In late December, Lockhart resident Allie Launius uploaded an innocuous-seeming video to TikTok about a rustic piece of furniture she’d recently nabbed from Facebook Marketplace. Launius, owner of the vintage furnishing outpost Stampworthy Goods, knew she’d found something special with this light wooden cabinet, which folded out into a little breakfast nook Murphy table–style, with a cubby for stools tucked underneath. She didn’t expect for the video to go viral though, with millions of plays and hundreds of commenters gushing about the table’s homespun patina and practical potential. 

Comments poured in, with some viewers exclaiming that it’d be perfect for their work-from-home setup. Others fantasized about repurposing it as either a sewing or hobby cabinet. “It struck a chord with people because it was just so functional. It’s not just a beautiful piece that you have in your home that you don’t use,” Launius says. “It’s something that you could use every day.” 

It’s tempting to think that this folksy Murphy table’s virality can be chalked up to it having its fifteen minutes at the whims of the algorithm. In reality, it nods towards a growing demand for refined, down-home furnishings that would have been described as dowdy just a few years ago—picture heavy oak wood cabinets and unfussy chairs carved from pine that might have sat in your grandparents’ living room for decades. “People love the quirk,” says Maria Bergh, co-owner of Austin vintage shop Joint Detail. “Something that’s just a little off that adds a little texture and an unexpected moment to a more refined space.” These handmade pieces are decidedly imperfect, and that’s precisely the appeal. 


Replying to @Maggie Crabtree we agree! Cant believe we were lucky enough to find another one #fbmarketplacefinds #facebookmarketplace #vintagefinds

♬ MONACO – Bad Bunny

“The wear and tear speak to a lifetime and age and a durability of pieces that don’t exist in our world of fast design,” says Matthew Tsang, an Austin-based interior designer who works on commercial and residential properties. “So there’s a value to old pieces that have stood the test of time, craftsmanship-wise. You see the wear and tear, you see the stories, and you see the meals shared by generations.” 

Fast furniture retailers, like Wayfair and Amazon, haven’t quite caught up yet with the rise in demand for homespun-oak night tables and cabinetry that vintage sellers and designers are seeing right now. Which, naturally, also accounts for some of the allure. “This style is a response to like, ‘Okay, everyone had their home flooded with the same-looking pieces.’ And those really cool handmade pieces and rustic pieces aren’t easily replicated,” says Launius. “I definitely get people asking about stories of the origin of pieces, and the more that they know, the more invested they feel. Because when they have guests into their home, there’s a sense of pride in saying: ‘This piece came from here, and this person made it. This is the life it had before.’ ”

Vintage resellers and designers alike say that Round Top, the antique market turned taste-making design behemoth, has a lot to do with the ongoing trend of “grandma-chic” furnishings. Round Top is both the chicken and the egg: the show has grown to the point where it’s now setting trends in Texas and beyond, and many vendors at Round Top happen to be specialists in selling these types of furnishings. “Everybody that comes to Marburger and then goes back up to Chicago, they go over back to New York, they go to wherever, and they go: ‘Wow, this is selling at Round Top,’ ” says Brandon Dill, co-owner of Joint Detail. “Which has now become the biggest show in the world—and it just trickles out around the country.” Stephanie Layne Disney, the show manager for Round Top, adds that the legendary event now presents “a unique opportunity to affect design from every level: There are designers buying for clients, there are store owners buying for their stores, there are teams coming in to shop to furnish an entire boutique hotel. But then you’re also seeing, like, a mom from Houston.” 

The rise of weathered-looking furniture out of Round Top also nods to something happening within the cultural zeitgeist. The shift toward more rustic furnishings feels diametrically opposed to the polished, mid-century modern aesthetic that’s been ubiquitous for decades now. The hairpin legs and sleek teakwood flourishes that often define the mid-century look are so culturally pervasive that they’ve spawned countless big-box knockoffs, but the proliferation has also resulted in furnishings that are decidedly not mid-century being labeled as such. “The whole mid-century modern aesthetic, or movement, was so driven by Mad Men. And then it went overboard, right? People just went crazy for it,” says Bergh. “Then rooms just started to feel very time-capsule-y. And now there’s . . . backlash is not the right word, but a correction.”

These grandma-chic furnishings feel warmer and more lived-in than their immaculately refinished mid-century counterparts. While charming imperfections often come with the territory of buying vintage anything, these more handmade-looking pieces are sometimes commanding high prices with flaws that toe the line of damage. “You go to Round Top, and there’s, like, legit holes in the leather of the sofas, and they’re twelve thousand dollars,” says Dill. “And they’re selling them like hotcakes!” 

