Every year during its renowned antiques fair, the town of Round Top (population 90) swells by tens of thousands as collectors and design enthusiasts descend upon this Texas hamlet, searching the furnishings, ephemera, and collectibles found at every turn in tented fields, weathered barns, and roadside stands. What started in the late 1960s as a “country show” with a handful of dealers and primarily local, in-the-know shoppers has evolved into a veritable cabinet of curiosities that extends over 20 miles and attracts exhibitors and attendees from around the globe.
Last fall, well off the beaten path on Bader Ranch, a small cluster of tents tucked deep within a field harbored its own eye-catching collection of art and antiques. Here there was no madding crowd competing to buy the many one-of-a-kind pieces, and indeed, nary a price tag in sight.
Had you happened by chance upon the setting, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d stumbled upon a movie in the making—perhaps an adaptation of Out of Africa, albeit one with a distinct Texas accent. To set the scene: In the central tent, patterned poufs encircle a low-slung table laden with vibrant flowers, alluring fruits, and flickering lanterns with kilim rugs underfoot and a fluttering installation of ombréd fabric panels overhead. Around the perimeter, the characters lounge in an outdoor living room vignette, sipping libations from fine crystal and engaging in animated dialogue before a costume change into caftans for dinner. Soon they’ll gather at the table for a Moroccan feast prepared by a celebrated chef. And after lingering well into the evening around a campfire under the stars, they’ll slip into individually decorated bedroom tents to rest and dream of tomorrow, knowing when they arise it will be to an entirely new production.
“We really felt like we were living in stills from a film reel,” says Barry Dixon, a Virginia-based interior designer who was among those that called this chic compound—christened Camp Round Top—home during the fair. “Everywhere we looked there was a visual surprise or another magical experience, from the time we woke up to the moment we dropped into king-size beds in our tents.”
“I knew camping was something that would take my guests a bit outside of their comfort zones. This experience needed to be truly luxurious and ‘wow’ them at every turn.”
—the Camp Round Top hostess
The idea for Camp Round Top initially sprouted when a woman with deep roots in the area was nearing the completion of a mountain house located several states away. Throughout the lengthy design and building process, she and Dixon, along with Atlanta architect Keith Summerour, had not only collaborated on her dream house but also had become dear friends. “As we were reaching the final stages, I almost didn’t want it to end,” she says. On one of the many monthly site visits, the group casually tossed around the possibility of convening in Round Top for the fair. “Ultimately, I decided the trip would become a thank you to Barry and Keith, senior members of their staffs, and their spouses and partners,” says the client. “They’d given me a wonderful gift by designing an incredible home.”
She turned to Austin-based event designer Cassie LaMere to produce a luxurious glamping experience, one worthy of worldly guests who live, breathe, and create design at the highest level—and for whom the traditional concept of camping might be well beyond their usual comfort zone. “I needed to ‘wow’ them,” says the hostess. “Cassie is the kind of event designer who starts out with the seed of an idea and then makes the entire garden bloom like magic.”
The logistical challenges were daunting enough—procuring the infrastructure and overseeing the installation of a tented village equivalent of a five-star resort in a bucolic, but empty, field—all of which LaMere planned in a matter of months. But it was in her development of the camp’s décor and daily itinerary of custom experiences where the concept truly flourished. “I’m an antiques collector myself, so this event spoke to a lot of my personal interests,” LaMere says. “I felt like I had been preparing for this my whole life and could draw upon sources of inspiration, design references, and collaborators I’d been saving for the right moment.”
The event designer established the aesthetic of the camp through art installations, curated furnishings, and thoughtful details that showcased local makers, as well as captured the overall spirit of both the antiques fair and Camp Round Top—the thrill of the hunt and a sense of discovery. Each day had a signature theme, played out in everything from customized gifts and table settings to the evening’s dress code and menu (see sidebar, below left). In addition, after spending hours ducking in and out of the hot Texas sun to shop, guests would return to the oasis never quite knowing what creature comfort or surprise might await next, whether a private musical performance by an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, a golden-hour cocktail class, or a session with an aura photography artist.
LaMere carefully cast the camp’s roster of talent with those who could achieve the sophisticated layers of detail and hospitable ambience she envisioned and also execute it all under the rather remote conditions. “For instance, our chef, Yann Nury, orchestrates pop-up dinners all over the world, and he’s well-versed in creating amazing culinary experiences in a roving concept,” says the event designer. “Typically for an event, we do all the work behind closed doors. But at Camp Round Top, everything was out in the open, with guests coming and going throughout the process.” And while LaMere usually prefers a big “ta-da” reveal, here each set change unexpectedly became a much-anticipated part of the show, with guests peering over the shoulders of both LaMere and floral artist Antonio Bond to ask questions and get impromptu flower-arranging lessons as each tableau evolved. “We always made sure to return from shopping in time to catch what was happening,” says Dixon. Adds Bond, “It felt a little like theater in the round but became such fun to share the philosophy behind my style with a group who has such a keen eye for design. I wanted each tablescape to become a conversation starter and play a part in the overall story.”
—the Camp Round Top hostess
In LaMere’s script for Camp Round Top, she imagined the hostess and her friends sitting around the table each evening, sharing tales from the field and the treasures they had unearthed in a beautiful environment that would encourage those conversations. The reality more than matched the narrative. “One of the things I love most about events is that they are ephemeral in nature and encapsulate a special moment in time that can never be repeated exactly the same way,” she says. However, as guests departed for their respective homes at the end of the week with suitcases bursting with purchases, relationships strengthened, and lasting memories made, they no doubt eagerly longed for a sequel.
THE NIGHTS OF CAMP ROUND TOP
Attire Come as you are (cowboy boots optional) • Décor a rustic blend of Texan and Mexican elements capped off by Antonio Bond’s botanical tablescape that included antique trinkets and talismans to evoke treasures that might be found during the show • Menu homemade chips and caviar; wild trout salad; duck à l’orange haute dogs; lobster, wagyu steak, and sunchoke tacos; churros with hot chocolate • Memorable Moment Chef Yann Nury’s tortillas ceremoniales, branded with the Camp Round Top monogram
Attire Kasbah caftans • Décor inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s legendary villa in Marrakesh, with kilim rugs, patterned poufs, vibrant flowers, and fruits • Menu baba ganoush; kefta meatballs; lamb shoulder with harissa vegetables served in hand-forged copper tagines; baklava; and mint tea • Memorable Moment anticipating each course by fanning a tasseled place card and menu deck with Moroccan-tile motifs and Majorelle blue
Attire linen • Décor organic, as if the table and everything on it had sprung from the earth, including Bond’s wispy floral arrangements that looked foraged from the meadow beyond • Menu carpaccio of grouper; guinea fowl; white peaches and cream • Memorable Moments sharing photographs at the table of individual aura readings taken earlier in the day; after dinner, a private performance by singer Lavelle White, a 90-something Texas blues legend
MORE FROM CAMP
By Karen Carroll | Photography by Dagnushka
Event Design + Coordination by Cassie LaMere Events
Floral Design by Antonio Bond, Transplants Floral
This story appears in Flower magazine’s Sept/Oct 2022 issue, available on newsstands August 23. Subscribe, find a store near you, or sign up for our free e-newsletter.
More from Camp Round Top