By JULIA HEALY
Forget Paris’s Saint-Ouentin Flea Market and London’s Portobello Road. Round Top, Texas—population 90—is where you’ll find the real treasures: one-of-a-kind antiques and art from around the world, to decorate your digs in Instagram-worthy style.
For 18 days each Spring and Fall, this Texas Hill Country hamlet morphs into a throbbing nerve center of specialized dealers catering to Houston socialites, Austin decorators and tech titans, Hollywood celebrities, kitsch collectors and funky glampers.
Round Top offers antique and vintage wares to suit almost any taste. Here are just a few examples: a 1970s Lucite deer-head wall sconce; a pair of 14-foot persimmon-and-eggplant Fortuny silk drapes rescued from a Paris flat; au courant gold-and-pearl earrings from 1st century Rome; a Bridgerton-esque mahogany dining table with 12 matching chairs; a 1920s woman’s wool swimsuit framed in a modern white shadowbox; a set of 1950 Hans Wegner wishbone chairs in ash.
Design afficionados have long been privy to the charms of Round Top. Londoner Rachel Ashwell—of Shabby Chic fame—fell in love with Round Top in 2010. In 2011 she opened The Prairie, a five-house bed and breakfast on 46 acres that has since become an addiction recovery center. HGTV fans of “Fixer Upper” may remember Chip and Joanna Gaines at Round Top in Season 1, scoring pendant lamps with their trademark farmhouse-chic style. Grace Mitchell, star of “One of a Kind,” was spotted treasure-hunting at the 2021 spring show.
Located halfway between Austin and Houston, the Round Top Antiques Show was a socially distanced event before anyone ever heard the term. Twice a year, more than 2,500 dealers fill enormous tents, barns and dance halls festooning 21 miles of Highway 237 from Burton to Warrenton. (A smaller three-day winter show was recently added.)
The Round Top Antiques Show began in 1968 with one show on one weekend. Today the name is somewhat misleading, because the original show is no longer in Round Top, and the “show” now comprises 80 or more venues with different days and hours of operation spread across five towns.
The original venue, “the show that started it all,” moved from Round Top to The Big Red Barn in Carmine. The Big Red Barn and its newer counterpart in Round Top proper, Marburger Farm, are the best-known venues for their size and quality, each with hundreds of dealers offering world-class American and European goods.
All venues differ in that some are open for just a few days of the 18-day show, while others are open year-round. Some venues are free and some charge admission. Parking is free in some; others offer shuttle service. Packing and shipping services are available at the larger venues. Food vendors abound. Porta-potties are common, with porcelain options available on a more limited basis.
Round Top Insider Tips
The Fall 2021 Show is scheduled for October 14 – 30: book your lodging soon. Hotels from Austin to Houston fill up months in advance.
To get there, fly into Austin or Houston and rent a car. Houston is the best bet—flights from Cleveland are more affordable and plentiful, and traffic jams in Austin are legendary. Enjoy the country scenery on the drive from the airport. Springtime carpets of bluebonnets, bobbing oil derricks, black iron ranch gates and an occasional longhorn dot the landscape.
Arrive on day one or two for the best selection. Serious buyers have their favorite vendors and plan to beat the crowds before the goods are picked over. At The Big Red Barn and Marburger Farm, VIP tickets are available for early shoppers.
Show up on the last day for the best prices. Dealers will often slash prices rather than re-pack and re-haul unsold inventory.
Chat up the dealers to learn more and train your eye. Good dealers are veritable fountains of knowledge and will share their expertise willingly if they are not too busy with other customers. Most are happy to let you snap a photo of their items, if you ask first. When you find something you like, buy it on the spot. By the end of the day, it’ll be gone or you’ll have trouble remembering where you saw it.
Come prepared. Do your research and plan your strategy: choose the venues that interest you, the days and times of operation, ticket prices (if any) and parking availability. Bring plenty of cash—not all dealers accept plastic and the onsite ATMs often run dry. Visit https://roundtop.com for information to help plan your trip.
