WBy going to the home of artist and designer Sarah Arnett, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered an exotic wonderland. Sarah, who lives here with partner Matthew, is influenced by an abundance of references, from the famous boutique Biba to the flora and fauna of Zimbabwe where she spent most of her childhood. Her artwork and illustrations can be seen on fine art prints, household items, wallpaper, and textiles, as well as on custom murals in hotels and private homes.
Although Sarah bought a spacious garden apartment in Hove 25 years ago, when she felt “too far from Brighton and really grown up”, the major transformation has occurred over the past 18 months. When her son Samson, who was now at university, was younger, he was free to paint on the walls, but now most of these walls have been removed to create a fancy, fancy home perfect for entertaining.
The renovation was completed in two phases, each lasting about six weeks. During the first shutdown in 2020, they removed a central chimney chest, “wasted” portico and the old Samson bedroom to create a massive living space and kitchen. Leaving time for “project development”, the bedroom and bathroom were remodeled by removing the corridor a year later. Sarah was quick to praise the constructor for hearing her thoughts and talking about her from others (she wanted a palm tree-style central pillar in the living area, similar to the one in the Royal Suite, but would have created an obstacle around her navigating the long dining table).
Matthew and Sarah throw a “wonderful masquerade” party, The Fever Club, at various locations in Brighton and at a fringe festival in the city. Direly missing the scene and their friends during the pandemic, she has reimagined their home with her signature tapestry and layered exotic wildlife wallpaper designs mixed with deco architectural motifs.
During the first shutdown, I dreamed that a mural in the main living area provides a backdrop, featuring a trompe l’oeil fireplace bathed in light – “All my designs have a light source, suns or moons” – surrounded by Siamese cats and snakes, a fish and a pair of Dali-red lips esque (“I just imagined being surrounded by friends at this point”). The effect is certainly theatrical with the sumptuously detailed designs on the walls and curtains, and vintage Murano chandeliers from Vinterior, popping out of black above the picture rails and on the ceiling.
Sarah’s yellow Habitat sofa is made of chenille cushions, while the original rocker in Pentwood was rescued from scuffing and recovered. But Sarah admits she rarely sits down to relax because she either works, enjoys sitting at the table or cooks, and during the week Matthew is often away from his motorcycle job at Kent, Ryde DMC Motorcycles. The double doors leading to the outside patio are guarded on both sides by “door dogs”, black-tailed macaques inspired by Sarah’s life in Kerala.
Sarah works with wall covering company Tektura to create wallpapers under the name Modern Love and has enjoyed the opportunity to work in her home. “If you’re going to show off your work, don’t compromise,” she says. Art on the walls is brought to life in 3D pieces, such as a bust of a clown and a pair of horses circling in the fairgrounds, with “some pieces that look like they’re jumping off the wallpaper.” Sarah loves to go to the Ardingly Antiques Fair where she recently picked up a stunning Art Nouveau floor lamp.
A glamorous black and copper kitchen area provides backstage. Sarah wanted the corner space to “glow like a cocktail bar” and commissioned MPM Engineering to make a bespoke kitchen to order. “I grew up with copper in Africa – it’s a wonderful, warm metal with a positive glow. It also allowed me to indulge in antique copper kitchen buying and now I collect jelly bars. I’ve always loved all the copper in the Royal Pavilion Kitchen.”
She prefers open-plan shelves so that everything that is functional is also displayed. White staples are hidden behind a curtain and a black Range Master stove completes the look. “I love to cook when friends are around and you can pull it out for as long as you want with it all in one room. Also, there is plenty of room to dance.”
Between the living room and master bedroom is a small jewel of the bathroom, which provides a pause of style. Little Greene’s gold-tone Fired Earth tiles and glossy green painted walls are combined with accents of pink.
The bedroom is a cocoon decorated with palm trees and birds of paradise. “I like sleeping outside, and because the bedroom was so small, I wanted to expand the garden views,” so the two exterior walls were fitted with black Crittall French doors. At night, it’s enveloped in lavish matching drapes against the custom-designed walls, and in the bedroom, a ceiling mural crowns an antique pink glass chandelier.
“My designs are about the essence of memory – not creating a realistic copy – it’s always about imagination. I can get lost in drawing every detail, in a very plaid and chaotic way, but to me it’s so soothing and relaxing.”