Sarah Jane Morris is not afraid of pattern, colour, doing it herself – or anything really – as can be seen in her St Leonards house which sings as joyously as she does

In one of the rooms in Sarah Jane Morris and Mark Pulsford’s house in St Leonards-on-Sea, I counted no fewer than 14 different patterns and prints, dancing across wallpaper and fabric, shimmying on walls and curtains, teasing from furniture, the bed and cushions. And I might have missed a few.
It takes a lot of confidence to decorate like this – something SJM has no shortage of. After forty five years as a singer and recording artist, she has her own label ‘Fallen Angel Records’ and is about to release her 16th solo album ‘The Sisterhood’. You might know her name from her earlier work when she was one of the singers with The Communards – her deep-pitched voice a brilliant foil for Jimmy Somerville’s famous falsetto.
With such an exciting performing career, which still includes a lot of touring, it’s perhaps not surprising that Sarah Jane is no stranger to the packing chest. “I’ve moved 37 times,” she tells me, beaming her trademark smile, as we sit on the printed velvet covered sofas in the sitting room.

The kitchen, at the back of the house, had already been converted when Sarah Jane and Mark bought the house, with a professional kitchen stainless-steel unit and range set against a bare-brick wall, with a Crittal window and door looking out on to the courtyard

“We looked at 50 properties and then three months later I had a call from the estate agent, saying this one was back on the market”

Left: Open shelving and concealed wall cupboards provide plenty of storage space for kitchen sundries Below left & right: A doorway at the back of the kitchen leads to an almost labyrinthine twist of storage, utility room, laundry drying space and downstairs shower room

“And lived in a lot of rentals, so I’m very quick at making a place look like home.”
But there is nothing transient about this quirky house on a quiet corner in St Leonards’ fashionable ‘Mercatoria’ area – perhaps because it was Sarah Jane’s second go at living in the Hastings locale. “I moved to St Leonards-on-Sea 15 years ago,” she says, “to be near my best friend, Angie,

who I met when I was 20. But just 18 months later she died. I was heartbroken and couldn’t stay in Hastings.”
But in the way these things do, it all worked out, because by then Sarah Jane had met and married her husband, visual artist Mark Pulsford, and with her son Otis at a good stage in his education to move schools, they shifted east, to live in Mark’s house, near Canterbury.

Above: Sarah Jane’s office, where she writes her songs Right: A corner of the sitting room is home to part of the couple’s record collection and a copper sculpture made by Sarah Jane’s sister in law, Adaesi Ukairo Below right: A painting by Mark’s father, artist Charles Pulsford, hangs above a sideboard in the perfect tones of green for the sitting room

Until Sarah Jane’s itchy feet reactivated. “Four years ago I turned 60, which is a time for reflection,” she says. “I felt like I’d met my people when I lived in Hastings before and I wanted to come back. Mark agreed to the move.
“We saw this house just as we put Mark’s place on the market and it was perfect for us. It had been converted from a shop and had this big front room, ideal as a gallery for Mark’s work and for performance, for mine. Upstairs there was an en suite bedroom all ready for Airbnb, which was something else we wanted.”
But then, as so often with the heartbreaking ins and outs of property transactions, the house was suddenly taken off the market. They kept looking. “We looked at 50 properties and then three months later I had a call from the estate agent, saying this one was back on the market and I was able to tell them that we’d had an offer on our house the previous day. So we immediately offered the asking price to secure it.”
With its former uses first as a pub – “back in the day when there was one on every corner” – and then as a shop,

Above: With its former uses as a pub and then as a shop, the sitting room with its inky dark walls has a lot of windows Below: The main bedroom is home to one of Sarah Jane’s handmade bedspreads in printed velvet sourced from eBay. She also tracked down a roll of original 1920s wallpaper from the selling site, and a rare Roberts radio – in leopard print, of course

the two sitting room walls on the corner site have a lot of windows. People could see in and spotting the amazing, fringed lampshades that Sarah Jane makes by putting new fabric on old frames, they thought it was still a going concern and tried to come in. “We put up Victorian nets,” says Sarah Jane, laughing, “and then we blocked a couple of the windows off so there would be more hanging space for paintings.” Very cleverly these are hung from the picture rail, so they can be switched about without banging nails into the wall, and stand out beautifully against the green/grey paint.
Moving from the sitting room to the kitchen at the back of the house, you start to get an impression of the unusual layout, so different from the rows of picturesque – but tiny – two-up, two-down early Victorian artisans’ dwellings all around it.
The kitchen had already been converted when they bought the house and has a very cool professional kitchen stainless-steel unit with integral sinks, against a bare-brick wall, with a Crittal window and door looking out onto the verdant courtyard. At right angles to that there is a set of steel drawers, topped with wood, and a stainless steel range. All of it was there.
It has an industrial look – which is a brilliant counterpoint to everything else in the room which is very much Sarah Jane’s style, showcasing her love of wallpaper. Or would it be rude to say obsession?
You get a good idea of how she likes to play with printed paper, in the area around the kitchen wood burner – which was also already there when they moved and is flanked by two very comfortable chairs, covered in a mixture of printed velvets (another theme throughout the house, of which more to come). I can witness from personal experience that this is a supremely cosy place to sit for a chat with a cup of tea. “We don’t have a telly,” says Sarah Jane. “We sit here and read to each other.”

