For about a week every spring and fall, the small Texas town of Round Top—situated right between Austin and Houston—swells from a year-round population of just 90 to somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000, depending on who you ask. Upwards of 4,000 vendors from across the globe arrive to fill countless fields, tents, and barns along Route 237. There, they’ll sell everything from priceless antiques to 50-cent mugs to a crowd that includes A-list interior designers, weekend thrifters, and casual browsers.
Even for seasoned vintage shoppers, and definitely for a newbie, it can be positively overwhelming. So when Annie Sloan, the OG chalk paint creator who happens to be a total flea market pro, offered to lead me on my inaugural trip last fall, I jumped. No surprise to anyone who's ever transformed an old thrift-store dresser with one of Annie's cult-favorite paints: The lady can shop her way through a field of vintage furniture and handmade textiles better than just about anyone.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about navigating Round Top for the first time—and get Sloan's tips for flea market success!
When Is It?
There are two main Round Top Antiques Shows every year, with one in the spring and another in the fall. This year's Spring 2020 show officially runs from March 19 through April 5, but not all vendors are showing at the same time; for instance, the Marburger Farm Antique Show, a designer favorite for its high-end selection, is only open from March 31 through April 4. There isn't an official governing body behind the Round Top Antiques Show, which is actually made up of multiple independent events, each with its own vendors and specialties. Not all of them are even in Round Top proper; some venues are located in neighboring towns like Warrenton and Carmine.
There's also a smaller Winter Round Top Antiques Show, which takes place from January 23 to 26 in 2020. While not nearly as massive as the fall and spring shows, the winter show has been growing steadily in recent years, and now counts around 100 dealers.
Marburger Farm Antique Show
There's a reason why big industry names like Michelle Nussbaumer and Mary McDonald literally line up outside of Marburger's massive tents to make a mad dash toward their favorite vendors on opening morning: With 350 dealers specializing in everything from 18th century French paintings to fine English silver to Danish mid-century chairs, this show is a one-stop shop for finding the best of the best. At $10 a ticket, it's one of the few Round Top shows that charges admission—even if you're just going to browse, it's well worth the price.
2248 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
This massive facility, which spans 119,000 square feet and three separate buildings, is home to an extremely well-curated (and generally high-end) selection of antiques and decorative items from nearly 20 vendors. Did we mention that there's air conditioning (a rarity at Round Top) and free Wi-Fi?
1503 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
The Arbors is a must-visit if you're in the market for one-of-a-kind, handmade textiles, art, jewelry and other accessories from around the world. Check out Mela and Roam for beautiful block-printed bedding, Heja Home for vintage Moroccan rugs and home decor, and Page Gregory Matthews' beautiful abstract paintings. And make sure to stop by Sheila’s Fine Fabrics, where you can buy discounted yardage and pre-made pillows from trade-only names like Scalamandré and Schumacher.
1503 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
The double-decker bus and bright red phone boots outside of McLaren's are a not-so-subtle hint at the venue's Anglophile focus, which includes everything from antique furniture and vintage china sets to reclaimed architectural salvage.
1745 N, Texas 237, Round Top, TX
Lone Ranger Antiques
An offshoot of McLaren's—it's right down the hill—Lone Ranger specializes in Swedish antiques from the 18th through early 20th centuries. Think hand-painted Gustavian case goods, a huge array of Mora clocks, and row upon row of braided rag rugs.
1745 N, Texas 237, Round Top, TX
Owned by sisters Amie and Jolie Sikes, Junk Gypsy's trademark girly, boho-chic aesthetic—think tattered ruffles, faded florals, and tasseled everything with a heavy dose of Texas twang—has made its brightly painted shop a year-round destination for vintage obsessives. It also stocks a huge selection of vintage clothing and accessories—perfect for wearing to Junk-O-Rama Prom, the blowout costume party Junk Gypsy hosts during the spring and fall antiques weeks. (The most recent had a Practical Magic theme and Stevie Nicks tribute band—need we say more?)
1215 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
Another deceptively enormous complex, The Compound is home to a slew of antiques dealers as well as vendors specializing in costume jewelry, glassware, and art. It also has an air-conditioned section, which makes it a smart place to stop mid-day if you're in need of a cool-down.
