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Abigail Ahern’s Living Room Wall Before + After

Hello everyone and happy Friday! Let’s jump right in today, shall we? Okay so I’ve been following London-based interior designer Abigail Ahern for several years, especially since meeting her in London when she spoke at one of my mood board workshops at Anthropologie in 2011. In fact, you can see her below speaking at an event I had with her as a guest sharing her very own mood board. I remember thinking at that time that we’d have to stay in touch because I really appreciated her vision and thoughts around design and I appreciated how she pushes the envelope when it comes to decorating – that nothing should ever be boring or perfect. That BOLD is very, very good.

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I recently noticed that Abigail was renovating a wall in her living room which has become a bit of the iconic Abigail design feature as I always think of this living room and the bookcase wallpaper as being very Abigail. When I saw she would be ripping it down, I had to ask her why and if she’d share the new feature wall with all of us today and she agreed – so here it is along with a short interview.

B E F O R E

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A F T E R

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Okay so my first question, why Superman?
AH: My studio desk is on the balcony overlooking this wall, so I needed something inspiring. When I’m having one of my many conundrums or 12 hour working days, I can glance across at him and be reminded to never give up. Superman is my motivation! (Note: Painting is called, “Look! Up in the sky!” by artist Barbara Smith).

Why did you remove the bookcase wallpaper?
AH: I’ve had the bookcase wallpaper for yonks, ever since I first painted the house dark. Although I really loved it I felt like it was time for a change with the darker palette. Plus the paint looked so beautiful on the walls I wanted everything in it. I ummed and ahhed a lot before doing it but now I wonder what took me so long!

Seems you went from colorful moody (before) to natural moody (after). What inspired the lack of color?
AH: Nowadays I opt for a more reigned in colour palette and sophisticated glam vibe, rather than bright pops of colour. When I developed my paint range I painted the whole house out in my new colours, which are deeper, darker and more saturated than I’d ever gone before. Suddenly the bright pops looked a bit too garish for my liking! So rather than using colour, the wow factor now comes from either playing with scale (like the oversized art pieces and jumbo cactus) or from using intriguing texture and materials (the almost “caveman”-esque Dawlish console!)

What is the paint color and brand? Why dark with spring/summer approaching?
AH: The paint colour is Madison Grey from my own paint range – a beautiful, bottom of the lake grey hue with undertones of green. It changes subtly with the light, and it’s my all-time favourite, all year round. Plus in the summer all the greenery stands out beautifully against dark walls, with my forest-y garden beyond.

What inspired the green thumb? Are the plants real or faux?
AH: Every single one of the plants are faux, from my new own-label. When I was designing my SS15 collection I took a cowboy theme and ran with it, so we have all these incredible desert-inspired botanicals and jumbo sized cactus. A huge delivery of the cactus turned up on my doorstep when we were working on the samples, and since then I’ve been obsessed with adding them to every room in the house.

Where is the credenza from and the print?
AH: It’s the Dawlish sideboard from my store. The print, Lelia, is by photographer is Hannah Lemholt.

I love the placement of your tv – yours is so cleverly concealed. Can you give readers some tips on concealing a TV?
AH: The TV is mounted on a swivel arm, so it can be tucked quietly away when we’re not watching it. It’s important for me to be able to disguise it, as I would never ever want the telly to be a feature! The simplest trick you can do when it comes to concealing TVs is to paint the wall out behind it in a dark hue (yes, I am on a mission to try to convert everyone to the dark side!)

What’s the secret of going dark and moody in a space without it feeling depressing?
AH: That’s an easy one to answer, because I never find dark interiors depressing! They’re incredibly comforting and cocooning, while still being glam. The trick is to reign in the colour palette, and let the walls create all the drama. You also need to nail the lighting, and add a few more lamps than you normally would, but that is pretty much it.