Dress for success. Opt for practical, layered outfits with a little polish—southerners tend to dress up a bit more than Clevelanders do. Plus, you’ll want to look your best in case you stumble on a chance for a selfie with a celebrity. Texas weather is changeable and sometimes extreme. Spring or fall, you may encounter heat, cold, rain, sun, wind, or all five. Wear comfortable shoes that can get muddy or dusty—or pretend you’re a local and don a pair of cowboy boots. Bring a large tote bag for sunscreen, water, hand sanitizer, and small purchases.
Dining in Roundtop
Lulu’s Italian Restaurant and the adjacent Il Cuculo bar add an element of L.A. panache to Round Top. On the last day of the show this spring, music stars Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani wandered in, as did Adrian Grenier from HBO’s Entourage. https://lulustx.com
Mandito’s. The “Tex-Mex Haven of Round Top,” this cantina boasts a big front porch and quite possibly the best margaritas in town. The same family that runs Houston’s 40-year legend Armandos also runs Mandito’s. https://manditos.com
Royers Café. This Main Street mainstay is the place for down-home southern comfort food: sweet tea, shrimp with jalapeno grits, grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches and pies galore. Widespread demand for Royers pies means the cafe will ship your favorite Texas Trash Pie or Original Buttermilk Pie to your home in Cleveland. https://www.royersroundtopcafe.com
The Garden Company Feed and Firewater. A massive live oak envelops an equally massive outdoor dining deck at this popular garden-store-turned-eatery in Rummel Square. The creative menu features Korean tacos and the “World’s Best Queso Blanco and Guacamole with Bacon and Tortilla Chips.” https://www.thegardencoandcafe.com
Lodging in Round Top
Round Top offers a range of lodging options from luxuriously elegant to funky, kitschy and bohemian.
Hotel Lulu. This new boutique hotel adjoins Lulu’s restaurant and bar on East Mill Street. The in-town swimming pool is a coveted amenity, and room service is available in the tastefully appointed rooms and suites. From $225 per night. https://hotellulutx.com
The Frenchie. The eclectic farmhouse vibe stems from antique furniture mixed with modern design elements. A five-minute walk to Round Top, The Frenchie comprises a circa-1890 farmhouse, guest cottage, art studio, and a potting shed-turned-lounge. The main house includes a common-area kitchen, coffee bar and honor-system wine bar. Guests rent individual rooms, individual suites, or any combination thereof. From $225 per night. https://www.thefrenchieguesthouses.com
The Vintage Round Top. Located on Highway 237 a mile out of town, The Vintage Round Top is steps away from five different antique venues during the fall and spring shows, and is a quarter mile from Festival Hill, a 200-acre campus with performance facilities, historic houses, gardens, parks and nature preserves. A percentage of all rental proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity. From $175 per night. https://www.thevintageroundtop.com
The Flophouze Shipping Container Hotel. Six converted shipping containers (with more container renovations under way) sleep two, four or six and will make your stay in Round Top memorable and eco-friendly. Lumber reclaimed from a Kentucky distillery, windows salvaged from a school in Philadelphia, cabinet bases rescued from a Brooklyn laboratory, and counter tops pieced together from bowling alley floors combine to make the interiors warm and homey. Furnishings—even the containers themselves—are available for sale and can be shipped worldwide. From $175 per night. https://flophouze.com
Rancho Pillow. For a weirdly wacky and wonderful experience, nothing compares to Rancho Pillow. Stay in The Teepee, and you’ll be treated to a private soak in the open-air bath house’s pedestal tub. The Love Shack casita has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchenette with espresso maker, and a washer and dryer. The Surf Shack is owner Shelia Youngblood’s riff on a Mexican beachside bungalow. It sleeps four and has its own bathroom, kitchenette and loft. Any of the property’s five structures are available for rent, and if you rent the entire property, Rancho staff can set up a camping experience for your group—complete with tents, queen mattresses and down bedding. There’s no telephone at Rancho Pillow, so email email@example.com for rates, reservations, and information. https://www.ranchopillow.com