Even though I grew up in London with classical music, Victorian brick houses and raincoats, I have always loved cowboy boots, country music and weathered barns. Both of my parents were in the antiques business, my dad in first edition illustrated books and my mum in antique dolls. My upbringing allowed me to navigate London flea markets at a very young age. I learned to be quick on my feet and decisive about when to snap up a treasure and, most importantly, when to build relationships with vendors. This was the beginning of a love affair with vintage that would continue for years to come.
When I first visited Round Top, Texas, over 10 years ago, it was different from any antiques venue I had ever been to and yet there was something familiar to me. When I first began Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic in 1989, vintage treasures were always a very important part of my stores, and later, of my online business. While the core of my offerings has always been my designs of slipcovered furniture and bed linens, layering in the one-of-a-kind vintage treasures gave a romantic and magical quality. The evidence of life that is revealed in vintage finds, whether through layers of paint and patina or threadbare fabrics, are priceless and unique.
The search is part of the magic. Over the years, I had heard about the enormity of the twice-yearly Round Top antique shows. A decade ago, I visited, hopeful and prepared to fill a container for my multiple stores. On arrival, my love of cowboy boots and cowboy hats finally made sense. Sad country songs on the side of the road brought the lyrics I had loved to life, and the sun-bleached barns were just as I had dreamed.
I have always loved the opening days of Warrenton. I love searching for funky and fancy treasures, rifling through stacks of cardboard boxes filled with “junk” and piles of fabrics. I search the packed aisles for furniture, chairs, faded rugs, timeworn fabrics, art and wonky lighting. La Bahia, Blue Hills, The Chicken Ranch, The Big Red Barn, Marburger and Zapp Hall have been longtime favorite stops of mine. However, as the years have gone by some venues have opened that bring a whole new experience to this small country town. Some quite sophisticated, while still maintaining the mystique and culture of country shopping. Paul Michael’s Market Hill is one of the new shows in town. It is a sanctuary of a shopping experience. Practically speaking, air conditioning, nice bathrooms, credit card terminals, good lighting and healthy food make for a pleasurable experience, while a carefully selected, eclectic group of vendors with beautifully curated booths makes for easy shopping.
I am always looking for a specific palette and list of items. My palette has expanded from pale pink to raspberry and pale blue to teal. When once I would have only purchased distressed white authentically painted wood, I now have a great appreciation of raw wood, both bleached and darker tones.
With the world becoming so homogenized, it takes both vision and the ability to find unique items to bring beautiful and functional stories to the world. One-of-a-kind vintage beauties are that special “something” that pulls my story together. As a designer, searching for vintage is also my time to find pieces for inspiration whether for color, function or just a starting point for my design work. In the early day of vintage shopping, finding bargains was one of my priorities. But over the years, as it has become harder and more expensive for vendors to find things, today I am mostly appreciative to just find something special. And I can be sure I always will at the antique shows of Round Top, Texas.
The Outpost at Cedar Creek owned by the artist Lenore Prudhome, was where I stayed 10 years ago on my first visit to Round Top. A labor of love created by Lenore together with Danny Reibeling, it’s nestled in the countryside about six miles from the center of Round Top. It’s a magical property on 50 acres, with several vintage structures, from log cabins to barns and little cottages. Years later, I would buy this wonderful property which then became The Prairie by Rachel Ashwell. The soul of this property is the land. The charm is the buildings. Its transformation was Lenore’s aesthetic to my world of Shabby Chic. I was careful to embrace the Texas culture while the reds became pinks and some the primitive furniture was replaced with worn-down, hand-painted floral tables and cabinets and faded Florentine accents along with twinkly crystal chandeliers complementing rustic light fixtures.
This year it was time for this property to start its next chapter with new owner Holly Kuhn of Old Glory. While maintaining the magic and romance of the legacy, The Prairie at Round Top will now be her vision. It will continue to run as a B&B that will host weddings, events and workshops. I am grateful to have passed on this treasure into her hands with Danny still on board. I will continue to stay there when I come to shop the antique shows twice a year, as it would be hard to find anywhere else that offers a more peaceful and inspiring home to return to after a day of shopping in the fields.