'Junk Gypsies' Stars on Miranda Lambert, Dumpster Diving and the Open Road
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By Chris Gardner
When A-listers Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert were planning their May 2011 wedding, they wanted to create an unforgettable setting, one unlike the typically glamorous celebrity nuptials that grace the pages of glossy magazines. In doing so, they turned to a pair of Texas-bred sisters -- Amie and Jolie Sikes -- who had no experience in event planning, wedding decor or interior design. But they did know about one thing: junk. And that's all they needed to pull off a beautiful evening for two of country music's biggest stars.
It is their love for all things "junk" that has now made the Sikes sisters stars in their own right. The duo are headlining their own show on HGtv, aptly titled "Junk Gypsies." ("Junk Gypsies" is produced by BermanBraun, the production company behind Wonderwall.) The charming series, which airs on Saturday nights, chronicles their special talent for seeking out hidden gems everywhere -- from flea markets and antique fairs to dumpsters and dives -- and using the pieces to transform the living spaces of everyone from regular folk to recognizable faces. It's a makeover project, but as the sisters describe it, it's a series that displays their affinity for creating an entire lifestyle inspired by hard work, the open road and recyclable materials. Wonderwall caught up with the sisters to discuss how they got started, what it's been like to work with celebrities, and where they go from here.
Wonderwall: I read that you started your journey 13 years ago with only $2,000 and an old farm truck. Tell me about how all this got started and how you paved the way for such an interesting career?
Amie Sikes: It was a multi-step process, but it was born out of the dissatisfaction of life as it was, the office life and the corporate world. All of those things brought disharmony with the state we were in, and we really wanted to do something creative and to be on the road. We really did not know what we were going to do. Thank goodness we had parents who were supportive.
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Jolie Sikes: They encouraged us to take time to figure it out. Our parents were entrepreneurs -- we were raised in the pizza business, in the restaurant business. We learned hard work early on, and once you develop a love for hard work and for junk and recycling, you just don't know any other way.
WW: How were you able to translate a desire to be creative and a desire to be on the open road into a thriving business?
AS: We both went to college, but we don't have business degrees. Growing up in the restaurant business, that was our college, and like Jolie said the other day, we didn't realize that we were interning our whole life, basically, and learning how to run a business, everything from mopping the floors to dealing with customers to dealing with employees. Having that background was the backbone of how we were able to turn this into a business -- the sweat of the brow, the hard work and weaving in the American dream. We have been relentless, and we wanted to stay true to what we like and what we believe in, without letting let anybody put us in a box, and we have been firm in that. And we have each other. Whenever we have doubts, we're there to support each other.
JS: We are all a big family and we are business partners and we're best friends. They say the family that works together stays together.
WW: The junk gypsy idea is more like an entire lifestyle that you've created, a lifestyle that encourages breaking free, hitting the open road, and embarking on a journey of discovery, and that's exactly what you both have done. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your journey?
AS: Being on the open road -- Jolie and I call that dashboard therapy -- is the best thing in the whole entire world that you can do. Take a drive, turn off the cell phone, turn off the music and turn off the GPS. And it really is like therapy. It's a way to get in touch with yourself and what you want. Some of our best business ideas have come to us on the road. It definitely has been hard; it's the hardest thing we've ever done, but it's also the most rewarding thing we've ever done. It's a test of you own self fortitude, and for us, it's brought such a sense of accomplishment.
RELATED: 'Junk Gypsies' on HGtv
WW: How did you develop your eye for finding hidden treasures from things that most people consider junk?
AS: That's something that people ask us all the time, and we're not sure. Growing up, our parents had four restaurants, and they were all in old buildings. We renovated those buildings and decorated those buildings and fixed and painted them. Our parents weren't rich restaurant owners. We were middle-class, and our parents were so thrifty, and our dad would never throw anything away. ... Because of that, we grew up going to auctions, and [our parents] had their own eye for decorating, and Jolie and I developed our own sense along the way from being with them.
WW: Music is a big influence for your lifestyle, from artists like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. What is it about their music that complements the junk gypsy lifestyle so well?
JS: The junk gypsy lifestyle spans all genres of music really, and we are influenced by music, but we don't know how to explain it. ... Musicians, too, are unusually drawn to our business. Musicians call us all the time wanting us to work with them, and oftentimes they are not even sure what they want us to do, but they just want to work together in some way.
