Leap in the dark: Bright and breezy was never going to do it for the designer Abigail Ahern

Ahern repainted her house in dark, inky tones for an Elle Decoration photoshoot and has never looked back...

Holly Williams
Friday 10 May 2013 17:20 BST

When it comes to her home, it all changed the day Abigail Ahern decided to paint it black. Well, dark grey at least…

The interior decorator was already settled in her house in Dalston, east London, where she'd moved 11 years ago. It was white, but she'd re-painted a single corner in a gloomy hue. Then the team from Elle Decoration came into her eclectic interiors shop, Atelier Abigail Ahern, in Islington, north London. She happened to show them a photo of that dark detail, and the idea of re-styling from light to dark caught their eye.

"They said, 'That's amazing, we're going to come and shoot your house, in three weeks…'" says Ahern. "I was like, 'Oh no – it's all white!'" But the thought of a photoshoot was enough to convince her to take the plunge. "I came home to my husband and said, 'OK, we've got three weeks to pretend that we live in this really dark house.' So that's what we did." The whole of her four- level Victorian property is now swathed in dark, inky tones: teal, charcoal, indigo.

Happily, Ahern's not regretted it for a minute. "Once you go, you just can't go back," she declares, with firmness. "If all of [my] stuff was in a white space it wouldn't look half as phenomenal as it does in a dark space. It pops out at you."

She's right. She and her husband Graham extended the house at the back when they moved in, putting in enormous windows. But while it may be full of light, it's also full of stuff. And her more-is-more approach is given a classy backdrop by all those sombre walls.

Her home includes studio and office space – although they look more like slightly wacky, cosy sitting-rooms, fitted out with "oversized, loungey armchairs", pineapple-shaped light fixtures and tables made from African lamps. "Because I spend so many hours working here, I just had to not feel corporate," she says.

But her job also takes her out and about: she's constantly sourcing items for Atelier Abigail Ahern, and many of her best finds are vintage. "I never have any luck online; I don't think I have the patience for eBay," she says briskly. "I go to markets a lot. And because I'm having to buy for the store, half of it gets sneaked home, which is really naughty. It drives my husband crazy."

He takes care of the business side of things, while she's the creative force in the partnership, and has just published a new book sharing her styling tips.

You sense the house is definitely all-Abbie… does her hubbie get a say in the décor? "Never. He's colour-blind; I think he thinks we live in a really white house," she quips, before adding, "I'm so lucky. Unlike clients, who always seem to have a battle between husband and wife, he's just so relaxed – and thank god, because I'm sure we'd be divorced if he wanted to have an opinion on my decorating!"

Many of the giant lamps and elaborate chandeliers hanging about the place are "pinched" from the store. She's a fan of going oversized in general – "Playing around with scale is one of the most under-considered components in the decorating puzzle, but it adds magic."

She also has "a thing for rugs". The house is full of patterned or animal-print rugs which can, she suggests, "take a space to the next level". Ahern is an interior designer through and through; where some might think rugs are to keep your feet from getting too nippy, she describes them as, "Another focal point: it's all about tantalising and mesmerising."

They can add texture, too – another Ahern obsession. From chunky knitted throws to shaggy lampshades to velvet sofas, many of her furnishings invite wandering hands. And this desire to roughen up a surface stretches to the walls themselves: in the bedroom, reclaimed timber beams from Lassco, a company specialising in salvaged materials, form a wall behind the bed. Downstairs, in their open-plan kitchen and living space, is a brick wall – a texture Ahern was so keen to include that they added bricks over already-plastered walls.

Her final trick is fake flowers. Forgot those greasy, dusty plastic things of yore; Ahern is famous for her realistic, sumptuous faux-blooms, which are a bestseller in the shop. "There's this snootiness with fake flowers, because in the past they were done so badly," she begins, "but ours are in the Vatican, [they've gone] to Robbie Williams, Emma Thompson, half of Hollywood have them; we order truckloads at a time."

And if a few of them end up in her house… well, it's just a perk of the job, isn't it?

'Decorating with Style' by Abigail Ahern (£16.99, Quadrille) is out now

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