2550 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
Original Round Top Antiques Fair
Billed as "the show that started it all," the Original Round Top Antiques fair at the Big Red Barn and Continental Tent in Carmine has been running for 50 years, with spring, fall and winter opening dates. They're strict about selling only antique and vintage goods—no reproduction items here!
475 Texas Hwy 237 South, Carmine, TX
A true flea market, Zapp Hall is a picker's delight. You'll need the patience to sift through an endless trove of items straight out of grandma's attic, but if you do, you'll find some truly one-of-a-kind kitsch.
4217 Texas 237, Warrenton, TX
Annie Sloan's Shopping Tips
Know what you're looking for...
One surefire way to find yourself completely overwhelmed by a market the size of Round Top is to go in without a plan. So instead: Have a list of the items you're hoping to find, and in the case of furniture or other large items, make sure you know the general measurements of your ideal piece. (You'll want to bring a tape measure, naturally.) Scope out the vendors' websites to get an idea of what they sell ahead of time.
...but be ready for surprising finds.
That said, seasoned flea market shoppers know that the best buys are the least expected ones. One of Sloan's all-time favorite examples: a plastic clawfoot tub that she found in England, transported to her home in France, and covered with copper leaf. It's now a total showstopper. That could be you at Round Top!
Skip the pre-rehabbed stuff.
Round Top is full of furniture that's already been stripped and repainted, but Sloan advises against buying pieces that have already been upcycled. You're better off investing more in an item with a high-quality original painted finish, or save money on a less pristine one one that you can paint yourself!
Sometimes paint-free is the way to go.
It might be a surprising declaration from the queen of chalk paint, but not everything needs a coat of color. If you find a well-made piece of wooden furniture with a less-than-desirable finish, it could look stunning stripped down to the bare wood.
Where to Stay (and Eat!)
Vintage Round Top
Nearly a decade ago, Houston-based husband and wife Paige and Smoot Hull purchased a ramshackle farmhouse right in the heart of Round Top. Today, they've transformed into a sought-after compound with main house, cottage, and two one-bedroom studios that can be rented together or separately all year-round. While the decor is almost entirely vintage, the amenities are top-of-the-line: After a night in one of the Vintage's pillow-soft beds followed by a fresh breakfast cooked by Paige and Smoot, you'll want to move in permanently (trust me, I did!).
1450 Texas 237, Round Top, TX
The Vintage books up fast, so if you're looking for more options, head over to the official lodging section of the local Round Top website for a list of small inns and B&Bs in the area. Most of them are an easy drive to the shows. This grain sil0-turned-cottage would make very on-theme home base.
Royer’s Round Top Café
A local institution, Royer's is famous for both its pies—try the Texas Trash, a to-die-for combination of caramel, chocolate chips, coconut, graham crackers, and pretzels—and for its charismatic owner of 30-plus years, Bud "The Pieman" Royer. Photographs, postcards, memorabilia, and knickknacks of all kinds cover every inch of the walls (and ceilings); it's the kind of place that you feel like you've been coming to all your life. And if a desperate hankering for Buttermilk Pie strikes between Antiques Weeks, don't despair—Royer's offers a mail-order service!
105 Main St, Round Top, TX
What Else You Should Know
It gets HOT.
Like, REALLY hot. It sounds pretty obvious, but even for those of us who are used to sweltering summers, spending an entire day outside in 95-degree heat (not to mention in the tents, where it can feel even hotter) can be a lot to handle. Get a cheap folding fan to throw in your bag—it's a total lifesaver.
Yes, you can ship it home.
Don't worry about bringing your own tractor-trailer—most of the major venues offer shipping services! There's also a FedEx center right on the main drag in case your vendor doesn't ship. Note, of course, that this will add to the overall price. Items small enough to tuck in your carry-on are even more desirable for that reason.
You can go off-season, too.
While most of the big shows are only open two or three times a year, it's worth stopping in Round Top if you're in the area (driving between Austin and Houston?) just for the quaint shops and restaurants. Places like Junk Gypsy are open year-round, and the Vintage often hosts retreats and workshops.
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