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Welcome to My Monastery: Alex MacArthur’s New Antiques Showroom in Sussex

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Welcome to My Monastery: Alex MacArthur’s New Antiques Showroom in Sussex

March 16, 2018

Antiques dealer Alex MacArthur has a weakness for the historic and forgotten. And she loves to think big. How else to explain what would compel her to single-handedly take on the restoration of an abandoned monastery?

Three years ago, MacArthur relocated her celebrated showroom in Brighton, England, an hour-and-a-half east along the English Channel to the town of Rye, where she took ownership of the Austin Friary, a Grade II crumbling stone compound on a hill off the High Street. The surviving chapel dates from the 14th century and was built by an order of Augustinians; at the turn of the 20th century, the monks long gone, the building was converted for utilitarian uses (such as a barracks and later a pottery workshop). “So it’s a fascinating mix of centuries-old monastic and brutal industrial,” says MacArthur.

It is beyond demanding and impossible to heat, yes, but for MacArthur shoring up the monastery has enabled her to fully explore her many passions, which range from rescuing chateau doors and other giant castoffs to designing dramatic interiors, curating art shows, building chandeliers, and living with her “family of three dogs,” including a Great Dane. “Everything I buy I love and is an expression of a part of me,” she tells us. “I would rather buy something rare, mesmerizing, and once-in-a-lifetime than something with a profit in it. That’s how I’ve ended up being the custodian of this incredible building.” Join us for a look around.

Photography courtesy of Alex MacArthur Interiors.

open by appointment, the chapel is marked with macarthur&#8\2\17;s discreet 12
Above: Open by appointment, the chapel is marked with MacArthur’s discreet nameplate and an eight-pointed star, “a symbol of redemption and new beginnings.”
macarthur grew up in scotland and ran away from home at \16; she got her start  13
Above: MacArthur grew up in Scotland and ran away from home at 16; she got her start in the trade back in the 1980s by assisting her furniture restorer Italian boyfriend. Her tastes are catholic: The monastery offerings span the centuries up to the present and fill a collection of rooms both intimate and gargantuan.

Her clientele is equally wide ranging—private clients, hotel owners, interior designers, and fellow dealers—and the by-appointment setup, she says, “gives the place the feeling of a secret, private member’s club.” Among the goods shown here in the downstairs main room—formerly the factory floor—are midcentury stone planters and a brass-detailed chandelier that MacArthur put together from 1960s Paris streetlights.

the chapel has a soaring openwork ceiling and \1907 factory style windows that  14
Above: The chapel has a soaring openwork ceiling and 1907 factory-style windows that face bricked-up 14th-century tracery windows.

“I  had been looking for an ecclesiastical or architecturally interesting industrial building to use as a live-work space, though I never imagined I would get both in one building,” says MacArthur. When she has visitors, she lights candles and church incense and pipes in surround-sound Handel arias.

centuries old panther skeletons are displayed alongside a modernist armchair an 15
Above: Centuries-old panther skeletons are displayed alongside a modernist armchair and suspended landscape painting by Dion Salvador Lloyd, one of a group of contemporary artists who MacArthur represents.
lit by a vintage movie light, quinn, macarthur&#8\2\17;s harlequin great da 16
Above: Lit by a vintage movie light, Quinn, MacArthur’s harlequin Great Dane, poses with French bull dog, Mimi, who is perched on 1960s leather chair by Chinese designer Kwok Hoi Chan. The giant chandelier is 19th-century Italian and the aforementioned ironwork chateau doors tower in the background.
a series of mezzanines and annexes branch off the chapel. this one serves as ma 17
Above: A series of mezzanines and annexes branch off the chapel. This one serves as MacArthur’s office.
macarthur rents the spaces as locations for shoots of all sorts, and her dogs s 18
Above: MacArthur rents the spaces as locations for shoots of all sorts, and her dogs stand by as ready models. Toby, the Jack Russell, is on the right.
 &#8\2\20;rye trawler,&#8\2\2\1; a painting by contemporary b 19
Above: “Rye Trawler,” a painting by contemporary British artist Andrew Viner, is displayed in one of the ancillary spaces.
another andrew viner marine study hangs between a train rack and metal porch se 20
Above: Another Andrew Viner marine study hangs between a train rack and metal porch settee. MacArthur sees the ongoing restoration of the structure as a lifetime project.

Go to Alex MacArthur to see more and to browse the current offerings. And stay tuned: This Sunday we’ll be visiting MacArthur and pets at home in the monastery’s adjoining Georgian cottage.

For more artful historic rehabs, take a look at:

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