W.When you step into the house of the artist and designer Sarah Arnett, you might think that you have stepped into an exotic wonderland. Sarah, who lives here with partner Matthew, is influenced by a wealth of references, from the iconic Biba boutique to the flora and fauna of Zimbabwe, where she spent much of her childhood. Her artwork and illustrations can be seen on fine art prints, housewares, wallpaper and textiles, as well as on custom murals in hotels and private homes.
Although Sarah bought the spacious garden apartment in Hove 25 years ago when she felt “so far from Brighton and really grown up”, the major conversion has taken place in the past 18 months. When her son Samson, now at university, was younger, he had a free hand to paint on the walls, but now most of those walls have been removed to create a luxurious fantasy home perfect for entertaining.
The renovation was carried out in two stages, each lasting around six weeks. During the first lockdown in 2020, they removed a central chimney, âwastedâ hallway, and Samson’s old bedroom to create a huge living space and kitchen. In order to leave time âfor the development of the projectâ, the bedroom and bathroom were redesigned a year later by removing a hallway. Sarah quickly praises the builder for listening to her ideas and talking them out of others (she wanted a palm tree-style central pillar in the living area similar to those in the Royal Pavilion, but this would have created an obstacle to get around it through navigate the long dining table).
Matthew and Sarah have a regular dress fancy party, the Fever Club, in various locations around Brighton and at the city’s fringe festival. Missing the scene and her friends desperately during the pandemic, she re-imagined her home with her distinctive fabric and wallpaper designs made from layered exotic wildlife mixed with architectural decorative shapes.
Conceived during the first lockdown, a mural in the main living area provides a backdrop with a light-flooded trompe l’oeil fireplace – “all my designs have a light source, suns or moons” – surrounded by Siamese cats, snakes, fish and a few Dali -like red lips (“I just imagined being surrounded by friends on this stage”). The effect has a theatrical effect with the opulent detailed designs on the walls and curtains and the vintage Murano chandeliers from Vinterior, which stand out from the black above the picture rails and on the ceiling.
A yellow Habitat sofa shows Sarah’s chenille cushions, while an original bentwood seesaw was rescued from a hollow and reupholstered. Sarah admits, however, that she seldom sits down to relax, as she is either working or sitting at the table or cooking. During the week Matthew is often out and about with his Kent motorcycle shop, Ride DMC Motorcycles. Double doors leading to the outer courtyard are guarded on either side by two “door sluts”, macaques with lion tails, inspired by Sarah’s time in Kerala.
Sarah works with wallcovering company Tektura to create wallpaper under the name Modern Love and enjoys the opportunity to work in her own home. âIf you want to showcase your own work, don’t compromise,â she says. The art on the walls is brought to life with 3D pieces, like a bust of a clown and a pair of fairground carousel horses, with “a few pieces that look like they’re jumping out of the wallpaper”. Sarah loves going to the Ardingly Antiques Fair, where she recently bought a stunning Art Nouveau floor lamp.
The glamorous kitchen area in black and copper forms the backstage area. Sarah wanted the corner room to “glow like a cocktail bar” and MPM Engineering was hired to create the bespoke kitchen. âI grew up with copper in Africa – it’s such a wonderfully warm metal with a positive shimmer. It also gave me the opportunity to buy vintage copper kitchen pieces and I now collect jelly molds. I’ve always loved all the copper in the Royal Pavilion’s kitchen. “
She prefers open shelves so that everything that is functional comes into its own. Essential household appliances are hidden behind a curtain and the black Range Master range compliments the look. âI love to cook when there are friends around and you can pull it out for as long as you want, all in one room. There is also plenty of space to dance. “
Between the main living room and bedroom is a little gem of a bathroom that offers a break from the patterns. The gold scalloped Fired Earth tiles and the brilliant green painted walls of Little Greene are combined with pink accents.
The bedroom is a cocoon adorned with palm trees and birds of paradise. “I like to sleep outside and since the bedroom was so tiny, I wanted to expand the view of the garden,” said the two outer walls with black Crittall French Doors. At night these are draped in sumptuous curtains that match the bespoke walls and, in the bedroom, a ceiling painting topped by a vintage pink glass chandelier.
âMy designs are about the essence of memory – not a version from real life – it’s always about fantasy. I can get lost in drawing all the details that are so patterned and chaotic, but for me it’s calming and relaxing. “