As I write this month’s blog I’m sitting at Le Deux Magots in Paris waiting as my 16 year old twin nieces explore Saint Germain des Pres and I take a moment to catch up on office work. They are visiting from Oklahoma. We’ve spent the afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay and my nieces spent hours staring at paintings they’d only seen on calendars. Meanwhile I’ve a blog to write. The advantage of my life is I can work from anywhere. Closed – or rather Ferme – signs dot the doors of the smaller shops in the neighborhood. My favorite cheese shop is closed. So is that little jeweler. As is an antique dealer I can’t afford but must “lèche son fenêtre” each time I’m in town. Tout Paris is en vacance.
It’s August, which means the French flee the city in droves for their summer holiday. This tradition – leaving Paris in the summer – has been going on since the Middle Ages when every August the French monarchy drained the moat to clean the moat walls. The stench was so overwhelming it drove Parisians from the city into the surrounding countryside. This started an annual tradition of the Parisians leaving Paris during the month of August.
Whenever I’m in France I hear the word reverberate across the clay pot chimneys on the rooftops like in Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof.
Like most things in France, the tradition has lasted through the centuries – long after the moat was filled in Parisians continue the tradition. Today the city practically closes down during the first few weeks in August. But we have come to visit Paris as part of our summer vacation. I’ve written time and time again about the young ladies and gents in the 17th to 19th Century who took their Grand European Tour to learn the leading art, culture and traditions of their time. Today I’m taking my twin nieces on a modern day Grand European Tour. When my ex-husband and I chose not to have children I had one condition. “If we are not going to have children,” I told him as a negotiating tactic, “then I want to invest in my nieces and nephews.”
The summer of their 16th birthday we bring my nieces and nephews to Europe. It’s a rite of passage into adulthood and forming a friendship with their Auntie. My friends joke I’m Auntie Mame – Mame is a flamboyant, exuberant woman, who hosts frequent parties with eclectic, bohemian guests. Her nephew Patrick is quickly introduced to his aunt’s free-spirited and eccentric lifestyle. My sister has 6 kids and this summer the last of the nieces – twins – turn 16 at the end of August. And for 1 and a half months we are traveling – I am taking them on a Modern Day Grand European Tour. The rules of Auntie Toma’s house are simple – we can go anywhere, we can do anything but you have to explain to me WHY you want to do it. Give me a logical explanation – articulate yourself, your wants and your dreams – and the sky is the limit. Let’s make those dreams come true. In the meantime, I teach my nieces l’art de vivre – the art of living like a diva.
At home in Venice we went to the Rialto Market and bought fish which I taught them how carve and cook whole, debone and serve with flourish. In Berlin visiting their uncle, my ex, we dined in the dark at the “blind restaurant” where all the waiters and waitresses are blind and the diners eat in darkness. Now we are in Paris… that bastion of civilization. As Hemingway wrote, “If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life Paris goes with you… afterall Paris is a moveable feast.” I was one of those lucky ones. Living in Paris in my 20’s – my friends joked at the time I was the ultimate BoBo – Bohemian Bourgeois. Living in a 5th floor walk up on the Rue de Seine, taking cooking lessons at Le Ritz Escoffier and spending every franc on antiques found at the brocantes. Those years living in Paris, on the Rue de Seine, shaped me into the lady I became in my personal life – but also gave me the lifeskills and professional contacts to launch my business The Antiques Diva & Co. When I look back at my life in France it reminds of reading Julia Child’s biography and watching her life unfold in Julie & Julia.
One of my nieces – Jazlyn, the redhead – wants to be a chef and while the girls are here this summer we’re on a gastronomic tour of the continent and beyond. Next stop – London. Then Greece. Then it’s back to Italy to take the train throughout the country then up through Austria, stopping in Salzberg before the girls fly back home to Oklahoma. It’s a trip of a lifetime – follow along on Facebook and Instagram @TheAntiquesDiva. This trip will shape them, the way they live their lives, pursue their dreams and their idea of the world.
