my style hasn’t changed 180 degrees since the masterclass as i’ve always been a bit of a bohemian (i refused to own a sofa for many years and used a vintage pink garden bench for dining seats for a while too), but i’m definitely developing more confidence with colour & i bought my first ever fake flowers from abigail’s shop (never thought i’d see that day)… also, am trying to rediscover the fun side of decorating that i embraced so readily in my 20s & 30s… oh, & there are definitely a lot more lamps around my flat than there ever used to be!!! ;)

      July 19, 2012
      • kate #

        Sue, I love what you say about finding the fun side of decorating that you had embraced when you were younger. I totally agree – I am doing the same too. Interiors can be so serious when they should be a place of comfort, beauty, ease and fun. I recently purchased some hand hooks from Abigail (Peace, Rock-on and Thumbs Up) in bright pink for my entrance/hall. My three year old loves them. Now I need to find someone to install them, not an easy task given our walls are 120 years old and are really crumbly . . .

        July 20, 2012
  5. Chris #

    Thanks so much Kate, love this post!
    I suppose I was on the right track, but thanks to you I have even more top tips now. Like Sue, I will print them out, great idea!
    And the pictures you used in the post are the most stunning examples of the tips, SUPER!

    July 17, 2012
    • kate #

      you were totally on the right track! glad you like the examples too, had great fun finding them and stumbled across a whole lot of other urban kaleidoscope worthy stuff in the process.

      July 18, 2012
  6. Chris #

    PS How exciting, a dark entrance hall. Have a lot of fun and I am sure you will love the results!

    July 17, 2012
    • kate #

      can’t wait. just need the time to paint . . . tricky with a 3 year old! At least the space isn’t big.

      July 18, 2012

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS