Round Top – Fall 2012
by Christopher K. Travis
“You won’t believe what happened in the shop today!” exclaimed my wife.
“Yeah,” I responded with all the limp enthusiasm of a man who’s been married forty years. “What was that?”
Her eyes squinted in a threatening manner, but she continued her story. “There were three young women from Houston in the shop today. They bought something and then opened the door to leave when another young lady came running across the street. She was all flustered. Her eyes were wide, and she started screaming “you’ll never guess who I saw. I got their autographs! They talked to me!’”
I realized she was telling a celebrity story. We get those in Round Top from time to time. Lyle Lovett has been seen on the Square carrying a pie from Royers. Sandra Bullock sightings get reported, and the Governor of Texas shows up in town when he wants to wind down. One gets a bit jaded.
“Guess who it was,” she panted.
I made the three obvious guesses. “John Lennon? Justin Bieber? Kim Jong Il?”
“Two of those guys are dead!” She shook her head and looked triumphant. “No, it was the Junk Gypsies!”
A Guilty Habit
Since I run an architecture firm, I am supposed to be snooty about design. So last winter, when the Queen told me about a new HGTV show called the Junk Gypsies and set in Round Top, I watched the first episode with the proper condescending attitude. The first show I had to admit they were a bit clever. The second show I became somewhat impressed. After that it was all downhill.
The next thing you know I was gaga over faded wedding dresses turned into curtains, worn out pinball machines turned into sewing tables, an armada of second-hand sheet metal pirate ships turned into a chandelier, and a rusted tailgate transformed into a drop down writing desk. My favorite was an old piano keyboard turned into a coffee table for rockabilly songwriter John Evans.
Three episodes in I was a rabid Junk Gypsy fan. I am not alone. The last time I checked the Junk Gypsy Company Facebook page, it has 68,000 likes. They have 13,000 followers on Twitter. Not only do they have a nationally televised HGTV show but a couple of Today segments under their belts, coverage in Country Living and Glamour magazine, and a host of major metropolitan dailies.
Top Ten American Idol finalist Skylar Lane wore their Junk Gypsy attire multiple times on the most watched entertainment show on television. They designed the décor for the tour bus of tough-girl country music star Miranda Lambert and then did the decorating for Miranda’s marriage to country artist, and The Voice judge, Blake Shelton. They gypsyfied an Airstream travel trailer for Nashville star Dierks Bentley.
Their Junk Gypsy mystique captured the heart of TV producer Dawn Fitzgerald (also producer of the man-candy reality show Ice Road Truckers). The next thing you know, the three women were fast friends and had the attention of HGTV and Lloyd Braun.
Braun is near the top of the entertainment food chain. He co-founded BermanBraun after serving as the head of the Yahoo! Media Group. Before that he was the Chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group and developed programs such as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, Grey’s Anatomy, Alias, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and The Bachelor. The character “Lloyd Braun” on the sitcom Seinfeld was named for him.
That’s pretty high cotton for two ladies who started their business thirteen years ago in Overton, Texas with $2,000 and a beat-up pickup.
The Junk Gypsies have joined the pantheon of other famous Round Top icons such as concert pianist James Dick of the Festival Institute at Round Top, tiny town newbie Rachel Ashwell of Shabby Chic fame, our Shakespeare at Winedale program that has performed at the Globe Theatre in London, Bud Royer—King of Pies and PR, author Leon Hale, Emma Lee Turney, founder of the Round Top Antiques Show, and our 160 year old America fest, the Round Top Fourth of July Parade.
In a final media coup that will likely take their careers to a new level, the Junk Gypsies have now leveraged the immense prestige of the Round Top Register’s media empire by agreeing to an interview. Man, they know how to create buzz!
The Cowboy and the Gypsy
Amie and Jolie Sikes are the stars of Junk Gypsy. Their story began long ago in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall. Rockwall holds the distinction of being the smallest, and second wealthiest, county in Texas. Their father Phillip, journeying like Abraham in the Old Testament, fled Rockwall with his family when they were young.
Like sensible people, Phillip and Janie chose to save their young daughters from the sinful materialism and decadence of urban life and moved to the small town “promised land” of Overton in northeast Texas. That call to “follow your heart” became a family tradition. It is the core of the Junk Gypsy mystique, “to thine own self be true, y’all.”
In the Sikes family the legend is that dad is the cowboy, and mom is the gypsy. In one of the episodes of Junk Gypsy, Amie and Jolie managed a surprise transformation of their parent’s new home in Round Top and memorialized that theme in their living room.
Phillip and his many brothers grew up working hard on a big family ranch in Arkansas. Janie was a rambler who went her own way and had a creative itch. The cowboy and the gypsy fell in love. Amie and Jolie were the sparks that resulted.
The Sikes family started a pizza restaurant called AJ’s Place in Overton. The girls grew up mopping floors, cleaning toilets, and taking out the trash. They learned important lessons that would guide their actions as businesswomen. Jolie learned the power of building a good team and keeping it happy. Amie learned there is no shame in hard work.
“We sure didn’t spoil them,” their mother assured me.
Watching the Junk Gypsy TV show, one learns that both women are handy with a nail gun and a circle saw. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty while in the process of turning some castoff into a masterpiece. One minute they’re knee deep in saw dust and covered with paint. The next they are decked out in ruffles and frills.
Phillip and Janie worked hard to provide for their family. Eventually, Janie also opened an antiques mall continuing her fascination with what she called “junkin.” She and the girls learned to make a lot of money go a long way shopping for décor for AJ’s as it grew into new locations in nearby towns. They also worked together to restore the older buildings that housed their restaurants.
After high school they left Overton for Texas A&M. They were roommates. Amie planned to become a lawyer and Jolie a doctor. After Amie got her degree in journalism, she took a job working at the state capitol for Representative Paul Sadler. She was at the center of Texas’ famous school finance crisis in 1991. She dealt with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal when “everybody in the nation had a stake in Texas’ tax structure.”
Jolie completed a master’s degree in bio-medical science. That’s when the gypsy in their genes started acting up.
First Amie, then Jolie, grew disillusioned with the constraints of ordinary life. By now their mom had become a master junker. One fateful day Amie came to the conclusion that her heart was not in politics and hit the road junkin’ with her mom. She loved the freedom of that gypsy lifestyle and the creative people she met in places such as Warrenton and Canton. By the time Jolie finished her master’s degree, she had come to the same conclusion and joined the other Sikes girls.
Amie and Jolie loved life on the road—particularly at Warrenton, the sprawling flea market and gypsy dealer side of the Round Top show. They loved the camaraderie in the evenings. All the dealers gathered around campfires. Folks would bring their guitars and the stars would shine. They met many creative people they admired.
After five years of that gypsy lifestyle, the Sikes girls decided they wanted to start building a bigger business. Amie moved in with Jolie and her husband Todd in College Station and began to design their website. “Thank God someone had a real job,” Amie reminisces.
“I am a self-taught graphic artist. We built the website ourselves. We were hell-bent to make it happen.” The coders who helped them criticized their decisions, but learned it is not easy to buck the will of the Sikes sisters. I said, “this is our business, and we’re not asking you how to do it” Amie remembers. “At the end of the day, it’s our boat. We listen to what everybody says, but we’re gonna do it our way.”
That was the beginning of the Junk Gypsy Company.
The Gypsy’s Junk-O-Rama Prom
The last segment of the HGTV show was about the Junk-O-Rama Prom. That event has been going on at Warrenton for nine years. It started as a simple dress- up party for their friends and customers. Now people fly in from all over the nation to attend, all of them decked out in junkified, outlandish outfits.
“It was just an evolution of what we wanted to do and what our customers want to do. Now it has become a phenomenon,” admitted Jolie.
This year they put it on at the Old Texas Dance Hall at Marburger Farms. “It was more of a ball than a prom this time,” pointed out Amie. “It was the first time we got to decorate it.”
Junk Gypsy Style – Body Gear
Wandering around at gypsyville.com, you get an idea of the breadth of the Junk Gypsy product line and even more so the fact that they have done something difficult, created a style.
They have also built what is becoming a national brand. That is no small feat.
At their online store they have everything a free-spirited country bad girl could ever want from Thelma and Louise key chains to “Not all who wander are lost” belt buckles; from four dollar “fastest girl in town” koozies to $750 eighteen inch tall silver studded “Jagger boots”; a whole line of “Little Gypsy” clothes for children including “Fancy lil’ girl petticoats” in pale pink, RUBY red, and Rockstar black. My favorite was the “Mama tried” one piece for toddlers.
There are Junk Gypsy accessories, Junk Gypsy jewelry, sexy Junk Gypsy wearables of all sorts and sizes for women and men, Junk Gypsy Road Gear such as the “Hippie Highway denim rick-rack” steering wheel cover, and more. It’s a regular cornucopia of gypsy-vibed fashion accouterments, enough to outfit every trendy bootscootin’, hard-partyin’, barrier-brakin’ gal in the US of A.
Junk Gypsy magic is what happens when you mix two quarts creativity with a quart of down home, half a cup of flirt, and a pinch of “rebellion.”
Junk Gypsy Style – Interior Design
Here’s how the Junk Gypsies won my heart. I am not into fashion, as my children and wife will tell you. In fact, I have a hard time matching my socks. But I am interested in architecture and interior design and what impact is has on people. I have some strong opinions about it that I am not afraid to express.
Before I tell you what Junk Gypsy magic means to me, it is important to understand that Amie and Jolie had never done a single interior design project on a stationary home (only a tour bus and an Airstream) before they started filming for HGTV. So, on the show we were seeing the baby steps of what I predict will become an illustrious new expansion of Junk Gypsy Company.
Watching the show it was not only their amazing creativity that got to me, it was what they used as inspiration for their designs. Without any training, their natural instinct was to interview their clients to understand who they were and what they cared about, including what they wanted to experience emotionally in their new spaces.
Said simply, they tried to create home environments for people that will help them feel better about themselves and increase their sense of well being. Often the result was that their clients, and Amie and Jolie, ended up in tears at the end of segment because they had accomplished that goal.
Now that might not seem like rocket science to you. After all, isn’t that what most interior designers and architects are trained to do? The short answer is “no.”
To understand what impressed me most about the Junk Gypsies, you have to understand a bit about the history of architecture.
You may have heard the names of two important American architects. One is Chicago architect Louis Sullivan who popularized the phrase “form follows function.” The other is
Phillip Johnson, often considered the American father of the modernist movement that began in Europe. Johnson declared that architecture should first be art. He held that the profession had no functional responsibility at all.
Post modern architecture is even more hostile to the experiences of the inhabitants of buildings.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a new environmentalist ethic began its rise. Architect and mathematician Christopher Alexander and other rebels like Steward Brand brought new ideas to architectural philosophy. They supported a new focus on the daily patterns of life of people and on tailoring buildings to the eco-systems in which they are placed.
In the last fifteen years, a few, rare voices have taken the position that the personality and values of the specific people who are to inhabit a living space should be the guiding principle for residential design.
This trend leads designers to look to psychology and neuroscience for clues to creating homes tailored to people. That is how I approach my clients and why I love the Junk Gypsies.
Amie and Jolie are on the leading edge of two powerful movements in design. First, what they do is remarkably green. They take cast-off objects and recycle those valueless items in ways that create meaning and value.
This ethic is at the heart of their art. Even more important, they are showing others they can do it, too. Their art is the art of the accessible, the everyday. They view cast-offs, the eccentric, the out of date, and the flawed as a pallet of colors.
That is why a lot of their fans are so rabid. They make quality design attainable for those with little money and no training. They empower other women to take a chance and express themselves in their own homes.
Their accomplishment is akin to that of their neighbor Rachel Ashwell who popularized a style, now called“Shabby Chic,” that arose in England as a response to upper-middle class design extremes.
Amie and Jolie use many methods popularized by Ashwell. They acknowledge that but have their own buzz word for wood and metal surfaces that show layers of different colored old paint. They call it “chippy-peely.”
The Junk Gypsies have countrified this style, reinforced the rebellion inherent in it, and introduced it to a whole new audience.
Think about this. What if we looked at deteriorated old neighborhoods in the inner city the same way Amie and Jolie look at a flea market? What if we looked at ALL our castoffs not just as potential raw materials but as artistic statements in their current form? What if we used what we have right in front of us to create a better and more beautiful world?
That puts the possibility of their approach into perspective.
Lettin’ it Rip, Tater Chip
When watching Amie and Jolie on TV, what you see are two rambling, rebel country girls who wax from frilly/feminine to tomboy do-it-yourself. When you meet them in person, you discover a couple of savvy professional women with strong wills, fertile vision, and lots of courage.