The desire to possess something that’s original despite its imperfections, as opposed to a pristine item that’s widely available, has also picked up steam in the cultural consciousness. “It’s more of an acceptance of things that are somewhat, maybe, flawed that can be looked at as part of the charm of something rustic,” says Ted Allen, the owner of Period Modern in San Antonio. “Whereas a lot of the pure mid-century stuff needs to be restored to perfection.” This phenomenon isn’t unique to furniture, either: consider how the hottest thing to wear to a sports game now isn’t a custom-made new jersey—it’s vintage.

The markets for secondhand clothing and vintage furniture have been hot for years, yet the pandemic kicked off a surge that surprised mom-and-pop resellers. “We never did better business than we did during a pandemic, as scary as it was,” says Allen. “We pretty quickly realized that we were accidentally in an industry that was one that benefited from people being at home.” Launius, who worked in travel before launching Stampworthy Goods in 2017, says that her tiny store “blew up” in 2020. “I had to get a space that was triple the size, and now I have a local delivery guy and do nationwide shipping,” Launius says. “Because people were just sitting in their home staring at their same four walls, wishing that things felt homier and different.”

Some with cash to burn sought out timeless mid-century gems, such as Eames loungers and Eero Saarinen tulip chairs—items that have been trendy again since the late nineties and became culturally dominant after Mad Men premiered in the mid-aughts. (Those classic pieces are likely here to stay, and tend to retain their value: as the Washington Post notes, Herman Miller sells more Eames loungers now than at any other time in its near seventy-year history.) Mid-century modern furniture has long endured, in part, because of its clean lines and beautiful craftsmanship. Yet a favorite wood of mid-century furniture, teak, is fussy, unforgiving on dings or an accidentally placed glass of water without a coaster. Whereas softer woods such as oak and pine, frequently sourced from the likes of Holland, France, and Denmark, are more generous on the sorts of mistakes, scrapes, and notches that inevitably accrue the longer you live with something at home.

The fact that inflation and interest rates remain doggedly high, though lockdowns and mask mandates have abated, is also significant. Consumers, notably younger generations, are opting to stay at home to save money—which is contributing to the movement toward warmer furniture such as cozier chairs, cabinets, and credenzas that don’t “feel cold and stale,” as Dill describes, and some are mixing these pieces with classic mid-century items to create a textured look within rooms. These comfortable statement pieces happen to be a specialty of many Round Top vendors. “We’re seeing a more traditional, more antiquey look, because of the people that they bring in that specialize in that,” Bergh says of Round Top, where she recently saw a man swiftly offload roughly twenty homely cabinets. And of course, Round Top isn’t just a niche shopping excursion for designers anymore, either. As Texas Monthly’s Katy Vine noted in late 2022, “Round Top has evolved: it’s no longer simply a place to go treasure hunting; it’s a place to be Instagrammed, a host city for a girls’ trip, a market with global design influence.” 

The furniture trend ecosystem has traditionally functioned roughly as follows: A designer with a big social media following uses, for instance, a heavy Brutalist table in a project they’re working on. They post a walk-through video of the space on social media, which maybe goes viral. Later, celebrities hawk certain pieces in that style for the likes of Architectural Digest home tours, then more localized versions hit the regional publications (such as Texas Monthly). Fast furniture replicas from giant corporations, catering to consumers seeking a more affordable price point, usually aren’t far behind. By the time retailers send these designs to fabricators overseas, “it’s accessible to the masses,” Tsang says, adding that at that point, “it’s a faux pas in the design world and [designers] would never touch it.” Although it seems inevitable that direct-to-consumer brands will find a way to knock off these grandma-chic furnishings, it may not be that successful—given that these furnishings’ natural patina is what makes them coveted, and therefore irreplaceable, items in the first place. “An antique dresser with, like, weathered paint and wear patterns from how it was actually used a hundred years ago? You can’t recreate that.” says Disney. “There’s no real reproduction of that. And so I think that is going to add a dimension to a room that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Affordability also factors into the push toward more rustic furniture. Teakwood vintage furniture became astronomically expensive for those buying shipping containers’ worth of it from Scandinavia to sell at Round Top, Dill says. So the thinking has evolved, he says, to something like: “Let’s switch to Danish oak, because it was affordable and nobody wanted it. Okay, let’s fill a container up with Danish oak.” The containers brimming with this furniture then arrive in central Texas. Just by virtue of being at Round Top, Danish oak is now minted as a hot new thing. Provenance increasingly plays a critical role in this exchange as well. “Even though it may be a little more traditional, or grandmotherly, just the fact that it was an older piece from a foreign country gives it importance and gravitas,” says Tsang.

The demand for these sorts of furnishings suggests that today’s consumers are searching for an ineffable something, a je ne sais quois that a meticulously constructed Diamond Chair can’t provide: proof of life. A carved pine cabinet, with delicate etchings and idiosyncratic geometric patterns bearing decades of hand-carved craftsmanship, sparks imagination merely by existing. What sort of storied existence has this piece had, and what kind of future could it have in the context of a new space—your space?