I love prairie dresses. I love Shabby Chic couture. I love the country. And of course I always love a new experience and something that sounds like it could be an adventure. So when I heard that Rachel Ashwell, owner and creator of Shabby Chic Couture, had opened a bed and breakfast called The Prairie, out in the middle of nowhere in Round Top, Tx, I put it on my list of places to go.
Travel is a regular part of my life – for business, pleasure, fun, relaxation or adventure – each trip usually has a purpose and a theme. I like to have a general idea of the things I want to see and do on a trip, but the most important thing for me is to be open to where the moment leads, whether that’s down unknown, rambling dirt roads a bit off the map, into a little wine bar with a crackling fire and an incredible wine selection, or a pie shack that turns out to serve the best filet mignon that side of Texas. We experienced all those things in Round Top and more. And believe me, when my two girlfriends and I drove into the tiny, sleepy little town and saw the sign that said, “Round Top, Population 90” we were expecting a pretty quiet night. The Prairie and Round Top surprised us.
Here are a few of our favorites things and must-hit places in Round Top:
- The Prairie and the beds and bedding – it is like sleeping on one, white, big fluffy cloud. We were all inspired to buy new bedding after a night at The Prairie. We stayed in the Faith Cottage and loved it. It was our favorite of the cottages. (We might have peeked in all the others before people checked in.) Buy the down, enveloping bedding here at Shabby Chic online.
- Prost Wine Bar – Prost means “cheers” in German. We stumbled in to a fire crackling and a bottle of (reasonably priced!) Caymus awaiting our purchase. What a great way to start the night! The couple who own it were pouring and chatting and were so friendly and fun. We even got a tour of their Bed & Breakfast, Hotel St. Vinzent, next door! Which leads me to my next “must”…
- Hotel St. Vinzent – so cozy, tastefully decorated, and right in the center of downtown Round Top. From there, we were able to walk to the next place on the list:
- Royers – we were told by a local that the steak at Royers Round Top Cafe would “f us up” and we weren’t quite sure if that was a good or a bad thing. It was a good thing! In addition to steak, Royers also serves delicious pies, of which we sampled many varieties. Another surprise – the buttermilk pie turned out to be our favorite. Who would have guessed? And the people and atmosphere make for quite a memorable and fun experience. Quirky, warm and welcoming!
Life is not always as calm and quiet on the prairie as one would expect. Our one night in Round Top was our wildest and latest night out of our entire trip! “Prost” to Round Top! We have nothing but the fondest of memories and we plan to head back for the widely known Round Top Antiques Fair very soon to snatch up flea market finds and some of our very own shabby chic items. We might just have another glass of Caymus and another piece of pie as well while we’re there. Why the heck not.
If you are reading this looking for ideas, you’re probably a little bit in trouble because you have waited until the last minute to buy those last few remaining (or all) gifts on your shopping list. Uh-oh, friends. It happens – to the best of us. We all have good intentions, great ideas, “so much time” and then all of a sudden, we’re behind and at a loss for what to do or buy, where to go, and how to pull it all together. I’ve been there. I’m a gift giver. I love it. I have to reign it in or I would be buying a hundred presents each for a hundred people. It’s one of my love languages, what can I say?
Here are some suggestions. But remember, give with a generous and loving heart – or don’t give at all. If you’re stressed and angry, maybe forego gifts this year and treat your loved ones to dinner or the movies instead? Most people just want to spend time with you anyway. Most people except me. I would like the gift, please.
Monogrammed items – I’m in the South now, which means monogrammed EVERYTHING. This next item was something on both my and my sister’s wish list this year:
- monogrammed poncho – who doesn’t love the Burberry monogrammed poncho that Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed sporting recently? Get the look for less and personalize it, here:
- DH Wholesale
- monogrammed cuff – I bought these recently for my girlfriends and had fun personalizing the colors, script and style for each of their personalities.
- monogrammed acrylic tray or catchall – perfect for men or women to use on a vanity, in a bathroom, office or living room to collect magazines, toiletries, mail, etc.
- monogrammed wine bucket – great for a hostess gift or for a couple with a nice bottle of champagne or wine inside.
- You can purchase all these and more monogrammed items at
Party accessories – No matter how many parties or dinners I host, I am almost always missing something I “need” in the moment. People who host cannot have enough serving platters, dishes, spoons, napkins, etc. They get worn out, lost or destroyed and so having more is always a good thing:
- cheese knives/servers – who doesn’t love an assortment of cheeses and the knives to cut them with? Cut the cheese or serve other treats in style with the following: Pottery Barn Marble Cheese Knives Set
- Mini Horn Serving Spoon from Sur La Table. I have an obsession with tiny spoons.
