We visit the London home of Abigail Ahern to discover how the queen of ‘modern black’ updated her signature look in tune with its emergence as one of this year’s biggest home trends
It was the prospect of an ELLE Decoration photoshoot back in 2007 that prompted interior decorator Abigail Ahern to paint the stark white interior of her Dalston home dark grey. That was the day her tastes turned to the dark side. She went one step further in 2014, and painted most of the walls black. A media flurry ensued. Black was proclaimed the new white, and Ahern’s style became synonymous with inky hues and artful arrangements of furnishings. It is noteworthy then, that this year’s take on ‘modern black’ – think dark walls enlivened by flashes of colour, luxe materials and sculptural plants – is epitomised by the scheme that Ahern conjured up back then. She did it first – and with aplomb. So it seems only fitting that we visit the fourfloor Victorian home that she shares with her partner Graham Scott and their two dogs, Mungo (a miniature Schnauzer) and Maud (a Welsh terrier), to discover how her aesthetic has evolved. ‘The space has changed as I have matured,’ she says. ‘It is now the inkiest, sludgiest and most sophisticated it has ever been.’
‘It’s hard to define, but I guess it’s a mix of glamour with boho – a juxtaposition of the raw and the refined. I’ve tried to blend diverse pieces of furniture seamlessly (all were either designed by me, “pinched” from my interiors store, Atelier Abigail Ahern, or unearthed at vintage markets around the world) and create a sophisticated pad that’s also edgy and rock-chic,’ says Ahern.
‘It’s an aesthetic that appears difficult to achieve, as you need to find the right balance, but it’s actually much easier than it looks – the minute you paint something dark, it becomes sophisticated. I add extra drama by playing around with scale. There are several larger pieces in my home – such as oversized plants and mirrors – that create depth and appear magical, day and night. The giant chandeliers add an instant touch of grandeur. I then overdose on texture so that everything feels very snug. If the palette is more restrained – albeit dramatic – you can mix in whatever you want. Texture gives a house soul.’
The decor of Ahern’s home reflects her love of experimentation and her strong visual style. The living room and dining area are painted ‘Madison Grey’, her favourite colour. It has a green undertone that changes with the light and creates a soft, inky backdrop. ‘All the paints in the house are from my own collection,’ she says. The look is immersive, as the hue is swept over the walls, ceiling and floors, but each room has a slightly different tone and feel. For instance, Ahern’s second-floor studio – more of a grand living space than a workspace – is painted ‘Hudson Black’, which is calmed by undertones of brown. ‘The minute that I painted my home black, the magic happened,’ she says. ‘Everything just looked cooler. We took out the entire back wall of the house over two floors and replaced it with windows, so there’s plenty of light as well as an indoor-outdoor feel. But the design has evolved: I initially created big pops of colour, but eventually found that too jarring, so now there are just a few.’ The palette changes in the kitchen and upstairs bedroom: both are painted ‘Crosby’, a sludgy brown with pink undertones. ‘Mulberry Red’ (a shade with black undertones) decorates the hallways and the staircase.
Ahern has a ‘more is more’ approach to design that’s very current. Bold artworks, oversized chairs and huge plants fill her home. Many of the pieces, such as the supersized mirrors, are generously curved and soften the dark lines of the space. She is famous for her realistic faux flowers, which bloom in every room as sculptures of birds and animals peek through their leaves. Rugs are also very much Ahern’s thing: they overlap on the floor and lend another cosy layer of texture to the scheme. ‘There is a fireplace in every room – even outside,’ says the designer, whose living room adjoins a jungle-like garden that features an outdoor kitchen complete with a sofa and fireplace. How would she describe her look? ‘It marries glam with a dollop of grit, and tells a story with a dose of drama.’ abigailahern.com
Portrait Abigail Ahern with her Welsh terrier Maud Dining area This space is painted Ahern’s own ‘Hudson Black’ – with the colour used on the walls, floor and ceiling. The marble dining table and chairs are all from the Ardingly Antiques and Collector’s Fair. The retro green, black and white lampshade is from another antiques fair in Nottingham, while the iron ‘Drum’ side table beside it is from Atelier Abigail Ahern Stockist details on p152