What’s in the pipeline for you Abigail (any projects we should look out for)?
AH: My new book, COLOUR, is out on 23rd April. It’s a much bigger, fatter tome than my previous books, packed with my top tips for bold colours, and beautiful photos that we shot in some of the coolest homes around the world. I’ve wanted to do something on colour forever, so I’m really excited about it. I’m also in the process of tweaking my AW15 own label collection, whilst at the same time working on SS16 Finally, if I can squeeze it in we’ve got plans to take the Design School to Australia and American this year so its pretty full on!

Thanks Abigail for dropping in today – have a great weekend and much success on your upcoming book!

(images: top: Mark Wilson living room before: rebecca bond. living room after: Abigail Ahern)

Posted in Decorating Tips on March 06, 2015

Leaving “Safe” Behind To Make Bolder Decorating Choices

I’m in the mood for essay writing so sit back and pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine because we’re going to talk about safety in decorating and even safety in numbers. We’re going to discuss taking risks. This year I simply must make bolder choices in all areas of my life, decisions that feel big and scary at times, and to cast fears aside trading negative voices with enthusiastic chants in favor of the unknown. I believe that a trend in thinking will emerge this year very strongly, driven largely by our political and religious views, and that is to live boldly and stop mimicking everyone else simply to avoid ruffling feathers. Speak up more and have courage in all areas of life, and when you have freedoms, exercise them. Even something as seemingly small as a decorating choice at home. It’s your space, the one spot on this planet where you exercise absolute control and creative direction. Your personal style speaks volumes about you, don’t you think? Why not resolve to make your home a true reflection of you, or the you whom you aspire to become, for 2015?

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Recently after installing Aimee Wilder’s spinx pina sola wallpaper in my entryway, I personally felt inspired to take more risks. The bold unexpected pattern pulled me right out of my “safe” decorating rut. Wallpaper or anything bold in the home can definitely rev up your confidence – the more you do crazy stuff and like it, the more risks you’re willing to take as a result since confidence builds and your take no prisoners girl power emerges. I have been combing wallpaper websites and Pinterest lately to support my opinion on the difference some wallpaper can make and found many great examples, I even took the time to pin them for you to see here and I also encourage you to visit my go-to online shop for wallpaper and wall murals called Photowall because that site just may light a spark under you, too.

When I look at any home, I don’t see what’s there. I see what could be there. I always tell my friends who are moving into dreadful homes they’ve purchased due to low costs and the idea of what “could be” to look at a room as 4 walls, a ceiling and a floor and strip it down to the bones and begin from there. Most can’t see beyond the ugly flooring or the bad 70s paneling but a room is a room. And nothing can change the interior like altering the walls and floors in some ways – this is when simple materials like paint and wallpaper can work magic.

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I read once that if you desire a great life you must first allow yourself to feel uncomfortable on a regular basis because that is where the great stuff springs forth – when you step outside of your “normal” and jump without a net, without a “big picture”, and just go for it. When you try something completely random or even a little edgy or very over-the-top (at least your version of OTT). When you stop being so damn safe. For me, moving to Europe to settle in northern Germany from my cozy 1870’s carriage house in southern New Hampshire or leaving my cushy corporate job for interior design and blogging were both massive choices with huge risks involved.

Another was to write a book, then see it become an international bestseller only to then get the courage to write a second and so forth. Or having my baby, that was a massive decision and quite uncomfortable to go from living in absolute freedom to absolute responsibility.

But all of these things have enriched my life and made me a better version of myself. All of these things have contributed to my happiness. Not one was, or still is, easy. Running your own company is not easy. Working from home with a baby is not easy. Living in a foreign country speaking in a new language and navigating an entirely different culture is not easy. Making a decision to sink money into wallpapering a room is not easy. But in the end, these things add character and spark to your life. I also read somewhere recently that nobody writes songs about skinny butts. This was in reference to all of the big booty anthems out there today and so many women starving themselves to have runway-slim bodies. That may be considered the ideal, because so many women long to be super slim, but it’s not really that exciting if you live in a world where everyone had the same pants and cup size, right? Hence the big booty support and why there is support being voiced about veering from what’s considered optimal or the way one should look.

