I challenge anyone to walk past Alex MacArthur without pressing their nose against the windows. Full of fascinating, beautiful, often dramatic – and sometimes weird and wonderful – antiques, the shop is a must-see in Brighton’s Kemptown.
No two visits to MacArthur are the same: one week, a 19th-century bronze Christ (£450) might be propped near a circa-1900 cabinet stuffed with taxidermy birds (£800); the next, an 18th-century Chinoiserie chest (£2,900) will be offset by a circa-1920 brass lizard (£38) and a Texan bull’s skull and horns (price on request). And that’s just peeking in through the double-fronted windows.
Inside, cool Charleston Gray walls, bare floorboards and steel-plated steps reflect the store’s juxtapositions: industrial chic (zinc lights with brass fittings, £400) with fine art (an 18th-century oil painting of the Crucifixion, £395); masculine objets (19th-century kudu antlers, £795) with more feminine items (an early-1900s crystal chandelier, £1,500).
The store is eponymously named: with a background in furniture restoration and antique jewellery, and a stint at Alfies Antique Market in London, MacArthur not only has a good eye, but also an infectious enthusiasm. Charming, chatty and informative, she knows the provenance of all her fast-changing stock, having personally tracked it down on frequent buying trips all over Europe. If you can’t see what you want, MacArthur – who also runs an interiors advice and sourcing service – will try to find it for you.
“Buying and selling what I love is what excites me,” she says, adding that she could happily live with everything she sells – and does: her home, five minutes away, is a by-appointment showroom in which almost everything is for sale. An international clientele including dealers, collectors, interior designers and hotel owners beats a path to her door. MacArthur’s formula works: during my visit, two massive, 19th-century arched mercury mirrors with oak frames (£4,500 for the pair), several lights and a 19th-century carved walnut (£2,950) were snapped up by a hotel owner on a flying visit with her stylist. Indeed, the stock will probably have turned over several times by the time you read this.
Is there anything in her shop or home that MacArthur wouldn’t sell? “Apart from the dog, the kids and me? Absolutely nothing.” That’s interesting, as I’ve got my eye on her incredibly cool jacket…