Monday, 4 February 2013

Abigail Ahern Design School

Last week I spent the most amazing day at the Abigail Ahern design school.  I’ve always loved decorating, but not necessarily being the most creative or daring soul, I’ve always felt that my house lacked a little something.  Certainly it isn’t as considered or interesting as my clothes/wardrobe which is where my creative energies usually get spent.  And although we are slightly limited by the existence of an energetic 2 year old, and her profusion of toys, there is always something you can do to stamp your personality on a space.
The group of girls in the class was the best – and they had travelled from such a long way away, including Belfast!  Just shows what high renown Abigail is held in within design circles.  And she is so friendly, welcoming and unpretentious – as is her husband, Graham, who kept the teas and coffees coming all day.  Having a group invading your home for the best part of a Saturday can’t be easy, and yet we were welcomed with open arms, and almost given free run of this amazing house, from the top floor (the classroom!) down to the amazing kitchen/family room in the basement.
There were so many ideas buzzing round my head when I left, it has taken me more than a week to let it all percolate through my brain.   The lingering impression was of the use of dark colours far more than I’d ever seen before – on walls, on skirtings and cornicing, and on ceilings.  Right from the outset, and the exterior of the house, dark colours are used in places where you would normally expect white and paler colours.  The overall effect is dramatic, and as Abigail points out, really makes objects and furniture ‘pop’.  It can also be slightly disorientating and adds to the slightly fantastical and unreal feel of the house.
My favourite room was the kitchen, where dark painted cupboards, dark walls and dark ceilings made it homely and as ‘unkitcheny’ a room as I have seen.   Here is a little vignette of the island unit, from Abigail’s blog.
When it comes to kitchens I think the course may have paid for itself in avoiding design fees and the purchase of an expensive mistake.  I have already decided that my new kitchen will have dark cupboards, and I love the approach of using painted MDF in slightly oversized cupboard doors - although I may have to try the dark walls and ceiling approach in the downstairs loo first before deciding whether its for me.  Abigail was constantly encouraging us to be brave, but I’m obviously a decorating wuss!
Lighting was another key element of the course – the kitchen shows Abigail’s unexpected use of table lamps in all settings – I will definitely be trying this one as well.    Abigail suggested always adding more lighting that you ‘need’, and whilst I am already familiar with the 3 types of lighting (overhead, task, decorative), her encouragement to add more, and consider it as decoration and not just treat it as a practicality was very well received.   I am married to a lighting designer/electrician and he was fascinated with the ideas I came back with (and suspected that he is going to be installing more lighting sockets in future!).
Abigail also encouraged us to break the rules – move furniture away from the walls, break up spaces, use items that are either too big or too small.  Now this I can do – a bit of rebel decorating!   Ideas included propping pictures up on a mantelpiece rather than hanging them, or using piles of books with vases or other objects on them to provide height and interest.
Playing with texture was another key point.  Throughout Abigail’s home things are combined together, shiny with scruffy, highly textured with smooth.  I love the effect of this room (not Abigail’s) with the traditional furniture combined with the leather and glass – sums up the feel for me.
All in all a fabulous day with some great food for thought.  Abigail’s home is interesting as it is obviously so designed – there is little evidence of normal life there (we never found out where she keeps her clothes!), but it still feels homely and loved rather than being a showhouse.
For me, the main thing is that things don’t have to be perfect, and mis-matching and randomness creates a specific feel which is most welcome.  I’ve already started strewing books around the place in piles – and have big plans for my kitchen with a pot of dark paint!
For further details on the workshops, see (no - she isn't paying me!)

Her blog, which often has some great pictures of her house, and other great rooms, is here:

All pictures other than the kitchen vignette are from - another great source of inspiration!

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