Treasure hunter

Rachel Ashwell, the founder of Shabby Chic, explains the lure of the antiques markets that inspire her work

Over the years vintage finds have become more and more desired, appreciated and actually understood. Whether apparel, furnishings or textiles, it seems to me that the thirst for uniqueness and eclectic treasures has grown. Sometimes it might be budget that drives the attraction, but often it is about having things that are one of a kind that blend easily into the decor of already-owned pieces.

Only in Round Top, Texas and the neighboring little towns could there be a flea market covering 300 acres, attracting tens of thousands of treasure hunters to its thousands of stalls. I’ve been to antiques fairs and flea markets all over the US and Europe and there’s nothing quite like this. It’s here that I come to find treasures that stock my life and my shops, to refuel my inspiration bucket for my design work.

I have been coming here for a decade now and I still get butterflies in my stomach approaching a tent that has potential treasures. I am better suited to shop the big jumble of the early days where my eye gets to rove over a sea of junk to spot the jewels, bringing back early memories of London flea-market searches with my mum and dad, looking for books and antique dolls. I check china for chips and cracks with the tips of my fingers; my touch is more reliable than my eyes.

Shopping these events is exhilarating and exhausting — up at dawn and non-stop from then on. Logistically you have to have a process involving tracking and pick-up. Notebooks, photos of tents, and stickers are all helpful to backtrack and pick up later. My method of buying is to trust my eye and heart and not rely so much on pedigree — that is validation but nothing more. I consider myself a seeker and editor, and finally a designer.

It is a daunting task, but I’m very practised. In this sea of what is essentially someone else’s unwanted junk that’s been sold, given away or abandoned in a house clearance, I am always hopeful of finding things that will be part of a bigger story or to rescue a lovely piece that will go on a glamorous journey and become cherished once more.

On my initial walk through, it’s the bigger pieces that capture my attention first, but the little gems are of equal value and worth paying close attention to so as not to be missed. A rather profound thought as it relates to life.

I sort my treasures into categories as I go — china, fabric, painted furniture. I have to think about what sells well in what store, what I need for The Prairie, and sometimes I just have to pick up something gorgeous for myself.

As I go on my shopping journey, I like to share my finds via Instagram so people can follow my train of thought as I go. It’s nice for them, but also helpful for me to gauge the interest in my interests. I don’t always buy every item, but pondering is inspirational.

At the end of my time shopping, I leave behind a lovely story of treasures for distribution and new memories to cherish. I take pride that soon my stores will be replenished with unique goodies and I look back at the wonky, bent and cracked but not broken beauties, and leave happy and satisfied, knowing in six months I get to do it all over again.

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