Every item in Renita Browning’s house comes with a story. Even the century-old Texas property has its own set of lore—both historical and personal. “It was once the home of late U.S. Congressman Ray Roberts, who, rumor has it, hosted John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson on-site,” she says. Renita’s first encounter with the home, however, came with less pomp and circumstance. “It was an impulse buy during a Thanksgiving trip from New York to Dallas,” says Renita. “My daughter-in-law, Kim, took me antiquing in downtown McKinney. I fell in love with the community—one charming house after another—and made an offer that same day. On the flight home, my husband, Mel, and I looked at each other like, ‘Did we just buy a house?’”
Renita's “know-it-when-you-see-it, buy it now, figure it out later” philosophy also applies to antiquing, which is how she has amassed an impressive, 25-years-strong assortment of items big (apothecary cabinets, architectural salvage, old signage), small (bottles, chalkware, dog paintings), and in-between. “It’s really all about the patina—just whatever has good patina,” she says, noting some of her favorite online sources for such include , , and Sold! On Country Online Auction (a Facebook group).
Renita, who wanted an unconventional kitchen from the start, had no interest in traditional cabinets, so she tracked down seven old apothecary drawer fronts— $85 for the whole stack—and gave them to her cabinetmaker for stylish lower storage. The original brick was a lucky discovery, unveiled when the plaster came down. “There’s a lot going on in here,” says Renita, who selected Carrara marble countertops to offset the happy hodgepodge. The industrial ceiling lights came from local Mexican restaurant Uncle Julio’s.
“I say this about a lot, but he is one of my favorites—a near-and-dear-to-my-heart item!" Renita says of her giant cow. "He used to hang on a ranch gate, and I like that he has a sweet look about him—and that he looks right at home above the impulse-buy white cabinet I bought at 4 a.m. on Etsy."
“I found and fell in love with this old 1800s refrigerator on eBay, and I drove all the way to a barn in rural Pennsylvania to pick it up," she says. "The guy uncovered it, and it was just sensational—a 10 out of 10! It took six people to get it into our house. The signs across the top clinched the deal—one (not shown) says “Lard,” and my dad’s first job was selling lard. We clear-coated the shelves so it can act as a pantry.”
“I obviously love old signage," says Renita. "I was drawn to the patina but I also love that someone clearly painted over an existing sign to make it a grocery sign. Because I love my signs, it was only a matter of time before we ran out of wall space, so I hung this one (and others) from the ceiling, which makes it possible to display both sides. Soon, signs will be hanging from the other signs and we won’t be able to walk.”
“This is the most tranquil room in the house,” says Renita, noting the absence of both a television and other technology. The space opens up to the wraparound porch, and an equally breezy coat of white paint allows antiques, like a chippy factory-cart coffee table, wooden mallard, and oversize flour sign, to shine. The apothecary cabinet houses yellowware from Renita’s early days of collecting.
The guest room’s palette was inspired by a sign Renita found in Tennessee. “I love the scrolling on the sides—it just spoke to me,” she says. Displayed against a custom-blue wall, the sign‘s black-and-white combo is reinforced by a stacked nightstand featuring a white trunk and black toolbox. “I’m drawn to things with a lot of drawers. You’d think I’m the most organized person in the universe!”
The room started with the wallpaper—Best In Show by Thibaut—and everything else wagged into place. The larger “Ten Little Puppies” piece once hung in Renita’s son’s nursery, and the chalkware dog trio was a happy accident. “I was hurrying out of an antiques mall because I needed to pick up my dog from the vet,” says Renita. “But I spotted them in a glass case with a jumble of items and had to have them. Needless to say, I was late to pickup!”
“This sink, from an old elementary school, is a perfect example of ‘buy now, find a place for it later,'" she says. "It was originally supposed to be our kitchen sink, but we couldn’t figure out how to put in a garbage disposal. Because Mel does the dishes, that was a deal-breaker. Then we tried it in the downstairs bath, but we couldn’t fully open the door. The remaining option was our upstairs bath. It’s a few hundred pounds, so it took two men to get it up there—one of the guys was about to try out to be an NFL linebacker! He hardly broke a sweat.”
“My husband and I have a tradition on my birthday," she explains. "We go out for chocolate chip pancakes, and then he accompanies me to the antiquing destinations of my choice. Last year, I stumbled upon about a half-dozen of these bottles—all with their original labels. Some even had potions left in them. I love that I can pinpoint the day I acquired some of my favorite things. It makes each birthday a little more palatable!”
“I found this catchall, which had been salvaged from an old general store, at a fairgrounds show in Nashville. I love the green shade—green and red are my favorites—and how it complements the sandwich sign. (Side note: Since purchasing that sign in a neighboring town, I’ve learned there was once a Crosswhite’s in McKinney!) The cabinet originally had another row of drawers that I had to cut down to fit this mudroom nook.”
The unique picket-fence table, a tag-sale find in downtown McKinney, is surrounded by vintage wicker chairs and topped with a beautifully rusted two-tier planter. The weathered white hutch is filled with chalkware cow figurines—“I have a bit of a cow obsession,” says Renita—and a trio of metal pigs. Lower shelves host 20 years’ worth of kids’ cowboy boots.
The wraparound porch is what sold Renita on the house. “It certainly wasn’t the original lime green vinyl siding,” she says with a laugh. While the swing came with the home, the other items—metal chairs, an old church pew, an iron trellis—were acquired over time. Renita found the double chicken feeder, now filled with terra-cotta pots, while living in New England. “I thought it was so rare, and then I got to Texas, and you see them everywhere!”
Renita can now sit pretty alongside the carefully chosen gritty, surrounded by daughter-in-law Kim, sons Alex and Jake (not pictured), husband Mel, and grandkids Bryden, Aeson, Giovanni, and Luca, all of whom surely appreciate some good old-fashioned story time.