- wine glass chalk – my friend just gave me some of this and it’s colored for guests to write their names on their wine glasses – too cute! The Container Store has it here.
Games and entertainment – Let’s face it, we are with our family a lot over the holidays so it’s good to have activities that bring us all together, give us something to do, and help us let loose a little:
- I haven’t played it but the latest rage is a game called Cards Against Humanity – supposedly quite rude and awkward, but fun, nonetheless.
- Trivial Pursuit is an oldie but a goodie and one my family and our friends would play every December 26th around the table until the wee hours of the morn. It was our tradition – either kids against parents or boys against girls. We fought hard for those pieces of pie. We laughed a lot.
Jo Malone – I love anything and everything Jo Malone – the candles, the room diffusers, the sprays, the lotions…in almost every single scent. You can mix and match and combine sprays for your own signature scent and they are all natural and fresh, not overly strong or too “perfume-y” – truly, the best. Some of my favorites scents are:
- Blackberry & Bay
- Lime, Basil & Mandarin
- Nutmeg & Ginger
- Wild Fig & Cassis
If you have time, shop local if you can and support the small businesses. They always have the most unique and personable gift options and they work hard to make last-minute shopping an enjoyable experience.
Happy shopping, wrapping, and giving!
Ah, the dining room – the room that many people have but never seem to use. Why do dining rooms always seem so formal, unused and unnecessary in many homes? Dining rooms often feel like the afterthought of a house, and many new homes don’t even have one.
As someone who entertains often – for baby showers, bridal showers, dinner parties, holiday celebrations – I don’t know what I would do without my dining room. I would probably push people outside and force them to sit on blankets and call it a garden party or picnic. The dining room is where thanks is given at Thanksgiving, toasts are made with good friends, food is passed and memories are made.
The dining room is one of my favorite rooms because it revolves around my favorites things – food, family and friends. Many wonderful memories have been made in my dining room, both growing up at my parents’ house and in my own home. It’s not so much about the menu or the place setting or the china used, it’s about the people and the ambiance and the art of just sitting together at a table, enjoying food, wine and conversation. It’s about coming together.
Because of that, it’s important for the dining room to feel warm, inviting, and welcoming, a place where people feel they can linger. Lighting is important in a dining room. Do you have overheard light on a dimmer to help cast a glow over the table? Dimmers are a must to help set the mood and create the right ambiance for a dinner party. Nobody wants to linger when a bright light is shining overhead. Light candles and cast a “glow” around the room, keeping it cozy and moody. People talk more, drink more, laugh more when they feel relaxed and enveloped in the setting. And every woman loves how she looks in the glow of candlelight.
Add art and accessories and mix and match your table settings if you don’t have enough of one type. I’m a big fan of the eclectic, bohemian mix of a variety of plates, glasses and napkins as long as they all complement each other. Not everything has to match or look perfect. And for heaven sakes, you don’t need to set your table or create a “display” when no one is sitting at it or coming over – just keep it simple with a centerpiece or runner when it’s not in use.
Recently, I was asked to help my friend Marie give her dining room a refresh. Her dining room is right inside her front door and she said every day she would come home and get angry when she looked at it. Not good! I knew we could make a few small changes for minimal cost to make it feel more cohesive and inviting.
Marie has great decorating style and taste and she’s drawn to a mix of modern colors with pops of bright. She loves the grays, yellows and blues and I wanted to embrace that, while still giving the room a timeless elegance.
Here is their dining room BEFORE:
I added a table in front of the window for depth and interest, as well as to create a place for extra food or drinks when she is hosting. We found the lamp, which was her grandmother’s, in another room in the house and it ended up being perfect on the table. It added a little bit of tradition to her more modern style. I also added some natural elements to the table like a little greenhouse full of moss balls and candles. The stone garden ornament on top brings the outside in as well and helps balance some of the other modern elements.
The addition of a mirror to the wall opposite the window reflects light and creates the illusion of more space. It also gave the room a bit more drama and shine.
The artist of the bright, beautiful work on canvas is by Robert Langford and was a piece Marie had been eyeing for awhile. It was the perfect finishing touch to the yellow curtains and gray walls.
I thrive on change – in life and in design. You may remember that I mentioned recently I decided to repaint my husband’s study and give it a little bit of a facelift, even though we only updated it three years ago when we moved in. I had an image in my mind of what I wanted it to be and it just wouldn’t go away. I had to see it come to life!
The color of the study before was a dusty brown, Barnwood by Martha Stewart, which I really liked but it was similar to my kitchen paint color and also blending in with everything else in the study. I was craving a pop of dramatic color.
