I fell down the rabbit hole in Round Top, Texas.
I grew up (for the most part) in Texas, so I am no stranger to its multitudes. A product of its sheer size, the state is home to a range of terrains, communities, and cultures. Despite my suburban Dallas upbringing peppered with many trips to the tangential major cities, I was still in awe of what I discovered in Round Top.
For the most part, the town of Round Top is home to 87 people, but twice a year opens its doors for eighteen days to an estimated 100,000 visitors for the biannual Round Top Antiques Fair. (The town literally ran out of gas one day when we were there; yes, you read that correctly.) For those two quick spurts of time, Round Top houses its legendary antiques show with over 80 venues and 4,000 dealers along an 11-mile stretch of Highway 237.
An owner of a booth I visited at Marburger Farm (a particularly desirable spot along the strip) told me she was in the process of renouncing her Dallas storefront to focus solely on selling antiques in Round Top and Aspen. She spends most of the year sourcing for the two shows throughout Europe. I snagged these details as she ran around helping her many visitors and I admired a particularly impressive pair of early 18th century Neapolitan doors.
At Marburger and many other spots, doors open at 9 a.m. You better get there early because soon after “SOLD” stickers decorate more objects than not. Depending on your vendor, the treasures span from shabby chic wooden benches to mid century modern chrome shelves and everything in between. “The Round Top Antiques Fair allows all these beautiful things to keep telling their stories,” says Sheila Youngblood. “The thrill of the hunt is as alive in me today as it was 30 years ago.”
I had the privilege of spending the week as a guest of Youngblood’s at her hotel (if you can call it that) Rancho Pillow. Though a year-round escapist’s dream, Rancho Pillow’s calling card is its proximity to the renowned antiques fair. Somewhere between Houston and Austin lies this 20-acre refuge which adheres to none of the traditional elements of a hotel. Instead of starched, key-card rooms, you can stay in singular dwellings like The Barn, The Surf Shack, or The Red House (my place of residence). And one lucky set can call a teepee home for their stay. All of which are decorated with finds from the local antiques show and Youngblood’s many travels—don’t miss the sequin saddle strung from the ceiling. Shower outdoors, take a dip in the saltwater pool at any hour of the night, and try to catch a midnight performance by the fire pit.
Youngblood and her colorful style attract an entourage of interestings. She found a kindred spirit in Richard Wainwright of A Current Affair, a community of over 200 vintage retailers and private dealers. Throughout the allotted time of the antiques fair, he set up shop at Rancho Pillow (which he and his gang will do once more this March) with over 40 exhibitions. As a fashion lover myself, I am still mildly obsessed with the finds I scored here last fall.
Interior designer Kelly Wearstler is yet another creative in Youngblood’s entourage who made an appearance during my stay. Though her kinship with Youngblood is personal, her trips to Round Top are professional. Traveling with an interior designer reminds you that for many attendees this is work, not play—though the champagne in the sprinter van that carted us back and forth from the venue was a bit misleading. Wearstler and her team are there on a mission; this is where they source and stockpile unique pieces to use throughout the year. The experience is also a lot of fun,” adds Wearstler, “each time I meet new, inspiring vendors and collectors, and I especially love to head out with my studio so that we can experience it together and bond.”
At the end of each day of shopping and mingling, Youngblood hosted elaborate feasts on the vast expanse of fields of Rancho Pillow. There was inspiring cuisine from chef Ana Castro, an all-female mariachi band, illustrious table settings, and chatter into the wee hours. In a groundhog-day-like cycle, guests I was seated with, all friends of Youngblood’s of course, flagged me down at their booths the next day to show me their own cultivated finds. Needless today, I fell down the rabbit hole in Round Top and emerged with some very aesthetically pleasing keepsakes to prove it.