The Business of Antiques
The role of Auntie comes naturally to me… And in many ways Auntie is the role I play with my clients. Some call it Auntie. Others say Fairy Godmother, making their dreams come true. Bippity Boppity Boo. At The Antiques Diva & Co we offer antique buying tours in 16 countries helping clients source antiques overseas – translating, negotiating and helping clients ship their purchases home – but for years we’ve been unofficially mentoring our clients, helping them not only stock their store, but also giving behind the scenes advice on everything from marketing and branding, to sales strategies, and inventory management tips. When we started the Antiques Dealer Training and Mentoring Program (ADTP) earlier this year it was an instant success. We offer one-on-one customized training as well as workshops. And are currently working on planning our NYC Fall Antiques Dealer Training Workshop in October and another Antiques Delaer Training Workshop with the opportunity to source antiques abroad in Provence in April 2020 – contact me for details!
During these sessions – whether at our workshops or in our one-on-one consulting – we get intimate with our clients, discussing their business in depth. We delve into what they consider their failures and their successes. We point out successes they are not aware of and we give warning flags where danger lies ahead. In workshops we pull out from each client what we consider to be the Key Learning Points that others in the group could learn from their peers. We encourage our co-trainers to disagree with one another as advice is given so the clients get multiple perspectives and advice. In the group sessions we give as much customized advice specific to the clients needs as we can, while the private sessions 10 sessions are devoted entirely to you and your business. We brainstorm, but perhaps the most important thing we do is we hold you – the client – accountable.
Accountability. I have a love/hate relationship with that word.
For the last year I’ve been going to the gym. Faithfully. I have shown up whenever I’m at home in Venice and not traveling for business. (I still stink at working out when I travel). I don’t show up because I have a burning desire to exercise. I show up because I have a date with my trainer. And I don’t want to disappoint him. (Sidenote: if you’re in Venice, Italy and looking for a Personal Trainer I recommend Club Delfino at Zattera). My trainer has been integral to my success in my workout plan. I wouldn’t have done it on my own.
This July I visited the nutritionist at my gym and I told him that I wanted to start a new diet plan – not a diet, quick fix, lose lots of weight immediately kind of plan, but a holistic approach to eating healthy for life. We looked at my current diet. We did all sorts of tests so I knew not only my % of body fat, but how much water I retained and my muscle mass (the good news working in antiques means you have to be pretty muscley and my muscle mass was great). And then, after disecting everything we agreed on, a plan that I think can work for me. When I’m deciding between having dessert or not, having the fish or choosing the lamb, I think about my nutritionsist and the weigh-in I’ll have at the end of the month.
The hardest thing you can do is face the facts. I did not want to know the % of body fat I had. But doing so helped me get real. It helped me understand what my problems were and what I could do about them. It gave me a roadmap for the next year for my health. With your business it’s similar. You need to have a road plan. And sometimes having a 3rd party assess your situation as well as give ideas is the best thing you can do. It’s not easy but it’s a recipe for success. And I like success, which means it’s essential for me to put the right people and tools in my life.
When I started Antiques Diva I didn’t have a business plan. Over the last 5 years I’ve slowly started assembling what I now refer to as the Antiques Diva Bible. But it’s a living bible. The contents change. They are updated. I try to make them as clear as possible so they are not open for misintepretation. And I evaluate: does this really work for me? I challenge my own beliefs about my company. And sometimes I have to make changes – websites need updated and logos changed. Even core values in the company change as the times change. Most of all – the needs of our clients change. And when I give my company regular physicals, we improve as a company.
Is your antiques business healthy? When was the last time you evaluated it? Our Antiques Dealer Training and Mentoring Program reminds me of working with my physical trainers and nutritionist to create a plan for healthy living. With our Antique Dealer Clients,
- we create action plans together
- we create goals and set dates for check ups
- we give encouragement
- we give tough love
We point out what they are doing wrong but tell them how to fix it. In conjunction with the mentoring program we’ve launched a slew of other services – from Marketing Services for Antiques Dealers – to one of the services I’m most excited about… a Digital Marketing Audit for Antique Dealers. Subscribers to our AD&CO Newsletter (subscribe here) received a special discount in the last newsletter — a 500 EURO savings if they booked a Digital Marketing Content Audit for Antiques Dealers service by August 1. For new subscribers to the newsletter we’re extending this offer until September 1, 2018. Don’t know what a Digital Audit is? Or why you need one? Read more in the newsletter.
