YOU only have to walk through the front door to see why the eclectic home of artist Rebecca Sophie Leigh is her inspirational sanctuary.
The walls are adorned with quirky portraits, vintage posters and iconic monochrome photos. Every surface is packed with treasures and trinkets and she has created a magical mural of images in her work space, torn from old books and magazines.
Her whimsical impressionist portraits have earned her not only a place at the prestigious Chelsea Arts Club, but also an impressive following. So it’s remarkable that until two years ago, Rebecca had never picked up a paintbrush. She was a struggling single mother bringing up her two young sons. Today her paintings hang on the walls of royalty, designers and the coolest celebrities.
Actress and Primrose Hill set matriarch Sadie Frost has exhibited her work and is a fan, as is fashion designer Matthew Williamson. Interiors queen Pearl Lowe also has Rebecca’s paintings on the walls of her fabulous family home.
And hip royals Lord Freddy Windsor and his actress wife Lady Sophie (half-sister of Claudia Winkleman) have a collection of her stunning work.
‘I’m a little overwhelmed to be honest,’ explains Rebecca, 47, modestly as we sip tea and eat cake at the kitchen table where she is painting. ‘I’m still pinching myself.’
So how did this come about? Rebecca has no idea how she ended up in an art supply shop two years ago and came out armed with paintbrushes, acrylic paints and pallet trays.
‘I got this sudden urge to paint and became infatuated with art materials. I had no idea what I was doing. It felt like the brush was literally painting for me.’
A friend saw her first two pieces of work and offered to display them in her shop. Within two days they were both sold — to Lady Windsor. The director of Mulberry New York, a friend of the Windsors, bought her next piece. And after Sadie Frost put on an exhibition of her work, she sold every piece in her collection.
‘I feel honoured that my paintings hang in the lovely homes of so many amazing, creative people. I don’t even have a website — I sell through my Instagram account to people from all walks of life, from all over the world.’
Rebecca’s own home is special, too. A four-bedroom Edwardian semi on the London and Surrey borders, it was a ruin when she bought it nine years ago.
‘It was so charming, I fell in love with it. But all the pipes under the building had to be replaced, so halfway through building the extension I ran out of money. There was literally no wall at the back, so we had it boarded up with ply board. The boys and I stuck pictures all over it to make it look homely. But it was cold in the winter!’
It took three years before the wall and bi-fold doors were added. And a further two before she had the money to build steps down to the garden.
‘It was a five foot drop, but we made ramps to get in and out. The boys thought it was great fun,’ she laughs. ‘Renovating this house has been a labour of love.’
But it’s the finishing touches that give her the greatest pleasure.
‘I found the blue wooden cabinet in the kitchen in a skip and painted it in Farrow & Ball paint then rubbed it down with wire wool. It now displays my gin collection and a vintage chandelier given to me by my dad.
‘I love my coloured vintage chandelier in the lounge from an antique market. The pink fan on my bedroom wall is an original vintage feather head dress from the Notting Hill Carnival. I also collect antique glass perfume bottles, which look amazing on my dressing table.
‘And I buy a lot of artwork on eBay — you can get pick up some amazing retro posters, like my New York Dolls print. The trick to making them look fabulous is to get yourself a really good framer.’
Rebecca found the vibrant newspaper-style painting of a Quality Street soldier in the kitchen hanging on a wall in the street on London’s Brick Lane. ‘It was about to rain so I didn’t want it to get ruined.’
‘The bowler hat, pots and statues on the lounge cabinet are all flea market finds. The fabulous velvet tiger cushion is from House Of Hackney — I love it.’ The feature wall in the kitchen is plastered with vintage magazine pages she got free from Gumtree. ‘I use it as a mood board for my paintings. But I plan to cover the whole wall and preserve it with an acrylic varnish.
‘Then I’ll stain it with teabags to make it look old. And I’m going to build shelves over the top of it.’
The quirky downstairs toilet is also plastered with colourful prints and Rebecca has made a loo-roll holder from a cobbler’s wooden lathe.
The dining table, which doubles up as her artist’s workbench is made from scaffolding boards.
‘There’s even old woodworm holes in it. I love the imperfections in everything — people, objects, life. It makes everything so much more interesting!’
Which brings us nicely back to Rebecca’s beautiful portraits — inspired by the imperfect but naïve glamour of a bygone era.
‘My grandma used to take me to the theatre when I was a kid, and I was inspired by the costumes and make-up. I wanted to be a make-up artist when I got older but my parents couldn’t afford to send me on the college course.
‘I had no idea the desire was still there. But when I picked up a paintbrush, it revealed itself.
‘I also had no idea until recently that my great-grandmother was also an artist and member of the Chelsea Arts Club. It sent a shiver down my spine when I found out. But suddenly everything makes perfect sense.’
As she’s painting, she dips her paintbrush into her cup of tea by mistake. ‘See,’ she laughs, ‘I still have no idea what I’m doing!’ And it’s that refreshing modesty that has helped make Rebecca and her work the toast of the art world.
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Ramp up the eclectic look, with Dar Lighting’s multi-coloured Souk chandelier. £101.99, wayfair.co.uk
A proper pearl
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For love of the dog
Pay homage to your four-legged friend with this charming Sitting Greyhound resin statue. £42, grahamandgreen.co.uk
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