Wednesday, 27 July 2016

What I Learned at the Abigail Ahern Design Masterclass

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to London to attend an Abigail Ahern Design Masterclass. If you follow Abigail Ahern on Instagram (or read her fantastically useful blog on then you'll know that she's well known for her dark interiors and eclectic style.She's also got her own shop in Islington.
Abigail Ahern shop - source:Instagram
Abigail (yes we're on first name terms!) (not really) runs her Design Masterclasses roughly once a month at her home in Dalston. Anyone can go and it costs £225 for the day.
The day was crammed with loads of styling tips, decorating secrets and insider information, as well as a truly delicious lunch. Oh! -  and I got to stroke her dogs!
I got to stroke Maud! Source:@archer.t.j.Instagram
Anyway, I could write forever about what I learnt from her, but here's the three main nuggets of information that I didn't already know about her work, that I took away from the day.

1. Dark rooms.

Abigail Ahern's house.
So everyone thinks Abigail Ahern is about dark rooms - and she is - but not so much because she loves dark colours - and she does - but more because of how painting a room dark showcases all of the furniture and accessories in the room - they stand out, rather than the room standing out. It acts as a gallery wall instead. This makes you think totally differently about painting your room dark. Questions such as 'should I paint it dark green or dark grey?' and 'should I paint the ceiling as well?' become irrelevant. It doesn't matter so much which dark shade you choose because it's all about showcasing the objects in your room. And yes you definitely should paint the ceiling dark too because - guess what?! - it's all about showcasing the objects in your room! Any distraction from the objects in your room is missing the point - so, yes, the coving, the ceiling rose, the doors, door frame, skirting boards and floors all get painted dark too, effectively blotting them out so that the only focus is - the objects in your room!

Abigail Ahern's house. Source: Instagram
This was a revelation to me and actually makes the whole choice much more simple - but you have to commit!
I have one dark room in my house, painted Farrow and Ball 'Downpipe Grey'. I have ummed and ahhhhed about how to treat the ceiling, coving and ceiling rose for ages.

Downpipe Grey room in my house
My instinct is to paint the ceiling a lighter grey and pick the coving and ceiling rose out in white. The course taught me the very opposite of this, of course, and I understand why. However, getting this past my OH will be another matter! And I have to say that seeing the beautiful shutters and ornate coving and ceiling roses at Abigail's house all painted dark and effectively 'blotted out' made my heart bleed a little (a lot), although I totally get her point.

2. Focal points. 

So once you've got your dark room, how do you treat it? Traditional interior design teaches us to create one focal point, usually the fireplace, and place your furniture and accessories around that. Abigail Ahern likes to break this rule (all of the rules, actually!) and create THREE focal points.
Abigail Ahern's house. Source: Instagram
This room, for instance, draws your eye to the fireplace and the mirror. Then it's drawn to the chair and lamp on the right and then to the table and chairs in the middle. And then back again. When you go into one of her rooms you really don't know where to look first. It's all so mesmerising. This mix of focal points is what creates the magic with her schemes, the 'Alice in Wonderland' effect. Why don't they all clash and fight with each other I hear you ask? Because, dear reader, (if I haven't bored you right off) there is quite a limited colour palette being used - all the colours are quite muted. And all the textures, as well as the colours, compliment each other, thus unifying the scheme. Textures and layering are another huge part of the Abigail Ahern look and the subject of a separate blog post one day. If I haven't bored you all off of course!
Even the dog adds texture and matches the colour palette at Abigail Ahern's house! Source: Instagram.
3. Lighting.
Abigail Ahern's house is awash with lighting! There are huge, stunning chandeliers in every room and tons of lamps. 
Abigail Ahern's house. Source: Instagram
One of her rules is eight to ten lamps in every room! Lighting is absolutely key in a dark scheme and the way it's lit in the evening is essential for creating a cosy, cocooning space rather than an oppressive one. In the daytime, the textures and colours of the furniture and objects dominate a dark scheme, and at night, the lights, with the warmth and cosiness that they create, dominate the look. As well as using a multitude of lamps, Abigail's other trick is to use huge, oversized lamps and shades which also play with the scale of the room and enhance the 'Alice in Wonderland' vibe going on.
Abigail Ahern's house. Source: Instagram.

So, that was three new things I learnt from the course. There was so, so much more, of course, and I haven't even mentioned her dreamy, magical garden.

Abigail Ahern's garden

Would I recommend the course? Well, if you are already a fan and have read her books and blogs (I hadn't) then you probably won't learn a whole heap more. But the experience of actually meeting Abigail Ahern, wandering freely in her house and seeing her work in the flesh - I think it is definitely worth the cost. Oh yes, and did I mention, you also get to stroke her dogs!
Abigail Ahern's bathroom. You can wander freely around her house on the course!

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  1. Hi Dee, wonderful blog post and very enlightening. I've seen Abigail present at a number of events and her energy and enthusiasm for everything dark makes you want to go home and transform your home. That said, I think there's a place for it in every home but I'm not sure I could do my whole home dark I think it would be too oppressive for me. Anyway great blog post, made me giggle, looks like you had a fabulous day out.

    1. Thanks Jane! Yes I agree - she's super inspiring. And I love how she's happy to share all her acquired knowledge, not just about interiors but about business as well. I couldn't do the whole house either, as beautiful as it is! Thanks for reading Jane! xxxx

  2. Dee I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post this morning. It was very well written and a great insight into the AA design school experience. I only discovered AA last year (I don't know where I've been hiding) and had already begun painting my house in dark hues at the the time, although she gave me the confidence to go the extra mile on ceilings etc. Since then, I've followed her blog almost religiously . There still are some ideas of hers that I don't agree with though and I totally get your feeling of despair at the painted architectural adornments in her home. I've done the same in my hall and I did wonder whether it was a mistake. Anyhoo, following in your sparkly wake, a few of us insta's are heading down to the AA school in November and after reading your cool post, I'm looking forward to it more than ever. Thanks for leaving the star cushion behind for me :)

  3. Lovely post and beautiful instagram account! I stumbled upon Abigail's shop in Islington in early September. Stunning and quite unique. I loved it even though I'm not a fan of dark colour schemes.