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Abigail Ahern gets cosy

As promised. A bit more from Abigail Ahern on how to create the perfect retreat from this grim old weather...

"Now more than ever," says Abigail, "we want our homes to be a sanctuary from the outside world; not just a place that’s practical and functional but a refuge. People don’t just want a living room in order to watch TV or hang out they want something that feels  unique and personal. Awful as the economy is, I think it’s been great for interiors because people are moving less and thinking about their interiors more."

Abigail has up to ten lights, even in small rooms. The more levels and layers of lighting,
the cosier and more "intriguing" a space becomes (all photos: Graham Atkins-Hughes)

Abigail's top tips for creating your own "refuge"...

Lighting This is top of the list. The more lighting, and the more different heights you can add, the more intriguing you can make a space… and intriguing is cosy. I have quite small Victorian standard rooms and I have ten lights going on – even more in some rooms. It sounds like a shed-load and ridiculous – but they’re all on very low wattage and create interesting and beautiful glows. Shadows should never be eliminated; they create drama. And a brightly over-lit space just looks like a hospital.

Layers and accessories – and by that I mean stuff" – vases, ornaments, flowers, scented candles, pictures on walls – the more you add to mantles and shelves, the more interesting, beautiful and dimensional your home will be. It also just kind of makes a place feel slightly more lived in and loved – and in order to make it feel cosy it’s got to look and feel lived in and loved. And you can’t do that if you don’t have stuff, or it'll just look like a showroom. But do leave some negative space – a bit with nothing in it – so that, say, a shelf or coffee table doesn't look crowded out with stuff. The objects should look as though they have room to move.

"You can never overdo texture," believes Abigail

Texture is huge. It's quite neglected oftentimes but once you start adding texture it really softens up a space. My trick is to create as much visual friction as possible by pairing things that don’t necessarily go  together – metallic shiny leather with a really slubby wool, for example. Or a seagrass matting on a really shiny floor. Unlike pattern, where to much can look over the top, with texture you can almost never have too much. It's the easiest way to add cosiness.

Embrace small rooms Even in big rooms I try to make them small. Place furniture on an angle, layer pillows, add side-tables... just not having stuff on the perimeter of a room will automatically make a space feel more inviting. Having everyone lined up and sitting around the edges, to me feels like a doctor’s waiting room. It’s so dull. So I’d prefer to bring the sofa right in front of the fireplace, as I have done at home. Then the traffic flows either way around it and the room just breathes more. I design rooms whereby you can never walk in a straight line from one side of the room to the other and I do that purposely because I want to trick the eye of the person coming in the door. It always freaks clients out until I make them come to my house and have a look. People often  think that putting furniture around a room's edges will maximise the space. It really doesn't. It’s a bit like being in a forest – if you take a walk through a forest your senses are automatically activated because you can’t automatically see what’s in front of you, nor a straight path. So if you can create a room where you have to kind of meander, it will look more interesting.

Don't shy away from giant mirrors and a a multitude of different textures, even in a small space
Mirrors are such a key tool in design because they broaden a space's horizons: over-sized mirrors over small walls reflect the room right back at you, adding immediate cosiness. 

Ditch pastels for sophistication and a cocooning atmosphere: "You can paint a wall in half a
day and transform a room," says Abigail
Colour Inky, dark, sludgy, beautiful hues make a room so cosy. Summer or winter. I just don’t think you get that feeling with white and pastel shades, whereas greys and charcoals and slates and taupes just look phenomenally beautiful. And it’s so easy; you can paint your walls grey in half a day and it automatically feels really cosy and sophisticated. My favourites are Farrow & Ball's 'Down Pipe' and 'Railings'; 'Teal’ by the Paint Library and 'Dusted Moss' by Dulux (see below).

Some of Abigail's favourite colours: from left to right – Teal, Railings, Down Pipe and Dusted Moss
Scent is a huge one for adding cosyness. I am obsessed with Santa Maria Novella pot pourri after I walked into Rita Konig's apartment in New York and instantly asked: 'What is that smell?!' I have decanted it all around the house in tiny tea-light holders so that this really gentle, beautiful perfume permeates the space – you come through the door and immediately feel relaxed. Pot Pourri has a bit of a 90s reputation and gets a bad rap – like fake flowers, which I'm also trying to change – but this stuff smells phenomenal and it's all organic and collected in the Florentine hills, then aged for ten months. It is beautiful.

Abigail’s book ‘A Girl’s Guide
to Decorating’ (Quadrille, £12.99),
is out in paperback on 16 February.


  1. I am yet to be convinced that bare boards can ever make a room look cosy. Bare boards and hard surfaces can only look, feel and sound institutional.

  2. I think it's a very personal thing, Katie, and depends very much on one's associations and preferences. And the biggest thing to make a home cosy is that it reflects its inhabitant's personality. I think Abigail Ahern's home looks really inviting and snug - but I could be equally tempted by the right shagpile carpet!

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