From either of the chairs you can admire Sarah Jane’s wallpaper handiwork with a fine cheetah print on the chimney breast – and then actual cheetahs walking along in rows in opposite directions inside the stove alcove. Sarah Jane cut each one of them out of another roll of wallpaper and pasted them down adding an individual touch. “I got into wallpaper patchwork during lockdown,” she says, “I would buy one roll on eBay. Some of them would have been £100 or £200 a roll new, but when there is just one left over you can get it for £40.”
The wallpaper cavalcade is strongly apparent in the rambling area that was previously a workshop with concrete floor and exposed brickwork. This space features a shower room and loo (with gorgeous Kermit-green Italian stud rubber flooring) and a laundry area, complete with an enviable Victorian-style hoist airer, the sink surround a mélange of different patterned locally sourced tiles. “I was inspired by the paintings of Édouard Vuillard,” Sarah Jane explains. “He painted interiors which often feature a lot of clashing prints in one room,” adding, “As I have to iron for the Airbnb room, I wanted to turn it into an enjoyable experience.”
There are two more rooms on the ground floor – Sarah’s office, where she writes songs, and Mark’s painting studio – both fonts of artistic output, adding to the sense of creative thrum that imbues the entire house. In Sarah’s space one of her gold discs hangs on the wall – a sure sign you are in the house of a recording star.
Upstairs the themes of mixed prints – always with a touch of leopard somewhere – and wallpapers continues with even greater abandon. Particularly in the Airbnb suite, which is where I counted the 14 different patterns. There are

14 different patterns make up the decor in the Airbnb suite, where Sarah Jane has papered, painted, recovered and re-sewn to create the finished look

There are two different wallpapers on one wardrobe in there – with parrot doorknobs for good measure. The gloriously printed velvet bedspread was a find from eBay, one of Sarah Jane’s favourite sources, along with Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, jumble sales – and skips. It arrived a curtain and was transformed into its new role with the application of Sarah Jane’s favourite long fringing.
An IKEA tub chair in here, with loose covers of yet another printed velvet, made by Sarah Jane’s friend Wendy May, becomes a thing of mystery and beauty. “Someone gave me a sewing machine in lockdown and everything I can’t do I hand to Wendy May who knows what she’s doing. I’m just making it up!”

Next door in the main bedroom, a lovely big space, is another Sarah Jane special bedspread, in printed velvet, of course. “I bought seven metres of fabric with a printing fault on eBay,” she says, “and it was made into a quilt using a blanket for wadding and an old sheet for the lining, with enough material left to make curtains for one of the bedroom windows.” In here is a particularly special online find – a roll of original 1920s wallpaper, which Sarah Jane had put up by an expert, Annemarie Wrigley. “She showed me how to put wallpaper up,” says Sarah Jane, “and how to use it on furniture.” The leopard print element in this room is a rare Roberts radio, another eBay treasure.
After completing the full house tour, we head back down to the sitting room, where it is deliciously easy to get comfortable on the broad choice of sofas and chairs.
All of them are generously be-cushioned and covered in velvet, except for one amazing chair upholstered entirely in needlepoint, which was done by Sarah Jane’s Aunt Susie. Being handy with a needle clearly runs in the family.
We settle in here for Sarah Jane to tell me about her latest project, an album of songs inspired by and in tribute to ten of the great female singer songwriters. Called The Sisterhood, it blends decades and genres, with names spanning from Billie Holiday to Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin to Sinead O’Connor. “I’d had the idea for the project and I’d bought all the biographies,” says Sarah Jane, “then with Covid I couldn’t tour, so I had time to work on it. Mark and I wrote the lyrics and Tony Remy (my right hand man) and I wrote the music and turned them into songs.

Above: The main bathroom is a riot of foliage, with an unusual black shower curtain (reflected in mirror), tropical leaves wallpaper and patterned tiling
Right: The calming landing and white ceilings tie the vibrant room schemes together

It just flowed. I wrote each song in an hour.”
Initially, the room we are sitting in was a makeshift recording studio, with the album then finished in a professional studio in Eastbourne. Sarah Jane called on the same resourcefulness which has so richly decorated her house to pull this project together. While they were recording the tracks her band all stayed with friends of hers in St Leonards and, to pay for the studio recording, she had a brilliant idea. “I advertised on Facebook that I would do a masterclass to 25 people who wanted to learn three part backing vocal harmonies to four of my songs, that they would, at a later date, be able to come to Ronnie Scott’s and sing with me. It sold out in an hour”.
The album will be released on Sarah Jane’s own label, Fallen Angel Records, with the perfect release date on March 8th – International Women’s Day. It’s a project full of heart and soul, just like this house.

To find out more about Sarah Jane’s new album, see sarahjanemorris.co.uk.
For more info. on Mark Pulsford and Adaesi Ukairo you can visit markpulsford.com and ukairo.com.

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