Since I had the opportunity to interview most of their family (Todd was out of town), I also learned they have created an effective, workable family business. We met at their new Junk Gypsy store just on the edge of Round Top. It’s a really great space and quite an addition to great shopping and tourist attractions in Round Top.
As we visited amid the construction, Amie’s daughter Indie kept walking up in new outfits. Jolie’s son, Cash Baker, was wheeling around the big open space on a scooter. Other Junk Gypsy team members would arrive from time to time to handle a little business or fill our water glasses. It had more the feel of a commune than a business.
I asked their father if they ever get into arguments.
“No,” he said. To illustrate his point he told me a story about his childhood. “We had a family farm back in Arkansas. My brothers and I never argued about how the farm should be run. If one of the brothers had a particular passion for a particular issue, that was okay with the rest of us. The same is true here. We realize that when someone is passionate about something, they should have the lead.”
Then, with a wry smile, he added, “the only time it does not work that way is when I am passionate about something. (A chorus of groan erupts.) What it amounts to is that family is more important than business.”
When the Sikes get together, there is a lot of teasing and commentary in the air. Phillip, who talks at a slower pace than the rest, gets goaded with “let her rip, taterchip” and “pee or get off the pot.” When Janie starts saying something nice about her girls, they often try to embellish it, at which point she will take them down a peg.
Since Amie and Jolie are the CEOs of the Junk Gypsy Company, Janie will pick a ripe moment and sarcastically mention that she and Phillip “know where our place is.” The result of such comments is laughter. You know you are in a group of people who have spent a lifetime working together and loving one another.
The same appears to be true for their staff. Jolie shared that even back at AJ’s. She was always the one who wanted everyone to get along. “I am a bit obsessive about keeping everyone happy. I want our team to have good energy. The group we have now is really amazing. When you walk in there, everyone is smiling and happy. We have a great crew that has our backs.”
I toured the shipping department of Junk Gypsy Company. The young women who work there were busy, happy, and exceptionally pretty. Some of them also serve as models for Junk Gypsy attire. One of them, Archie Allen, had her small home turned into a fitting “hippie hangout” on one of the Junk Gypsy segments. She also appeared on the show several times.
The Family Team
I asked each of them to pick another member of the family and speak to their role in Junk Gypsy Company. Jolie went first and picked her mom.
“She is the mother hen. She will tell us the truth. She does not sugar coat anything. She can out flea market anybody. She is a diehard. She has an undying passion for junk. That’s why we love little quirky things. There would be no Junk Gypsy without Mom.”
Then she added, “…but really there would be no Junk Gypsy without any of us. We work as a team.”
Phillip went next and picked Jolie. After a round of hurry ups from the others, and some teasing from me about picking his favorite, he responded, “I have no favorites. I love my children. Jolie’s special talent is organization along with design. She has a real eye for putting everything together. She has design skills and creates some fabulous stuff. The two of them work together so well they complete each other’s sentences. One will have an idea, and the other will expound upon it.”
Amie took on her dad. “We always say Dad keeps us out of jail. He is our business manager. Dad is the voice of reason. He is the eternal optimist, always has a can do spirit. He is also really creative, though he denies it. Growing up on the farm, you made it or you fixed it. He cuts all the checks and pays for everything. He gives us an allowance, even though it’s our own money.” Then she pointed out the literary side of the cowboy. It turns out he can cite Edgar Allan Poe. “He can recite poetry like nobody’s business. It’s unbelievable. He can recite “Annabel Lee” in its entirety and many other poems.”
Completing Amie’s sentences, Jolie chimed in, “He’s a workaholic. We get caught up, and we think, ‘Oh good, now Dad can take a rest’ but then he always starts doing something else. He cannot sit around. We might want to sit around, but he won’t sit down. We feel guilty, so we can’t stop.”
Phillip laughed. “There are things to get done and a short time to get it done. I like work. It keeps me out of the bars and pool halls.”
Momma Janie is the shy one. She is so proud of her girls it doesn’t take much to bring her to tears. “Amie is the visionary behind the business. She designs the T-shirts. She is such a stickler about a design and will go over it for hours to get it right. Both of them are also great writers.” (Evidence of this is available at junkgypsyblog.com .)
