Walking into artist and designer Sarah Arnett’s home, you could be forgiven for thinking you had entered an exotic wonderland. Sarah, who lives here with partner Matthew, is influenced by a cornucopia of references, from the iconic boutique Biba 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, homewares, wallpapers and textiles, as well as on custom murals in hotels and private homes.
All my designs have a light source, suns or moons
Although Sarah bought the spacious garden flat in Hove 25 years ago, when it felt “so far away from Brighton and really grown up”, the main transformation has taken place over the past 18 months. When her son Samson, now at university, was younger, he had free rein 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 completed over two stages, each lasting around six weeks. During the first lockdown of 2020, they removed a central chimney breast, a “wasted” hallway and Samson’s old bedroom to create one huge living space and kitchen. Leaving time “for the project to evolve”, the bedroom and the bathroom were reconfigured by removing a corridor a year later. Sarah is quick to praise the builder for listening to her ideas and talking her out of others (she wanted a central palm tree-style pillar in the living area, resembling those in the Royal Pavilion, but it would have created an obstacle around which to navigate the long dining table).
Matthew and Sarah hold a regular “dress fancy” party, Fever Club, in various Brighton locations and at the city’s fringe festival. Desperately missing the scene and their friends during the pandemic, she reimagined their home with her distinctive fabric and wallpaper designs of layered exotic wildlife mixed with deco architectural forms.
Dreamed up during the first lockdown, 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, snakes, fish and a pair of Dali-esque red lips (“I just imagined being surrounded by friends on this stage”). The effect is certainly theatrical with the opulent detailed designs on the walls and curtains, and the vintage Murano chandeliers from Vinterior, popping out from the black above the picture rails and on the ceiling.
A yellow Habitat sofa shows off Sarah’s chenille cushions, while an original bentwood rocker has been rescued from a skip and re-covered. But Sarah admits that she rarely sits down to relax as she’s either working or entertaining at the table or cooking and, during the week, Matthew is often away with his motorbike business in Kent, Ride DMC Motorcycles. Double doors leading to the outside courtyard are guarded on either side by two “door bitches”, lion-tailed macaque monkeys inspired by Sarah’s time living in Kerala.
Sarah works with wall covering company Tektura to create wallpapers under the name Modern Love and relished the opportunity to work in her own home. “If you’re going to show off your own work, don’t compromise,” she says. The art on the walls is brought to life with 3D pieces, such as the bust of a clown and a pair of fairground carousel horses, with “a few pieces that look like they are jumping out of the wallpaper”. Sarah loves going to Ardingly Antiques Fair where she recently picked up a stunning art nouveau floor lamp.
The glamorous black and copper kitchen area provides the backstage. Sarah wanted the corner space “to glow like a cocktail bar” and MPM Engineering were commissioned to make the bespoke kitchen. “I grew up with copper in Africa – it’s such a wonderful warm metal with a positive glow. It also gave me the chance to indulge in buying vintage copper kitchen pieces and I’m now collecting jelly moulds. I’ve always loved all the copper in the Royal Pavilion kitchen.”
She prefers open-plan shelving so that everything that is functional is also on show. Essential white goods are hidden behind a curtain and the black Range Master stove complements the look. “I love cooking when friends are around and you can drag it out as long as you want with it all in one room. Also, there’s plenty of space to dance.”
In between the main living space and bedroom, there is a small jewel of a bathroom, which offers a pause from the patterns. The gold scalloped Fired Earth tiles and the Brilliant Green painted walls from Little Greene are combined with pink accents.
The bedroom is a cocoon adorned with palms and birds of paradise. “I like sleeping outside and, as the bedroom was so tiny, I wanted to expand the views to the garden”, so the two exterior walls have been fitted with black Crittall French doors. By night, these are shrouded in sumptuous drapes pattern-matched to the bespoke walls and, in the bedroom, a ceiling mural crowned by a vintage pink glass chandelier.
“My designs are about the essence of the memory – not creating a real life version – it’s always about fantasy. I can get lost in drawing all the detail, so patterned and chaotic, but to me it’s calming and restful.”