Alex MacArthur - Alex MacArthur Interiors
I have to start with the Monastery! What an incredible space. How did it come about and did you get that “What the hell am I doing” feeling?
Yes it is an incredible space. I think it had been waiting for me to find it. I had been looking for a work/ living space for a long time; ideally an ecclesiastical or architecturally interesting industrial building, but I never imagined that I would get both in one!
The Monastery consists mainly of a two-floor chapel which was converted for various utilitarian uses in 1907, so it is a fascinating combination of 14th century monastic and brutal industrial architecture. It had been left to fall into dereliction and decay, abandoned for 10 years and the adjoining cottage uninhabited since the 50s – nobody wanted to touch it! It was too scary a prospect for most as it didn’t add up financially and had lots of red tape around
it. Luckily for the building I was following my heart and soul! The more rational “what the hell am I doing” moment lasted for more than a moment, it was a huge leap of faith and I was free-falling for a couple of years!
The monastery isn’t just a showroom, but also available as a location for filming and photoshoots, how’s that going?
The Monastery is a bit of a dream location; in addition to this unique space, which spans over 5,000 sq.ft, all of the stock is available as props, and photogenic dogs are willing to participate and pose where needed!
It took a while to get the building to the level it’s currently at in terms of aesthetics and safety, so this is a relatively new venture but one that is already showing great potential to provide the funds needed for the building’s restoration.
While on the Monastery subject, the Bible says: “Love isn’t jealous”, but every time you post a picture on Instagram I get an uncontrollable feeling of ‘love and jealousy’ in equal measure! Do I need to repent? Is there anyone you’re envious of?
If ever I feel potential envy rising I always remember the quote which says something like: “You never get rich by counting your neighbour’s wealth but by weeding your own back garden!”
It’s never a good idea to copy someone’s style, however it’s only natural to be inspired by or influenced by those you aspire to. Do you think it’s still possible to be entirely unique in this business or will you always find similarities in the way dealers do things and the pieces they sell?
I agree that there will always be overlapping tastes but I like to think that everyone is unique. I also agree that it is natural to be inspired, but I think the big thing that separates those who are artists expressing themselves and those who are imitators is integrity... or lack of it... and integrity is something you can’t copy! You either have it or you don’t.
The top dealers, must have a secret, or perhaps they just walk the thin line that separates passion from obsession, or even genius from madness. Why do some dealers, including yourself, just seem to get it right?
I’m not sure that it’s about getting it right so much as just doing your own thing and not worrying too much about what anyone else is doing. For me it has always been about creativity and self-expression, becoming aware of that is what has given it such meaning and purpose for me. It’s also about pushing the boundaries and taking risks, that’s how you evolve as a dealer and as a person!
What do you look for, or love finding when you’re buying stock?
I always look for pieces that excite me in terms of impact, statement, style, quality, form, patina and uniqueness. My stock ranges from the 17th century to the 1980s, so I tend to buy when something really grabs me. The exciting thing about this business is that you never know what’s going to turn up and as you build your experience, your knowledge and your taste constantly evolves.
When you look back over your career, is there a moment that sticks out most, a point that lead you to where you are today?
The two biggest turning points for me were realising that I didn’t need a shop and then realising that I didn’t need to do the fairs either! The most significant realisation however, was that this work is my play and my art – it is how I express myself in the world; my raison d’être!
I talk to a lot of dealers who see standing at the Battersea Decorative Fair as an achievement or something to work towards. Do you think it’s important to be seen at the big fairs to be taken seriously as a dealer?
I can only speak for myself and I’ve never really calculated my moves, ie: to do Battersea or anything else in order to be taken seriously. My ‘rising’ in terms of level has always been organic, the next obvious step or leap in my case! As a younger dealer doing Battersea meant that I could cut out the slog of doing so many less significant fairs, and as an older dealer my main motive was to pay the mortgage, which increased when I upsized!
Would you go back and do anything differently?
No, I don’t think I would! This business is and will continue to be one long learning curve and I believe, looking back, that every stage has been a necessary transition into the next and every lesson a valuable one!
What makes you happy?
Obviously my kids, dogs and work are a big part of my life and if you add to that this building, then I guess what’s left is love and friendship.