A Room of One’s Own: textile designer Sarah Arnett’s opulent party palace
Inigo met with to Sarah to discuss knocking down walls, the power of colour and what can be achieved with a bit of imagination – all in pursuit of the perfect party pad
- Rosily Roberts
- Chris Horwood
It is difficult to imagine the theatrical wonder that awaits behind the door to Sarah Arnett’s ground-floor flat on a quiet residential street in Hove. Behind the unassuming exterior is an intricately finished marvel of a place; stepping into the main open-plan space – which serves as sitting room, kitchen and dining room – is like walking on to an ornate, palatial stage set. Three walls are decorated with a vibrant wallpaper Sarah drew and had digitally printed especially, replete with birds of paradise, snakes, monkeys, a Siamese cat and an array of vegetation. One wall features a trompe-l’oeil fireplace like a proscenium arch, bathed in golden light and framing a Dalí-style lip-shaped sofa. “I wanted it to feel like a theatre. The fireplace is the stage,” the designer says.
Sarah grew up in Zimbabwe and has, more recently, lived in India. The cultures and landscapes of both countries crop up in Sarah’s wallpaper design, from the twin snakes that stretch skyward to the gold decoration that surrounds the fireplace. However, she credits nearby Brighton, particularly the Pavilion, with just as strong an influence. The similarities are notable. The illusory architectural features, ornate mural and bold colours of Sarah’s flat are an emphatic nod to the 19th-century palace.
The attention to detail in Sarah’s wallpaper is remarkable – no corner is left unadorned – as is the masterful way she uses colour and light. “Colour is like a language that you have to learn,” she says. The bold hues of the wallpaper are offset by black walls, ceiling and trim, and reflected in the patterned cushions, curtains and chairs, all done in Sarah’s own fabrics. Her confidence as a designer and her unwavering imagination as a decorator explode from every patterned surface.
Sarah studied woven-textile design at the University of Brighton before going on to design a fashion collection under her own name, which sold at Liberty and Harvey Nichols. It is this extensive background in fabrics that she credits with her ability to bring colours together in a way that is at once dramatic and harmonious. Recently, she has been turning her hand to interior design projects, creating custom wallpapers for both residential houses and hotels, as well as luxury ready-to-hang wallpapers for British brand Tektura and South Africa-based Robin Sprong Wallpaper.
It’s surprising to learn, then, that Sarah’s home wasn’t always so lavishly appointed. For the first 20 years of her residency here, the flat was comprised of small rooms with low ceilings, corridors demarcating the boundaries. Like so many others, Sarah was driven to renovate her flat during the first lockdown, when she was finally afforded the time to reimagine the space. “I wanted to test the limits of what could be done in it, structurally and in terms of colour, light and pattern,” she says. “I’ve never done anything structural before, but we had a team of local builders who were brilliant. We took out a huge redundant chimney breast from the middle of the house, knocked down walls and raised the ceilings. I loved the idea of creating one big room for everything.”
Sarah is a natural host – and her penchant for partying was one of the driving forces behind the renovation. “I wanted to throw dinner parties and cook and not be separated from my guests. So I brought the party into the kitchen! I didn’t want cupboards or anything that looks too much like a kitchen. It’s more like a huge bar.” Although functional, the kitchen now forms part of the space’s decoration. Metal racks serve as open shelves for Sarah’s collection of plates and copper pots, while a heavy gold curtain in one of her fabrics hangs from the counter.
Together with her partner, Matthew, Sarah runs Fever Club, a regular event in Brighton’s Rialto Theatre. “We decorate the whole theatre with old fairground and circus props that I’ve collected, like lightboxes and heads mounted on poles with great big feathers. It actually ends up looking a bit like this flat!” Sarah laughs, gesturing to the open-mouthed bust of a clown that sits beside the door. “I got him and a pair of carousel horses at a sale of old fairground blanks and painted them.” It was dreaming about both the return of Fever Club and her infamous parties that kept Sarah motivated throughout her renovation. “I was imagining filling the space with all my friends,” she says. She wanted a table long enough to comfortably seat a crowd, and plenty of space for an after-dinner dancefloor. The copper countertop gleams against the jet-black walls, and light dances through her coloured Murano glass chandeliers: even at midday it could be mistaken for a decadent nightclub.
The draw of both Sarah’s flat and Sarah herself are attested to by the appearance of a grey cat that slinks across the table and stretches out on the rug in the sun. “He’s not mine!” Sarah smiles. “He lives a few streets away, but he arrived one day, meowing at the window. He’s a regular visitor – I think he just wants to be the centre of the party!” He’s come to the right place.
Sarah Arnett on Instagram
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