Animal magic in Hove | Interiors


WUpon entering the home of artist and designer Sarah Arnett, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have stepped into an exotic wonderland. Sarah, who lives here with her partner Matthew, is influenced by a multitude of references, from the iconic Biba boutique to the flora and fauna of Zimbabwe where she spent much of her childhood. His artwork and illustrations can be seen on fine art prints, housewares, wallpapers and textiles, as well as custom murals in hotels and private homes.

Although Sarah bought the spacious Garden Apartment in Hove 25 years ago when he felt ‘so far away from Brighton and really grown up’, the main transformation has taken place over the past 18 months. When his son Samson, now in college, was younger, he had free rein to paint on the walls, but now most of those walls have been removed to create a luxurious and fantastic home perfect for entertaining.

The renovation took place in two stages, each lasting approximately six weeks. In the first lockdown of 2020, they removed a central fireplace mantel, a ‘wasted’ hallway and Samson’s old bedroom to create a huge living space and kitchen. Leaving time “for the project to evolve”, the bedroom and the bathroom were reconfigured by removing a hallway a year later. Sarah is quick to congratulate the builder for listening to his ideas and telling others about it (she wanted a palm tree-style central pillar in the living room, resembling those in the Royal Pavilion, but that would have created an obstacle around which navigate on the long dining table).

A definite taste: black and copper cuisine. Photography: Francine Kay / The Observer

Matthew and Sarah regularly organize a fancy dress party, Fever Club, at various locations in Brighton and during the city’s fringe festival. Desperately missing the stage and their friends during the pandemic, she reinvented their home with its distinctive patterns of fabrics and wallpapers of exotic animals layered together mixed with decorative architectural forms.

Dreamed up during the first confinement, a mural in the main living room serves as a backdrop, featuring a trompe l’oeil fireplace bathed in light – “all my creations have a light source, suns or moons” – surrounded of 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 patterns on the walls and curtains, and Vinterior’s vintage Murano chandeliers, which emerge from the black above the chair rails and ceiling.

A yellow Habitat sofa showcases Sarah’s chenille cushions, while an original bentwood rocker has been rescued from a dumpster and covered up. But Sarah admits that she rarely sits down to relax while working or entertaining at the table or cooking, and during the week Matthew is often away with his Kent motorcycle business, Ride DMC Motorcycles. The double doors leading to the outer courtyard are guarded on either side by two “door female dogs”, lion-tailed macaque monkeys inspired by Sarah’s time living in Kerala.

Sweet dreams: the 'cocoon' room, adorned with palm trees and birds of paradise.
Sweet dreams: the ‘cocoon’ room, adorned with palm trees and birds of paradise. Photography: Francine Kay / The Observer

Sarah works with the wallcovering company Tektura to create wallpapers under the name Modern Love and has enjoyed the opportunity to work in her own home. “If you want to show your own work, don’t compromise,” she says. The art on the walls comes to life with 3D pieces, like a bust of a clown and a pair of fairground horses, with “some pieces that seem to jump out of the wallpaper”. Sarah loves going to Ardingly Antiques Fair, where she recently bought a beautiful Art Nouveau floor lamp.

The glamorous black and copper kitchen area provides the backstage. Sarah wanted the corner space to “shine like a cocktail bar” and MPM Engineering was commissioned to custom make the kitchen. “I grew up with copper in Africa – it’s such a warm and wonderful metal with a positive glow. It also gave me the opportunity to buy vintage copper kitchen pieces and I now collect jelly molds. I have always loved all the copper in the kitchen at the Pavillon Royal.

She prefers open shelves so that everything that is functional is also on display. The essential white goods are hidden behind a curtain and the Range Master black stove completes the look. “I love to cook when friends are around and you can make it last as long as you want with it all in one room. In addition, there is plenty of space for dancing.

White water: the bathroom with golden tiles.
White water: the bathroom with golden tiles. Photography: Francine Kay / The Observer

Between the main living space and the bedroom, there is a gem of a bathroom, which offers a break from the grounds. Golden scalloped terra cotta tiles and glossy green painted walls by 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 small I wanted to extend the view of the garden,” which is why the two exterior walls were fitted with black Crittall patio doors. At night these are wrapped in plush curtains to match the bespoke walls and, in the bedroom, a ceiling fresco crowned with a vintage pink glass chandelier.

“My designs are about the essence of memory – not creating an actual version – it’s always about fantasy. I can get lost in the drawing of all the details, so structured and chaotic, but for me it’s calming and restful.


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