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Giant golden pineapple wallpaper are my version of a big butt, of making a bolder choice and I love seeing my wallpaper each day as much now as I did when it went up. The pattern is fun but also glammy, makes a statement and is always a conversation starter. We had several guests over the holidays and everyone had an opinion which sometimes segued into lengthy conversations about art and design which are chats that I can get into for hours. And did. All because of some wallpaper.

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It made me realize that even if others don’t love or they outright hate what you’ve done (or somewhere in between), doing something dramatic adds zest to your life because crazy decisions and nutty ideas often spark something bigger that a boring, safe choice simply won’t. When something in your home elicits strong emotion/reaction from visitors then following your gut and living authentically has paid off. You’re being you and that is exactly what you were born to do.

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Modern bedroom

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For 2015, I have a decorating wish, a decorating resolution for us all… Let’s make bolder choices and step away from safe ones. I see so many homes and styles all looking the same lately and it’s SO BORING to even peruse decor and style blogs right now because so many have collectively lost that zing which is a mix of personal style, opinion and zeal for individuality. Even food bloggers all look a like to me lately. We all need to reevaluate and step back a bit, don’t you think? I often wonder if everyone really does love the same things OR is it that because these things are accepted as the cool choice, and because it’s “safe” as a result to like them (since certain styles get lots of likes) that many just adopt these styles or even movements into our lives for the sake of fitting in and not so much because these are our personal, deep down choices. We have so many choices now in the design world at all price points, so why does it feel sometimes like we’re all shopping from the same catalog?

Something to think about, right?

(images: all wallpaper shown from photowall)

Posted in Decorating Tips on January 12, 2015

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

My friends at Skagen invited me to share some views on Danish life and culture since they consider decor8 a great source for Scandinavian design. I decided to write about a Danish word that has meaning that is very close to my heart. Let me give you some background as to why I choose to a single word as my topi and how it applies to the home in particular.

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When I began traveling to Germany over 15 years ago (I met a guy, fell in love, and have been with him ever since), I picked up on German words that quickly became a special part of my vocabulary based purely on phonetics – most how funny they sounded. I laughed a lot back then because the language is tricky and to a foreigner, words can feel like massive tongue-twisters especially when coupled with a deliciously thick German accent — well, it all seems almost comical. In American English, our goals over the past 20 years have been to abbreviate everything. Americans generally call me “Hol” instead of “Holly”. Americans are the king of short cuts, and not just when it comes to language. We like everything fast, we eat fast, work fast, live fast and relax fast. Germans are so much different – some things here can take forever and the very complicated language is no different, there are no short cuts. Germans work incredibly hard to protect their language and when they do dream up new words, the goal is make them longer and more difficult, not to shorten them because they pride themselves on their ability to be the most clever in the room when it comes to word games – the longer the better.

Since moving to northern Germany in 2009 (I’m a few hours south of the Danish border), I’ve built quite a vocabulary which I’m so proud of… So when I’m interviewed by German journalists, many ask what my favorite word is. I always say Gemütlichkeit which is from the word Gemütlich and means, “a space or situation that is warm and cosy, that induces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, without a need to hurry or worry, and with a connotation of belonging and social acceptance”. Journalists usually laugh or tell me how cute that is, that this word is so old-fashioned and sweet, etc. Even though it’s a wonderful word with an even more beautiful meaning, younger Germans don’t seem to embrace it like the old-timers do. Everything is “sweet” nowadays, not “Gemütlich” and honestly, I think that’s a pity because this is one word that just embodies everything I love about strong families, friendships and even communities. Plus, there is no English equivalent which makes it even more special to me. Some say it means cozy but Gemütlich or Gemütlichkeit is far from cozy because you can get cozy beneath a warm blanket. It’s a state of mind. It’s being at home around friends and family sharing a meal and unconditional love just flows in that space, a feeling of warmth, a sense of belonging, come one, come all.

