Finding a Piece of Paradise in Round Top: How a Houston Couple Created a Laid-Back Country Escape
This charming getaway, steeped in Round Top’s easygoing lifestyle, has both Renea Abbott and Greg Manteris hooked.
For more than 25 years, Renea Abbott has been shopping in Round Top for European antiques and vintage furnishings to fill her Houston store, Shabby Slips. So when she and her husband, Greg Manteris, sold their first Round Top house several years ago — furniture and all — Abbott was like a ship without a port.
“After six months, I couldn’t stand not having a house there,” she says. “I wanted to find a house in town, with lots of neighbors around.”
It didn’t take long to land the perfect one. Located on 2 1/2 acres dotted with tall pines along Round Top’s main road, the house is “tucked away, but in the middle of everything,” Abbott notes. “We are a half-block from the town’s only stop sign, behind the library and down the road from the Mercantile, the only grocery.”
The couple sold their Austin vacation home and now spend three or four nights a week in Round Top, population 91. Abbott can be seen tooling around in her black-and-white golf cart, in jeans and a straw hat, her hair tied in a small knot at her neck. Round Top’s vibe is country casual, with a thriving social and design scene populated by a crew of Houstonians who have homes there.
On any given night, they’ll regroup at restaurateur Lee Ellis’ Ellis Motel for drinks, Armando and Cinda Palacios’ Lulu’s or Mandito’s restaurants, and on Friday nights, everyone heads to The Stone Cellar & Round Top Dance Hall for music and dancing.
“The town is so small, you always run into people you know,” Abbott says. “We have a circle of friends we see out there, and we’re invited to something almost every night.”
With such a full social calendar, Abbott and Manteris wanted their country home to be a reprieve from the outside world, rather than a place for entertaining. Built in 1985 with Victorian-style flourishes and several covered porches, the two-story house is small and old-fashioned with tiny closets and hallways, evoking farm houses from another era. To maintain the house’s laid-back feel, the dark-stained oak floors were stripped to their natural wood, and the original windows were left untouched.
Abbott resisted the urge to modernize too much, giving the kitchen a gentle makeover with gray-and-white checked floors, white stone countertops and a new coat of glossy gray paint on the cabinets.
“We kept all the country aspects of the house that made it charming,” she says. “I tend to be too particular about everything, but I wanted this house to be really easy to live in.”
Abbott filled the interiors with furniture made from beautiful old woods and textural materials, such as an antique pine table in the dining room, discovered at a River Oaks estate sale. She spotted the Mexican equipale dining chairs, made from white pigskin and cedar strips, on the sidewalk of a shop on South Congress Avenue in Austin.
“We made a U-turn in the middle of the street to go back and get them,” she says, laughing.
Other pieces, such as a carved fruitwood settee in the entry and antique French wood bergères in the bedrooms, came from her own warehouse and are upholstered in simple white cotton and linen fabrics. Abbott is drawn to a glamorous design style — her Houston house and store have an abundance of Venetian-glass chandeliers and giltwood furniture — but the look here is elegantly understated. Sisal and stenciled hide rugs on the floors and slipcovered and skirted seating help bring things down a notch.
“My husband loves it that I’m not always telling him he can’t put his feet on the furniture, or he can’t eat in a room,” Abbott says. “We literally use the whole house.”
Abbott’s passion for Old Hollywood glamour includes the era’s black-and-white palette, and she’s subtly translated the look in her country house using gray, navy, and white with hits of black. She reupholstered the tufted bed in the primary bedroom in ink-blue wool and was delighted to see how beautiful the color looks with wood.
In an upstairs sitting room, which Abbott uses as a dressing area, she’s mixed navy, charcoal and soft black tones.
“It’s stripe on stripe on stripe,” she says, “It’s really the only pattern I use a lot.”
Abbott designed the room to resemble a small European hotel, with a gilded, scroll-arm Regency daybed covered in a ticking pattern and an overstuffed armchair reupholstered in broad stripes. A Ralph Lauren fabric is hung at the windows, and walls are covered in a repeating vertical fern pattern by Schumacher. Underfoot is a hide rug in a classic zebra print.
“I’d probably never get a client to go for this many stripes,” Abbott notes. “But it’s my favorite room in the house.”
This charming getaway, steeped in Round Top’s easygoing lifestyle, has both Abbott and Manteris hooked. As it gets harder to make the Monday-morning drive back to Houston after a relaxing long weekend, Abbott is already putting down more roots. In April, she bought a home a mile away near the Festival Hill campus, which houses the Round Top Festival Institute, and has spent the last few months refurbishing it.
“It gave me a fun project to focus on during lockdown,” Abbott says.
The acreage is big enough that she’s considering putting two more houses on the property and selling them, fully furnished, with a shared swimming pool and firepit.
“My favorite thing to do is have people out here so they can fall in love with Round Top and buy their own house,” Abbott says. “It’ll be one big happy family right here in town.”