World of Colour

Last Updated: 03 Dec 2015
Abigail Ahern

It’s time to open your eyes – and home – to colour! We’re not saying you need to farewell your beloved Scandinavian style, just embrace a fresh perspective on creating a luxurious abode. In these extracts from her book Colour, Abigail Ahern reveals easy ways to transform your home from beige to brilliant.

Colour is clever. Get it right and it lifts your spirits; get it wrong and it will make you run for the hills! It has been my obsession for as far back as I can remember. I grew up in a colourful home. My mother, an artist, would choose shades for our walls in the same way that she would select colours for her paintings: instinctively, from feeling and observation.

I remember, from a young age, ox blood on the walls in the living room; a forest-green dining room; accents of blues and purples; black floors; rich, often chalky finishes that offset my mother's paintings beautifully. Friends and neighbours would come over and think our house a little odd and, conversely, we would think the same about theirs. Why, we mused, was everyone so hesitant when it came to applying colour to their homes?

It takes skill to put together an eclectic blend of furniture, colour, pattern and texture, and Sue Miller demonstrates this in abundance. No formulaic following of rules here. Her visual risk-taking has created an exciting, warm dining space.

Of course, I rebelled. In my early twenties, I landed a job in London working for Sir Terence Conran's publishing company, with a seriously cool crowd. I had just moved out of home and was done with that Victorian colour palette – so old-fashioned, I thought. I wanted to rock what everyone else was rocking: Scandi simplicity, white everything: minimal, functional and, now I look back, beyond boring.

Fast-forward a few years and I met my now-husband, Graham, who landed a job in America. We were living in a rental and not allowed to paint a thing, so I started to dabble with adding vitality to the rental through colour, pattern and texture. Gradually my confidence with colour grew. We returned to London, bought a dilapidated four-storey townhouse, and it was here (where I remain today) that my confidence with colour gained new heights.

Colour by Abigail Ahern, published by Hardie Grant Books, $45.


Statement Pieces
Let's set the record straight, shall we? I don't just run into a space and sprinkle a bit of fairy dust over it and suddenly magic happens. I use insider tricks, so that if you happen to enter one of my rooms it feels sophisticated, inspirational and creative. The best trick in my book? Well, that's easy. Statement pieces, of course! The whole point of a statement piece is pretty self-explanatory. It makes
a statement, in that it immediately pulls your eye towards it. It can help define
a space; add a splash of colour or pattern; maybe highlight something decorative. It's a super-easy way to express your aesthetic. The idea here is to ditch convention, go a little off radar, and indulge in what you love. More is more. Ditch having one focal point in a room and have at least two, if not three. It tantalises the eye that way.


Dining rooms
Take the focus off the table. To create a conversation-worthy dining room, there are many tricks of the trade. And, as ever, colour plays an integral part.
Start by mixing up the chairs. Firstly it will funk up the space, and secondly it will allow you to create a more casual ambience. I mismatch in pairs: it gives me that eclectic vibe I'm after, and yet it feels somehow more glamorous. Rather than having every chair a different hue, rein in the palette by keeping the colours similar and mixing up the textures. So place a wicker chair next to a metal one, an upholstered model next to a wooden seat – that kind of thing.

Graphic and distinctive, the bold use of black and white in this bedroom – complete with chessboard print, Op Art stripes and patterns – makes for a fearless look that is anything but boring.


Inky hues
This colour palette has been an obsession of mine for yonks. Why? Because anything you put against these bottom-of-the-lake greens, browns, greys and blacks looks and feels grander and edgier than it truly is.

Did you know that if a space faces north and receives little natural light, painting it out in a jolly hue or bright white won't transform a thing? Rather than fighting the problem, use it to your advantage. Make your space feel super-seductive, sophisticated and glamorous by painting it out in one of these dramatic, chalky, flat and deeply complex colours.

You can go so many different ways with a dark palette. Accent it with shiny, luminous metal accessories. I'm totally fixated on gold right now, as it bounces the light around and looks and feels beautifully classic. So I have gold sconces on black walls; gold heads on mantles; little gold vases on tables. If that sounds too much, a pop of brights will give your space an instant exclamation mark. Even a mixture of textures will keep things interesting, and avoid a one-note effect.

Don't shy away from the moodiness of this inky dark palette. You need to embrace shadow and let corners blur into darkness to give your space plenty of mystery.


Dramatic, elegant and capable of making any room – from the bathroom to the kitchen – feel uber sophisticated, chic and timeless, you can't get more iconic than black and white.

Be selective in how you use the two colours, and be ready to make a statement – this is a high-impact look. Once you start thinking out of the box, your space will feel fresher and more modern than the typical black floor, white wall scenario. My biggest tip would be to decide which of the hues you are going full-on with, and then use the contrasting colour as the accent.

Balance is all-important, so vary the intensity and tones of the hues – introducing silvery greys, charcoals and milks – so that your scheme feels super intriguing. Metallics also bring this scheme alive. Use them all the time.

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