WW: Any recognizable names that we would know?
AS: We work with Miranda Lambert, who is a dear friend, and Dierks Bentley. He cold-called us, actually, which we were flattered by. Other big names too. Currently Skylar Laine on "American Idol" is wearing our stuff on every show, and we didn't even reach out to her; she is just a Junk Gypsy fan. She wore a shirt this week that said, "Junk Gypsy" -- it's so great.
WW: What was it like to work with Miranda and Blake on their wedding?
JS: We started working with Miranda seven or eight years ago. She asked us to do her tour bus, and so we did that. And then a few years later, we did her Airstream, and a few years after that was the wedding. And she asked us to do the whole wedding, and we had never done a wedding before. And we had never done a tour bus or an Airstream before either (laughs). But by that time, we had developed a really strong relationship, not just with Miranda and Blake, but with their families. … They got engaged, and the very next day she said, "We want you to do our wedding." And we said, “You do know we're junkers, right? (laughs)" And she said, "Y'all can do it. … I just want y'all to do your thing. I just want to walk in, and I want to be completely surprised and amazed and blown away. I don't want to have any input. I trust y'all." And that was great because there's no manual for what we do and there's no business plan. We didn't go to college to become junkers. Unfortunately there's no degree for that. (laughs) Our business has been unpredictable. We just can't operate off a how-to manual. We fly by the seat of our pants.
AS: We've never signed a contract. We do everything on a handshake -- even with the wedding. Everyone involved in the wedding had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and they didn't ask us to. There was some disharmony about that with some of the vendors, and the Lamberts said, "The Gypsies are family to us, and we will not ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement." Everything we have done with celebrities has all been based on trust. There's never been contracts, and to me, that's amazing.
WW: You don't describe yourselves as decorators or designers. Do you find that it throws people off?
JS: We are finding that it does throw people off. To us, "junkers" is a normal word, and we are proud to be junkers. We adore junk and we love junk. We never wanted to claim that we were high-brow or that we carry high-brow antiques. We have some high-end antiques, but we don't claim to be specialists. We are not "Antiques Roadshow," and we don't want to be. We have junk, and we love junk like it is. That's our thing.
AS: We never set out to be decorators. When we started this show with HGtv, we said that we have never decorated anyone's house. What we have been doing for years is design work, only with our tents and all these backstage lounges that we've done for music festivals, which can be very elaborate and require a lot of hard work. But we did not think of it as "decorating." We were shocked that we could do it.
WW: Tell our readers what they can expect to see when they tune in to the show this season.
AS: It is a makeover show, essentially. The format is you first meet the family or individuals, and we talk to them about their needs . … And then we go out junking and you see some roadside stops in Texas and you see the beauty of the highways and byways of Texas. So there is a travel element to it, and that's a new thing for HGtv, and we are proud of that because it showcases the beauty of Texas. And then the next day we actually build the makeover projects in our barn. We do the work ourselves. The next day we decorate their house, and it's all done in three days.
JS: And Amie and I bawl our eyes out in each episode. We did not foresee that, because we consider ourselves to be kind of tough. (laughs) We put so much heart and soul into the way we decorate. Like with Miranda's wedding, we put so much heart and soul into every detail.
WW: Without giving away your secrets, of course, where would you say are the best places to find the best junk?
AS: We think the best place in the whole entire world -- of course we haven't traveled the world except in our minds -- is right here where we live in Round Top, [Texas]. There's this huge antique show and flea market that happens each year, and it's a two- or three-week event. It's why we moved here to Round Top, because we've been going to that market for years -- it's the best. We also just love any flea market or roadside stop. We will pull things out of dumpsters and out of people's trash. We are inspired by the road in general. Whether it's the back roads here in Texas, or even in California, where we get out of the city and just get lost. We also love the South in general. There is so much history here. It's so rich and deep.
WW: You're opening a store in Round Top. What is that going to be like?
JS: It's going to be a ton of junk, a combo of everything from our merchandise to junk to chandeliers to the great furniture we find at antique shows and flea markets. We have crazy things, like a 15-foot-tall armadillo -- just a lot of crazy stuff. The store is 8,000 square feet in a town that has a population of 90. (laughs)
AS: And our store will also feature our dad's homemade buttermilk biscuits, and that's what I'm most excited about!
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