Twice a year, for a few days, a tiny town in rural Texas (population: 90) is besieged by tens of thousands of people, all of them on the hunt for that rarest of treasures: the perfect antique. Design world celebrities, ranging from Martyn Lawrence Bullard to Chip and Joanna Gaines, attend regularly, as do A-listers like Matthew McConaughey. Thousands of dealers from all around the world come to rent out barns or set up tents in empty fields to peddle their wares. It’s Round Top, the Coachella of antiques fairs. (Since the Texas festival is more than 50 years old, it might be more accurate to call Coachella the Round Top of music.)
This year’s fall edition launches today as normal, save some COVID precautions. However, there may be change afoot at Round Top. The owners of PaperCity, Texas’s most well-known design and luxury publication, have just purchased the handful of special interest magazines—Round Top Antiques Show Guide, Round Top Texas Life & Style and Round Top Register—that have been covering the fair. The move, nominally a low-key media merger, is only the first step of a more significant strategic push for the Houston-based publishing brand.
“This will be the biggest thing I’ve been involved with in my life,” PaperCity president Jim Kastleman tells Business of Home. “I’m even planning on buying a place there.” In partnership with Katie Stavinoha, the owner of the three publications and roundtop.com (Kastleman referred to her the “de facto mayor of Round Top”), he’s hoping to fill a vacuum by bringing some structure—and sponsorship revenue—to the iconic fair.
Another crazy thing about an already bonkers event: There is no central authority that organizes Round Top. High Point has the HPMA, Legends has the LCDQ—Round Top is simply the product of tens of thousands of people all showing up at the same time, merely by tradition. (If you’ll forgive one final Coachella comparison, imagine if all 50 bands and 100,000 attendees showed up on the same weekend every year, just because.)
Kastleman isn’t planning to take over scheduling or tent permits (“No one can own Round Top,” he says), but the deal will help create a structure for clearer communication and programming. Under the arrangement, PaperCity will take over and likely consolidate the three magazines into two. But the publications are merely the tip of the iceberg.
“No one is [currently] selling sponsorships, no one is selling ticketed VIP events—and that’s what we do,” says Kastleman. (PaperCity hosts design weeks in both Houston and Dallas.) “These publications are great, and we’ll grow them, but the real play is the programming. To me, the excitement is bringing some structure and events—people are craving it.”
Starting with next spring’s fair, Kastleman says the new partnership will stage a VIP tent, as well as salons, book signings and talks. The focus of the content, he says, will be weighted toward interior design. “[Round Top] isn’t really about just antiques. It’s about style.”
There are other opportunities as well. Kastleman points out that the coronavirus pandemic has helped fuel a resurgence of interest in small-town Texas, as Houstonians look to get out of the city (a booming real estate market is never a bad thing for a luxury publisher). “The [real estate agents] out there will tell you it’s a historic year for them,” he says. “It’s an hour and a half from Houston, this bucolic area of Texas. People will show up to look at houses, and at the end of the day they’ll say, ‘Great, I want that one.’ That’s an indicator of what’s happening even outside of the shows.”
The upside is obvious. As for the risk, Kastleman is mindful of preserving Round Top’s charm by using a light touch. “It’s a special place because it has retained a high level of authenticity,” says Kastleman. “The challenge will be to layer on a commercial aspect but keep it authentic. ... People know there needs to be more programming, but they trust us to do it in a tasteful way.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of PaperCity