A Madhouse of Wonderful

“Let’s make a pilgrimage to Waco.” I was heading to Texas for business. My niece had an open day during her spring break. What could be easier? We’d drive in from Hill Country and find cute cafes, cute second hand stores, and (of course) the cuteness mecca: The Magnolia Silos.


Like hunters using the scent of fresh scat to lead the way, we sniffed out vintage cast-offs the whole way there. It’s easy to see how the rustic and Farmhouse looks grew-up along these two lane roads with nothing for miles and miles . . . and then there's a pile of rusted out cans, scrap barn wood and authentic seed bags sprinkled around someone's front yard. Trash to some, I suppose.


Walking up to Magnolia Table, it became immediately clear we had not done our homework. Traffic cops did their best, but the whole place was hopping with cars and pedestrians. “I’m not sure how we missed it that other people would think coming here for spring break was a good idea,” I said as Lucy and I peered out over a line stretching all the way to the street. Stomachs rumbling, we settled on the take away market option.  


The cuteness factor far outweighed the fact we couldn’t sit down to eat our breakfast/lunch. Magnolia Table has been brought back to life as only the Gaines duo could have conceived it. The white/black accents paired with distressed wood and herb gardens gives the cafe a folksy, comfortable charm while also nodding back to its original heritage of being a turn of the century Elite Cafe roadhouse.


We grabbed some croissants, chicken salad, and strawberry butter from the take away market that also serves as Magnolia Table’s gift shop and happily revamped our meal into a picnic.


It felt good to get some cool, fresh air near the river and open up about things deeper than school or pets. Being thirteen can be complicated, and I figured having an eccentric aunt from Las Vegas might be easier to talk to than a teacher or her mother. As we climbed down (and later up) an impossibly steep staircase carved out of the hillside, the protective shield all teenagers put up started to slide down.


When I was Lucy’s age, I used to go to thrift stores on Main Street in Ventura, California. I could lose a day leafing through vintage advertisements, crusty boxes of ancient toys, and what most people would deem to be junk. No one called it “picking” back then, but apparently even at a young age I had a good eye. To this day I have no shame rummaging for discarded furniture and other finds as I now turn that “good eye” into my livelihood.


Ambling into a Waco secondhand store made up of vendor’s booths, Lucy seemed happy to get lost alongside me. “I want something for my tiki bar,” I said as we made our way through the maze of old tin canisters, beat up records, brick-a-brack, and hand crocheted afghans. Realizing Lucy has probably never been inside an attic, I kept comments about the smell of the place to myself.


I’d recently updated the old tiki bar in my backyard with some bamboo fencing and a fresh coat of bright yellow paint toned down with dry brushed glaze. The aesthetic for the whole house was finally taking on the Viva Las Vegas look I craved. Laying our eyes on a marigold yellow vintage Lazy Susan with cut-outs for beverages, I knew we had a keeper.

Using authentic pieces is one of the things I appreciated most about Fixer Upper. Whether it’s framing original architectural plans, or salvaging hardware that becomes something else entirely, Joanna and Chip did a great job keeping the heart of a place intact as they restored it.


The architectural salvage house next to the Magnolia Silos called Savage Finds Antiques & Oddities was our next stop. I walked in from the blazing outside saying, “I want a velvet painting of Elvis or a tiger or Elvis riding a tiger,” and was dizzy from the possibilities right there, waiting to be bought and taken home.  


“You’re crazy, Aunt Julie,” Lucy said as she started carefully moving items out of the way to unearth potential treasure. We considered framing covers from circa-50’s erotica, but Lucy vetoed the idea rolling her eyes, “Too weird.”


We settled on a roll of art deco wallpaper ($3). The tigers in the design got me close to my original idea, and the salmon color in the paper perfectly matches my terracotta tile. Bonus: it had been used in the mayor’s house back in the 1920s. What could be more authentically Chip and Joanna Gaines than leftover vintage wallpaper belonging to the mayor of Waco?  


I held onto that thought the rest of the day as I waited in line for a hot dog, another line to get into the Magnolia megastore, and as I looked around at the throngs of people enjoying their spring break at the Magnolia Silos.


Peering out over my surroundings, I appreciated the careful attention to detail that comes out in each and every episode of Fixer Upper. Noticing old components from when the silos were operative (currently repurposed for shaded seating for guests), in my head I could hear the voices of Chip playfully teasing Joanna who gently feigns annoyance as she steers him back to the task at hand: making those rusty metal beams and cranks into beautifully functional art.


The families who came out that day were treated to food trucks, a rose garden, plenty of shaded seating, and pillows so they could sit more comfortably on the lawn. Children ran around, semi-supervised in the kind of environment where outdoor play was considered in advance. It’s a madhouse of wonderful.


Grasping my salvaged wallpaper, I made my way through the store and warehouse where today everything is pre-manufactured. The idea of I wish I knew this before it was found coursed through my brain like it always does when a good concept gets too popular. Everything was lovely. Everything was high quality. Every single detail was thought through.


And yet, what I wanted was different.


Being at the Magnolia Silos with my niece, I longed for the original Mom & Pop shop in my mind’s eye. There I stumble upon Joanna Gaines sitting quietly at a rustic table filled with finds she’s begrudgingly willing to sell. She spies my stash, and I unroll the mayor’s wallpaper and ask the Texas farmhouse decor wizard herself: How can I incorporate this historical slice of Waco into my crazy tiki house back in Las Vegas?


A few days later I’m in Marble Falls on the outskirts of Texas Hill Country. The main street there is lined with shops like I’m sure Magnolia used to be. I wander into Birdie’s House of Design and meet Sheryl and Karl Westerman. Sheryl and I talk shop like old timers who’ve seen a thing or two but would probably squeal like school girls after finding the perfect junked-out whatchamacallit at a local flea market.


Sheryl and I recognize in each other a gypsy soul that’s always searching for something interesting, handmade and old. I promise to steal her idea for growing an herb garden in an antique toolbox (I happen to have one lying around) and we both laugh.


The next time I’m in Texas I’ll bring Lucy by her shop. There amid the store’s vignettes packed with antiques, and cast-offs Sheryl has carefully reinvisioned, my niece and I will pick up where we left off in our quest to honor the people who help us see the beautiful in the tattered and worn.

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