My office photos by COURTNEY HUCKS, COLLECTIVELY SWEET PHOTOGRAPHY (before and “after” below)
I’ve always loved moody, dark, masculine offices or libraries. I love the idea of a gentlemen’s den or smoking room. Notice I did not say I love the idea of a “man cave” – that, my friend, is something entirely different and not an in any way an inspiration for me or something I want to be involved in!
I kept thinking about the “Gun Room” at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It’s my favorite room in the whole mansion and it’s one of the last rooms you see, at the end of a tiny hallway, near the exit, and I’m almost sure it’s the smallest room too, but I love it. It’s painted a dark, glossy color, has a floor to ceiling glass cabinet full of taxidermy treasures and shotguns lining the walls.
I like speakeasies, and wood paneling, and bookcases and leather. I like deer heads, equestrian themes, silver trophy cups, tweeds, plaids and glass decanters full of scotch and bourbon. I like old maps and globes, antique desks and cigar boxes. In another life, I could be an aristocratic, English gentleman for sure.
I am also a sucker for antlers, much to my mom’s bewilderment, (“Bri, you don’t even like hunting and you would never hurt an animal!”) and so I had two antler sconces added to the wall with the bookcase, one on each side, that I found on sale online at Pottery Barn.
I love the detailed sophistication of London townhomes or manors and the rustic, rugged earthiness of South African safaris. If I could mix the film set of “Out of Africa” with that of “The Remains of the Day” it would be my perfect combination. I love the contrast of stately elegance paired with the worn and rustic.
So, you’re getting a feel for my vision. Now, add in a bit of glamour and a more fun, fresh take on tradition with bold colors, textures and a mix of styles. I like to be a little tongue in cheek with my design so it doesn’t feel stuffy or predictable. I don’t ever want to do exactly what’s already been done. In fact, when something becomes a trend, I want to run the other direction and boycott it altogether. I guess that’s my stubborn streak. But I do love taking tradition or timeless looks and updating them with my own style and spin. Hence, my choice to update the office.
This is the “after” with the walls painted Seaworthy by Sherwin Williams in semi-gloss and new pillows on the chairs from Circa Interiors. Seaworthy was always my first and favorite choice for the paint but then I second-guessed myself and tried another color that turned out to be a disaster. Seaworthy proved to be the true winner. We are happy with the result!
A few months ago, my little sister, Sarah, moved to Charlotte. She lived with me and my husband in our home in the Southpark area for awhile until she could find a place to call her own.
The three of us were always coming and going, along with our dogs, Sydney and Gigi, and with all the shenanigans and unconventionality of it all, we joked we should have our own reality show. Between my travel and work schedule, we think the neighbors probably thought I had been replaced. The two of them would walk the dogs, drive to the park or grocery store together, sit outside on the patio with wine…and then I would arrive home from work or a business trip and both would ask, “What’s for dinner?”
I definitely felt like the mother hen, but I relished in it. I loved having her stay. And I was sad to see her go. But, I was excited to have another decorating challenge and outlet when she found a cute apartment in Dilworth, near uptown, with a fun rooftop deck and view of the city, on the doorstep of some of Charlotte’s best bars and restaurants. We had the best time shopping for new accessories, furniture, and creating a little uptown retreat.
The best part about decorating with a friend or family member is the time you spend experimenting, shopping and creating together. We would open a bottle of wine, run around her new apartment, moving furniture and hanging things on the walls when we felt inspired. Also, both of us are budget-conscious shoppers and we hate being taken advantage of when it comes to over-priced goods, so we were on the same page when it came to shopping for deals. We knew we could find just what we were looking for if we were patient and willing to wait…or willing to put a little elbow grease into it. We were. And it paid off. We found some great flea market finds, internet deals, and new ways of arranging some of her old treasures.
Sarah and the wild black lab, Gigi, are very happy in their new home! And I like having a little uptown retreat to escape to when I need a little extra sister time.
BEFORE SARAH MOVED IN:
AFTER THE SISTERS GOT OUR HANDS ON IT:
IDEAS FOR UPGRADING & PERSONALIZING A RENTED SPACE WITHOUT A BIG INVESTMENT:
- use stick and peel wallpaper – for one wall in a hallway or behind a bed – very easy and affordable!
- replace the basic, generic lighting with a feature chandelier
- add a lot of lamps for cozy, moody lighting
- add color and interest with bright colored pillows
- use rugs to define the spaces and make living areas cozier if hardwood – or cover up dingy, apartment grade carpet
- add mirrors to create the illusion of more light and space – make sure they are reflecting the outdoors or something interesting
- use woven, natural-fiber baskets for organizing blankets, books, magazines or anything that needs a “space” without adding extra clutter
- buy posters, postcards or pretty fabric and frame it in oversize, inexpensive frames for impactful, “custom” art on a budget