Germans may not embrace Gemütlichkeit as much as I think they could in modern times, but the Danes certainly do. The Danish have a word that means the same but to them, it’s embedded in their culture, in their DNA, and goes much deeper than in the German culture because to the Danes, Hygge has a much broader social component.

The word is Hygge.

Hygge is a comrade, an affectionate teamwork. For a country that has long, cold winters with little light after 3pm, I guess this comrade works well. Hygge is a cozy pulling together but also a state of mind where Danes just know the weather is horrible but they still make the best of it. So why not fill the home with friends and family, light some candles, bake cookies and sit around the fireplace?

I thought that, in the spirit of winter, I’d create my top 10 ways of how to create Hygge at home. My neighbors and close friends downstairs are Danish, I have lots of good friends from Denmark and my husband’s sister is partnered with a Dane… Oh and my aunt was an art teacher for a Danish school outside of Copenhagen, so I do have some insight into life and culture up north. Not to mention, I work with a lot of Danish firms and my home is filled with interiors objects from Denmark. I also have worked in Denmark styling homes so I’ve experienced a lot of Hygge from the homeowners first hand.

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10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

1. Make interior design important to you and your family. This means considering what you have, edit when needed (try to avoid being a pack rat!), and decorate with intention and style. Not all Danish homes look like those you see in their magazines BUT they definitely are very aware of design and many families put a lot of care and attention into their home. It’s a source of pride. It’s a statement of who you are, at any income level.

2. Don’t wing it or buy something just because it’s on sale. Danes aren’t known to be wasteful. In fact, they tend to save up for that favorite design piece vs. running out and buying a knock-off or something they don’t really like just because it’s cheap.

3. Instill a sense of respect in your children for the home and the things in it. While kids will always trash their rooms, contain their mess to their space. I noticed in Danish homes, kids don’t run the household. Parents still had stylish interiors and the kids are still kids. It’s all about letting them know early on that a home needs to be shown some respect. This carries well into their adult years, too.

4. Always ask your guests, upon entering, if they want food or drink. To me, this is SO Danish. I can’t enter a Danish home without the second question after, “Hello How Are You?” being, “What can I get you to drink or eat, we have….” It’s a great way to show manners but is also caring and warm. This means to always keep a few bottles of wine or a favorite beverage in stock and something to munch on – so no empty refrigerators! I’m thinking to have a shelf in our closet that is reserved for guests – munchies, drinks, etc.

5. Linger. This is HARD for most Americans. We often clean up the plates the second guests finish! Danes linger. Dinners in Germany are the same, they go on for hours and hours, especially at someone’s home (but even in a restaurant). Lingering affords time to relax and unwind, have deeper conversations and enjoy the moment. I think that is why “mindfulness” is such a huge trend in thinking currently in the states. Most of us aren’t so important that we can’t take time out to eat and enjoy being with those whom we love. It’s hard to slow down at first, but if you practice mindful eating, you will learn to linger, and lingering is very “Hygge”.

6. Enjoy what you have. The grass is always greener. A Hygge home is the greenest to the owner. Sure, they may love to have the latest kitchen or a newest sofa, but you better believe what they do have is cared for and they’re still entertaining family and friends whether the sofa is perfect or not. A sense of contentment is important.

7. Perfect is boring.
 Don’t invite friends over only when you’ve created an elaborate spread. A simple wooden bread board topped with cheeses, some olives, fresh bread, butter, a glass of wine… Or maybe a cake you’ve made that may not look amazing but it tastes great and took you only a few moments to make. Those kinds of gatherings are beautiful too.

8. Sharing is caring. Don’t just invite over your friends and let them sit there while you slave in the kitchen. A true Hygge home says YES when guests offer to help. Let them help with the salad prep. The cookie decorating. Setting the table. Community and sharing is something I always see when I hang out with my Danish friends.

