Red, yellow, pink and green

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American artist and interior designer Judy Sale has brought colour and an international style to her home in Brontë country. Sharon Dale reports.

After a lifetime of crossing continents, American artist and interior designer Judy Sale has finally put down roots in the most unlikely location.

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

She grew up in America’s Midwest, studying art at university, before becoming a military wife, marrying an American serviceman, then an English one. Their call of duty took her all over the world from Canada to Asia and Europe before she ended up in Haworth five years ago.

“I’ve lived in eight different countries so I don’t know where home is any more. Home is where the art is, that’s how I look at it,” says Judy, whose paintings reflect her multi-cultural experiences.

Her journey has been full of adventures and adversity, and her most recent stops were London then Italy, where she bought and restored a clutch of medieval houses in a small village close to the Italian Riviera.

“I studied interior design in the USA and have always loved it. When I lived in army quarters, I couldn’t stand the uniformity. The first thing I did was redecorate and hang my paintings,” she says.

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

“Italy was a challenge not least because I didn’t speak the language but I learned builders’ Italian and got by. Although it is a beautiful place, I began to feel a little isolated and wanted to come back to the UK, which is how I ended up here in Haworth.”

She chose Brontë country because she had a friend there and had never lived in Yorkshire before. Her first property was a quaint cottage on the Main Street, which she renovated. It was too small to store her work and it was dark so she sold it and bought a house that was lighter and bigger. It’s a complete departure from her usual choice of home. A relatively new four-bedroom townhouse, it looks like all the others on the row.

Judy describes the exterior as “uninspiring” but the interior is quite the opposite. The rooms are arranged on three floors with an enormous open-plan living area at the top of the house, accessed by a spiral staircase.

Thanks to her artistic and interior design skills, it has been transformed into a sensational space featuring dramatic use of colour.

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

The home of artist Judy Sale in Haworth, near Bradford. Pictures by James Hardisty

The sitting room is deep orange, while the bedroom downstairs is lime green and another is yellow. Far from being gaudy, they work beautifully and add wow factor.

“Everything was magnolia when I bought the house but it was well designed and the developer didn’t stint on anything. I knew I could make it more colourful and interesting,” says Judy, who adds: “My colour sense comes from my travels to Asia, Italy and Cyprus, and these countries have no fear of colour, unlike here where people are frightened of it.”

Her art, which features in collections all over the world, is everywhere and each piece tells a story. Judy often applies found objects to her canvases, including the lid from an olive crate and bits from an old tree that she found close to an old monastery she restored in Cyprus. The paintings she did in Italy feature items she found during the renovation, like tiles and some ironmongery from an old door. This mixed media approach adds texture and interest.

“Paintings can have a powerful effect on a room and are really worth investing in. I always make the point that if you put artwork on a wall you don’t need so much furniture and clutter. You can visually fill a space, rather than physically fill it with tables pushed against a wall.

“If people question the cost, I tell them that console tables cost quite a lot, so why not spend the same amount of money on a painting?”

Her own furniture is functional and inexpensive. She sold most of her old furniture to the person who bought her cottage. So her sofa is from Ikea, as are the bathroom drawers that she has customised with paint effects. Other pieces are second-hand and dispensable. Her keepsakes, however, have travelled everywhere with her and include the quilts her mother made.

“My whole family did quilts. It was a social thing. They’d all sit round a big quilting frame stitching and chatting,” she says.

Judy also invested in silk curtains for the sitting room and bought rugs on a holiday in Morocco. She blew the budget on lighting, hiring designer Chris Thomas to create a scheme to illuminate the stairs with lights that can change colour from pink to blue, and orange to red and green. The effect is stunning.

“Lighting is so important and when you buy a fitting you should be thinking about the light it throws out not just the style,” she advises.

Down in her studio on the ground floor she has plenty of natural light, which is perfect for working at her home-made easels, which are “three bits of wood knocked together”, and for teaching her art classes.

“It’s a great space and my paintings are starting to include my surroundings here in Yorkshire. You find that an artist’s work is often biographical,” says Judy. “A lot of mine reflect my travels. I also like to think there’s a lot of joy in them too.”

• For more on Judy’s art and her interior design consultancy visit