Royalty meets the cowboy

by Rachel Ashwell

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I write from one of my favorite places in the world, “The Covent Garden Hotel”. It is located in a section of London called Covent Garden, which was the site of a flower, fruit, and vegetable market from the 1500s until 1974.

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The Covent Garden Hotel is quite small with only 58 rooms. It has four floors with meandering staircases, which I always befriend as I avoid elevators whenever possible (claustrophobic). These staircases creek but their crookedness is so very charming too me.

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The hotel is designed by Kit Kemp and it is part of a small chain of hotels. While the interiors are a little more dramatic than I would design myself, it is still wonderfully eclectic, bohemian and inviting while still maintaining a traditional British aesthetic. Wherever I travel, I always try and stay in hotels that embrace the culture of the city; and for me a small boutique helps to accomplish that experience.

There is a drawing room in this hotel where I have spent many an evening. Much conversation, lots of sofas, ottomans, two big fireplaces and lots of mushy cushions.

A drawing room is derived from the 16th centuy term "withdrawing room", a withdrawing room was a room to which the owner of the house, his wife, or a distinguished guest who was occupying one of the main apartments in the house could "withdraw" for more privacy.

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I have been staying at this hotel over the years, from when my children were small, through teenage years, and now I am here seeing my daughter settle into student life in London. The bar in the drawing room works on the honor system. Years back, my teenagers and their friends appeared to not fully understand the meaning of “honor”. To this day when they come “into the drawing room”, they wonder if they might be recognized.

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I am really happy I was raised in London because it is impossible not to inhale the culture that bursts out of the sidewalks. Writers, painters, poets, actors, dancers, and designers have all paid their dues and learnt their craft from the history of their predecessors. I was a really poor student at school so the only chance I stood of ever learning anything was if it was subliminal and experiential.

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And of course the royalty and British heritage themes that is always influence my designs are a direct authentic inspiration from my roots.

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To purchase any of these please click here.

However my next stop after London is the Roundtop Texas Flea market which stretches from the towns of Warrenton to Marburger.

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Country western music is my favorite next to opera. The common theme I suppose is the tragedy of unrequited love. Merle Haggard, George Strait, Johnny Cash, get me each and every time.

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There is usually a team of 4 of us that go to Roundtop Texas. I take along another pair of eyes to help me buy items and keep track of where we purchased things and how much we paid for them. And then of course I take along some serious muscles to help haul and load our container in the field.

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We all spend a lot of time together; therefore the players must all get along well. The house we sleep in has little insulation; therefore there are no secrets when we are on the road.

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When we are in our truck driving around, my guys know songs about trucks breaking down, dogs passing, or broken hearts --subjects I like to listen to. Somehow we are still a happy bunch.

Nothing is more satisfying than to see our pile of treasures grow over the few days we are shopping.

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The saying of southern hospitality is a true saying. The genuine kindness and welcome that exists “down there” is just lovely. We never ever miss a show. I have made some true friends. Jolie, Amie and Janie of the “Junk Gypsy Fame” are a wonderful family and business that we discovered at the “zapp hall field.” They sell cowboy gypsy clothes and jewelry and are true treasures of people.

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Click here to go to the Junk Gypsy web page.

And then my Texas Home, “The Outpost Inn”. Lenore and Danny (and the now departed Buck), are the perfect hosts.

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The Outpost Inn is a bed and breakfast ranch that has the main house with rooms for rent.

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But the real treats are the little barns that have been painstakingly built and restored by Danny, and immaculately decorated by Lenore.

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Lenore is also an amazing fine art painter and a great mum. Hopefully one day she will get back to her painting. There is not one single detail that has not been considered by Danny and Lenore, including the perfect breakfast prepared by them each and every morning.

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Danny kindly makes me my own special breakfast. Not because his menu is not adored by all, I am just a boringly fussy eater and don’t like any spices. Ketchup, salt, and butter are as adventurous as I get. So while all others eat a hearty texas country breakfast, I am in heaven with my plain egg on toast and tea.

It is a lovely way to start the day --to meet all the other shoppers and hear their stories of the days before and hopes of the days ahead. My favorite table in the dining room is red with matching red benches. This actually was my first inspiration to bring red in my palette. Has to be funky and worn of course, but it’s a color I have learnt to embrace.

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The steamy, stormy weather is often a subject covered at breakfast. I am always impressed by the local Texas women, from Dallas and Houston, because no matter how steamy and stormy it gets, they never look sweaty or have bad hair days. (The electrical storms are so dramatic they would seem fake if in a movie).

I thought I had gone to heaven when I was eating lunch in a field, as the rain started coming down, and I heard a distant Willie Nelson singing “Blue Skies”. I recall saying to my guys “I want nothing more at this moment”.

I am a sight for sore eyes from the moment I set foot outside. Hair frizzy and stringy and sweaty face with my clothes stuck to my body. Yuck. This makes it impossible for me to ever judge if I can buy a mirror, as a reflection at that moment would be just too distracting. So I always have to ask a nearby shopper to check for distortions!!!!!!

At the start of each day I always sit for a moment on a porch and view the blue bonnets or wildflowers.

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I love the concept of wildflowers --these whimsical unsettled flowers that find their own place to bloom, where they feel most at home. But just for a little time. And then off they go to spread their beauty once again, somewhere else.

At the end of my day I get to walk the carpet of wisteria that leads to my cottage. This is just a little piece of heaven.

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It seems everywhere I look in Texas there is beauty. Even though one may think of everything in Texas as too big, I find the details to be very intimate. In my initial blog I showed my favorite church in the world.

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When I marry again, I would love nothing more than to hold the ceremony here.
There is something so very cheerful, authentic, but light spirited about this teeny little church. Even the graveyard next to it is the happiest most colorful place you could imagine. Quite beautiful.

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But of course the purpose of this trip to Texas is to shop and shop and shop. I never come back disappointed. Last time I came back with loads of lovely rugs.

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I love Texas for authentic paint. I rarely have to repaint anything. Wonderful tables, cabinets, hutches in my palette. Prices are going up but I buy whatever I can for one day there will be no more.

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To view the entire prairie collection click here.

Even though I have stores across the county, I send everything I buy back to my corporate office where we refurbish everything. Sometimes that may be just a cleanup. Maybe a cushion for a stool (although if great paint I usually forego a cushion as I would rather not cover up the paint.) We always make sure drawers and cupboards open smoothly. (If hinges or handles have to be replaced we always use vintage. Either found at fleamarkets too or from Liz's hardware.) A final touch is to wallpaper the drawers or shelves. Again preferably with vintage wallpaper. Even though it is getting harder and harder to come by these treasures, the search continues to be fun and inspirational. And now also green friendly.

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So the word treasure is the right word in this instance. For me the experience is the bigger treasure.

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© 2017 Rachel Ashwell