Over the last two decades, Rachel Ashwell has achieved success as a designer, entrepreneur and authoress, parlaying a small retail store in Santa Monica into an internationally known lifestyle brand. Best known as an interior style visionary and creator of ‘Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture,’ Ashwell now operates four “Shabby Chic” stores in New York, San Francisco, Santa Monica & now, Round Top, Texas. A slew of coffee table tomes combined with a prominent online profile made her a celebrity of sorts, with the resources to set her sights on her lifelong dream to “own a hotel and live on a farm setting.” Enter her latest creation, The Prairie, a charming bed & breakfast in rural Round Top, Texas.
How did a flashy Londoner find herself restoring five houses on forty six acres of American prairie, in a town with a population of ninety people? Round Top may be small but it has culture to spare. It has been Ashwell’s go-to destination for years because of its bi-annual antiques market, an event that causes Round Top’s population to swell from ninety to 100,000! Round Top is also home to Festival Hill Center for Performance and Learning which hosts art, literary and musical events, and the nearby village of Winedale features its own Shakespeare festival, adding to the area’s cultural caché.
It was on one of her treks to Round Top that Rachel discovered the land and structures that would one day become “The Prairie.” Ashwell–who by her own admission lacks any formal training other than ‘life”–credits her late ‘mum’ as her biggest source of inspiration, teaching her to see the grace in the timeworn. While others in her profession restored to perfection, she embraced the subtle, authentic style of a faded fabric or a doll worn by love, and restored them while honoring their character. “I understand the beauty in the tattered, thanks to mum” she says. Her labor of love is paired with a pragmatic and astute business sense aimed at giving her Prairie guests a firsthand, tactile experience of what is available for purchase in her stores.
Both the Prairie B & B, the on-site Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture home furnishing store, and her metropolitan locations–are overflowing with an eclectic mix that speaks to the “aesthetics of real beauty,” functional as well as pleasing to the eye. All aspects of the design and furnishings at the Prairie have been carefully thought out to the smallest detail, an indication of true couture philosophy. Threads, colors, fabric texture, dye lots, shape and proportion are, explains Rachel, a “manifestation of how I like to produce products.” Despite the ubiquitous nod to the past, this is not an exercise in primitivism; i-Pod docks and flat screen televisions are discreetly placed in each of The Prairie B & B accommodations–along with Molten Brown toiletries and luxurious fresh flowers held by glass jam jars.
The Prairie offers a variety of overnight hospitality options, some in structures that date back to the 1800s. Guest may find their favorite in the Cornflower Cottage, the Blue Bonnet Barn, the Liliput Lodge, the Meadow Manor or the Faith Cottage. The Ranger’s Lounge, “a beautiful hodgepodge of corrugated tin, salvaged woods and vintage wallpaper” houses the family-style dining table and communal lounge. The newly opened Pearl Barn, completed in 2012, is popular for workshops, weddings and other special events. Having created her own ultimate fantasy life–and a clever way to share it with everyone–does this arbiter of style show any signs of slowing down? Not likely. Look for Rachel’s new book Rachel Ashwell Couture Prairie: And Flea Market Treasures, out in October 2013.
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