“The creativity that Amie has…” she chokes up with emotion and then ends, “Just be glad I didn’t cry.”
Jolie’s husband Todd is also an important member of the family. I have seen his picture. He is a big, tall guy who towers over this wife. Just like their dad, they like to dress him in a cowboy hat. I asked Jolie what role he plays on the team.
“He is my gravity. Todd is very diplomatic. He has that God-given gift of speaking in a way that does not offend anyone. He can tell someone something they don’t want to hear, and they will say ‘thank you.’” She also let me know that Todd was a state FFA officer and that he can beatbox. So he’s the Doug E. Fresh of Junk Gypsyville.
Talk about Todd brought up a great story I had not seen in other interviews. At one point in their career, they had to work with a very difficult production supervisor. “On day two of setup, Amie and I felt like we couldn’t do it” remembered Jolie. “We were ready to quit. Todd sat me down and told me, ‘you guys are going to have to get out there and smile because no one who watches is going to say the show is bad because of the producer.’”
Todd’s advice got them back on their horses, but that is when I learned it is not a good idea to mess with the Sikes girls. They are buddies with Miranda Lambert and share her views about dealing with people who do them wrong.
I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun
Wait by the door and light a cigarette
He wants a fight, well now he’s got one
He ain’t seen me crazy yet
Amie continued,“He was mean to our whole crew, and we love our crew. He was mean to our customers. Customers would try to walk in the tent, and he would yell at them. It embarrassed us and embarrassed them. I told him, “Listen, there would be no TV show without those people right there. That’s the reason we have a TV show. We cannot be mean to them.”
Things turned around after they stood up for themselves. They had a great experience working with HGTV on the Junk Gypsies set in part from what they learned from that difficult relationship.“At the end of the day,” pointed out Amie, “we had to be happy, or it wasn’t going to be a good show.”
In the family they say Amie is the “voice” of the Junk Gypsies. As her mom put it, “Sometimes we are all feeling something, but we are too nice to say it, but Amie is a tiger in disguise.”
“Both girls have that kind of courage. Their mom tells a story about Amie when she was in the third grade. A tall girl in the class was bullying people and cutting in line before her turn. Tiny Amie went up to her and called her out. Jolie did the same thing to a boy in her class and ended up with a bloody nose.
Either way I don’t plan to cross them.
Home in Round Top
The Sikes family is in the grips of Round Top Magic. People who move to this special community feel that way when they first arrive. It is a real love affair. I asked them how things were going in their new home.
Jolie started off. “Every night, when we lie down, we are so thankful we live here. And every time we go to the city it reminds us why. It has messed up our gypsy lifestyle because now we don’t want to run around that much. We’re just real content.”
She looked wistful. “I kept feeling guilty when I first moved here; I kept feeling like we had discovered this amazing little treasure of a town, and why doesn’t everyone know about it. I almost feel guilty I live in such a wonderful place. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”
Phillip said, “It has been really good for us, and the people here have been good to us.” He said the best thing about it was new friends.
Amie had more. “I love the creative energy here. It’s infectious. It begets more creativity.” She smiled at Indie fondly. “My daughter talks about Round Top like it’s a person. We came back to town from Atlanta recently, and she asked me, ‘Mommy, did Round Top miss us while we were gone?’ Of course, Round Top is a girl. Everyone in Indie’s life is a girl, including Jesus.”
She continued, “It’s such a creative and progressive area. You have these creative, business-minded spirits, but it is so back to the basics. You’ve got chickens in the coop, stars at night, culture. It’s a phenomenon. We look forward to raising our kids here.”
Janie wrapped up the interview. “It’s the nature for me. Jolie and Amie just saw a doe followed by a fawn running across the road in front of their car. Yesterday Phillip and I saw a bobcat with a mouse in its mouth. The trees…the area is so beautiful.”
Welcome home Sikes family. Glad to have you in the neighborhood.
Last Minute Breaking News: Right before this magazine went to press, Amie let me know some important news. During our interview, they didn’t know whether or not HGTV was planning to pick up their show for a second year. While the deal was not set at the time this issue was printed, she told me that HGTV has just made their offer. Sounds like there is a good chance the Junk Gypsies will be back next season! Get ready Junk Gypsy fans!