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.
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.
“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.
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:
- Saved from Abandonment: A Hudson Valley Farmhouse Receives the Ultimate Makeunder
- Calm and Collected: At Home with the Duo Behind Aesthetic Movement
- Kitchen of the Week: A Historic Kitchen in Shropshire, Recast in Monochrome Green