9. Light candles and cozy up! Often the most inexpensive things can create a cozy space – like candles. Candles are always aglow in Danish homes the moment the sun goes down, especially in the winter. Even at cafes, you’ll see people sitting outside in late Fall all the way until March with candles on their tables, lap blankets and a cup of something warm. Candles on the balcony, the patio, on the windowsills, in the fireplace, on the table, they instantly create a mood. Natural daylight and candlelight are two of my favorite ways to light a home and both require little to no money which is even better.

10. Embrace who you are. This is hard to do when you are constantly running back and forth and even at home, constantly tidying up or running after the kids and never really pausing. Embrace that you are only human and deserve to take time out each day just to have some tea, do yoga, read a chapter or two of a book, whatever works. This is very Hygge, and very Danish, to pause and sit inside of yourself for a moment, to let your soul catch up to your body as I’ve heard some say.

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I could add so much more to this list. Would you like to add some thoughts? Please do so below, I’d love to hear your take on this.

Note: This post is in partnership with Skagen. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting those who help me to maintain this blog that I love so much.

(photos: holly becker)

Posted in Decorating Tips on December 22, 2014

14 Creative Ideas For Pegboard

I’ve had this thing for pegboard lately. First time in my life really. A sorta crush. It’s not that common where I live so I’m not even sure where to buy it in Germany but I’ll begin my search soon since I want it in my new work studio. It seems very smart and functional but also looks good if done right. I think it’s all of the dots. My favorite color is white but it seems to come in a myriad of colors, unless the colorful ones that I’m seeing are paint jobs. I know so little about this material, we never used them in my nearly 10 years designing corporate offices. But then again, how creative and fun is office design for mutual fund companies and banks, right? If I had spent that time designing graphic design and creative studios, I would have run into pegboard a lot more often in my adventures I’m sure. The one thing that I noticed while looking at pegboard is the many different ways it is used – not just in an office! I’ve included 14 examples in this post. In the nursery? Yes! In the garage? Yes! Over the bed in a kid’s room? Yes!

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1. To organize clipboards in a work space or hallway. I love this found on The Design Files.

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2. Pegboard cut in a letter shape. This is a fun DIY on Rue Rococo. I just love it. A for Aidan?
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3. A sideboard with pegboard doors. Super brilliant. This is from Home Base Collections designed by Leanne Culy (in love, want!).

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4. As doors for wooden cubes near a desk featured in VTWonen.
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5. As a modern headboard – this DIY is on MSN.

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6. Over the bed in kid’s rooms. This clever idea is from Land of Nod.
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7. A DIY memo board from Lowe’s for the kitchen…
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8. A pegboard coatrack with cross stitch detail by Beci Orpin.
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9. As a backdrop for displaying art at home from The Design Files.
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10. To display cards or as a seating chart at a wedding as found in the beautiful book Handmade Weddings (DIY online here).

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11. Go monochromatic above a desk in the home of Mandy Pellegrin from Fabric Paper Glue. Oh this looks so good.

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12. Painted cross stitch pegboard in the office of Craft and Creativity (DIY here). Another fun idea!

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13. In a baby’s nursery above a changing table. What an interesting idea, I like it. You don’t have to put so many holes in the wall, either. Photo by Erin J. Saldana for 100LayerCakeLet.

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14. In a workshop. This is where jeweler Kim Victoria Wearne makes her gorgeous jewelry, I want to own the entire collection by the way… As seen on The Design Files.

Do you like pegboard? Any of these examples appeal to you? Where do I find it in Germany and what is the German word for it? Stecktafel doesn’t seem to be the right term. Werkzeugwand seems to be made of metal and for tools. In Dutch it seems the word is geperforeerd hardboard, so maybe it’s similar in German… It’s basically just particle board with holes in it. Help!

(images linked to their sources above).

Posted in Decorating Tips on September 04, 2014

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