Im­pres­sion­ist art­works and tex­tiles, set against pale plas­ter walls and colour­ful painted pieces, bring a burst of per­son­al­ity to Jes­sica Zoob’s small ter­raced house in Sus­sex


The pale plas­ter walls of Jes­sica Zoob’s Sus­sex home pro­vide the per­fect back­drop for her paint­ings

hen Jes­sica Zoob was look­ing to move from Brighton after a slower pace of life, the at­trac­tive coun­try town of Lewes in the Sus­sex Downs seemed ideal. “We knew it well, as we have friends who are lo­cal,” she says. With a long his­tory as the county seat, a bustling mar­ket town and a bridg­ing point over the River Ouse, it has no­table land­marks, such as im­pres­sive Lewes Cas­tle, built shortly after the Nor­man in­va­sion, and The 15th­cen­tury Book­shop at one end of the high street, which forms the spine of the town. Wil­liam Mor­ris de­scribed it as “like a box of toys un­der a great am­phithe­atre of chalk hills”. The ar­chi­tec­ture is a jos­tle of pe­ri­ods and styles, and be­yond, on all sides, the Sus­sex chalk hills can be spot­ted, smooth and grassy; then, fur­ther away still, the sea at Newhaven and Seaford.

When they first saw this 130-year-old house for sale, Jes­sica, a con­tem­po­rary im­pres­sion­ist painter, and her two small daugh­ters loved it in­stantly. It had one room down­stairs run­ning from front to back, and two bed­rooms above. “It was big enough for three, just a short walk from the high street, and there’s a school op­po­site,” Jes­sica re­mem­bers. “It’s a per­fect house for life here. Some­times we had 13 chil­dren down­stairs for the girls’ tea par­ties – I wasn’t at all pre­cious about it.” But, over the years, each room has changed iden­tity many times ac­cord­ing to the fam­ily’s needs.

Next door was a tum­ble­down garage, which, after they moved in, was con­verted into a stu­dio for Jes­sica: “The Den was my haven, my pri­vate space.” Then it be­came a spare bed­room and a sewing room for the girls. “The light is so beau­ti­ful in there but, look­ing back, I don’t know how I man­aged to work in such a small space,” she re­mem­bers. The only way to ac­cess it is by

tak­ing the ‘nar­row way’ from the sit­ting room – not quite wide enough for a door but just pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate.

Be­cause of its size, the most im­por­tant thing in the house soon be­came stor­age. A shop-fit­ter friend built cup­boards in ev­ery pos­si­ble space they could find, clev­erly dis­guised with wooden tongue-and-groove and flat-fronted doors on spring catches. Fur­ni­ture, even the cof­fee ta­ble, has also been utilised for stow­ing items. A big­ger door­way from the hall to the sit­ting room opened up the down­stairs space. Jes­sica wanted the walls to be plas­tered white and even­tu­ally found a woman who could do it, but, as she couldn’t af­ford to em­ploy her, worked as a plas­terer’s mate for three weeks dur­ing a freez­ing cold Jan­uary to learn the skill for her­self. “I’m so pleased I did that,” she says. “It brings the whole house to­gether with a lovely tex­ture that has more life to it than nor­mal, very flat plas­ter.” Wooden floors were laid through­out to cover con­crete, and reg­u­lar chil­dren’s paint­ing par­ties helped to add lay­ers of colour on them. Over time, skates, rollerblades, scrap­ing chairs and stilet­tos have added to a more lived-in look.

The sofa below Jes­sica’s paint­ing Mid­night Gar­den is an un­wanted shop fit­ting on which sit cush­ions that have been cov­ered in ma­te­rial de­signed for Jes­sica’s col­lec­tion at Black Edi­tion, while her grand­mother’s bed­spread cov­ers built-in stor­age chests with seat­ing. Above hang two art­works that are part of a small col­lec­tion painted when stay­ing at Monk’s House, Vir­ginia Woolf ’s home and now a Na­tional Trust prop­erty not far from the town, where her sister-in-law Caro­line Zoob lived at the time.

Un­der the gar­den win­dow by the kitchen, a fold­away ta­ble with a col­lec­tion of brightly coloured chairs is the main eat­ing area. “It can open up to ac­com­mo­date more chairs and more peo­ple, a lit­tle like the house it­self – it’s quite re­mark­able,” Jes­sica says. “One morn­ing

we just de­cided to each paint a chair, which were flea-mar­ket finds.” Her love of mar­kets and fairs has pro­vided some well-loved pieces, such as an iron can­dle holder from Ard­ingly An­tiques Fair in Sus­sex and a large arm­chair in the liv­ing area, which is cov­ered in Jes­sica’s strik­ing tex­tile for Black Edi­tion. “Driv­ing through Por­to­bello in Lon­don one day, we spot­ted the chair out on the kerb. There was a cho­rus of ‘Stop, stop, we must have it’,” she laughs.

The gal­ley kitchen “is tiny but it works,” Jes­sica says, “and the gar­den is the same – there were steps up to a con­crete back yard and a rather tragic conifer in a pot when we ar­rived.” This has been modernised with a wooden sun deck and a small pool sur­rounded by ram­bling roses and a va­ri­ety of climbers to give pri­vacy from the houses be­yond the gar­den gate.

After mak­ing a mil­len­nium res­o­lu­tion, Jes­sica started paint­ing in 2000. A for­mer ca­reer as a the­atre de­signer had pre­pared her for work­ing with paint: a li­brary in her par­ents’ home was con­verted to a stu­dio, then she trained at Cen­tral School of Art and Not­ting­ham Univer­sity. “Art school taught me to see what was around me,” she ex­plains. “I re­alised there is beauty ev­ery­where, even in crum­bling old walls and peel­ing posters.”

Jes­sica loves oils be­cause they al­low her to play with tex­ture, us­ing lay­ers to achieve the re­sult. Paint­ings can some­times take years to com­plete as she moves from one to another while they dry, and her pic­tures have grown in size since she ac­quired a new stu­dio out­side Lewes. “They are as big as the space al­lows me,” she says, “which is thrilling – and it has given me more room at home.” Space to con­tinue to be in­spired by her sur­round­ings, no doubt.

See more of Jes­sica’s work at jes­si­ca­ and her fab­ric with Black Edi­tion at blackedi­

CLOCK­WISE FROM THIS PIC­TURE White plas­tered walls are a per­fect back­drop to Jes­sica’s art­works, in­clud­ing Mid­night Gar­den, in the seat­ing area; the tiny kitchen fea­tures rus­tic tongue-and-groove pan­elling; a later ad­di­tion, the at­tic space is light...

In the main din­ing area, an ex­tend­able ta­ble sits be­neath a win­dow over­look­ing the gar­den. Brightly painted chairs re­flect Jes­sica’s love of colour

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT The stair­case was painted white to brighten the hall­way; Jes­sica’s paint­ing Au­tumn Es­cape hangs above a vin­tage cup­board in the bath­room; one bed­room is tucked un­der the eaves

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