Whereas you might be reading your Diva news on my blog, did you know that in addition to the normal social media sites Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, that I’m also active on LinkedIn? You can find me @TheAntiquesDiva. An article I wrote last month titled Becoming CEO of My Life – Not Just My Business was wildly popular as I explained not only how I took control of my personal life but also addressed that question, How do you get it all done? If you’ve enjoyed the business tips for antique dealers I’ve shared recently on the blog and in our newsletter, I recommend you follow along on LinkedIn as we share more business advice for antiques dealers there.
As I close, I offer you the advice I offered my nieces just this week:
Find what makes you happy. And do it.
This year blogging has started making me happy again. For several years I struggled with blogging – it felt like an obligation instead of a joy. Which is why I took control this year and changed the way I was blogging. Making the posts more personal, but also blogging less but giving more of myself each time when I do write. This week I had the opportunity to dine on the rooftop of a fabulous apartment in Paris with longterm blog readers Ron & Debi Lily. When you write a blog you wonder, Does anyone read this? Am I writing words and sending them out in to outer space where they will never be seen again? Chatting with Debi she told me, “I bought that book you recommended.” She remembered a few details of my life over the years. And it made me feel so good to know that she was a loyal reader through the years. Maybe it’s because I’m traveling with teenage girls, but I’m thinking of that book, “Are you there god, it’s me Margaret?”
Dear Reader, if you’re out there, drop a line and let me know. I want to know what you want to hear about on the blog. What questions you have? What questions I can answer? I want to know how I can better serve you.
I want to share a few pics from a recent trip to Giverny with my nieces – Monet’s home an hour from Paris. It’s such a great example of following the beat of your own drum. Monet lived during the Victorian times when furniture was dark and heavy. While everyone else was modestly covering their legs, Monet painted his dining room bright yellow. He did it because it made him happy. He didn’t care what others were doing in home fashion – he did what he liked. He did what appealed to him.
Monet became Monet because he was uniquely himself. For my nieces, that’s the best role model I can image. For you as an antiques dealer it should be your mantra. Do what makes you happy! Become your own Monet.
Thanks for being there.
Toma – The Antiques Diva
When I was asked to be the Drummer on a Dragon Boat for the Vogalonga I said yes because it was a Regatta and I liked the sound of the word “Regatta.” When else in my life am I going to compete in a 30km rowing marathon? First, I should point out I wasn’t rowing. Secondly, I should say I was promised that the role of the Drummer was easy, peasy, pumpkin pie. In fact – that MIGHT have been an exaggeration, and while my core muscles may still be aching from 4 ½ hours of balancing myself on the bow of the boat on a seat the size of Bosc Pear in the choppy waters of the Venetian lagoon – it was without a doubt worth it. (Yes – that’s moi in the headdress in the above photo!) Cue the music, “I had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you… (Yes, I’m talking to you, Naomi, the woman who talked me and several other friends into this).
And while at first it simply sounded glamorous to be in a Regatta in Venice – the Vogalonga is one of the most significant rowing races in Italy – it was more than that. I learned several things about myself and on top of that, I had a major mental breakthrough.
The first thing I learned is that riding the waves is a lot like riding a horse. For the first hour on the boat, I was bracing myself. And at a certain point, I realized if I relaxed into the movements of the water – if I gave up control and went with the flow – the entire process was a lot easier. I faced less resistance and simply had to work less. Hmmm… wouldn’t it be amazing if I could apply this lesson outside the boat?
Secondly, for years I have been trying to meditate. And for years I’ve discovered I simply suck at meditating.
But my Eat Pray Love moment happened at a regatta. Elizabeth Gilbert went to Italy to eat. I apparently have decided to try all 3 – Eating, Praying and Loving – in Italy. Gilbert explains,
“Meditation does not come easily to me. My mind wanders relentlessly. I complained about this once to an Indian monk and he laughed and said, it’s a pity you’re the only human being on the planet who has that problem. But I find mental stillness really difficult.”
For me, it is the opposite problem. I welcome the quieting of my brain. I welcome the solitude to stop thinking but within seconds of starting to meditate, I fall into a deep sleep.
Clear your mind. Check.
Listen to your breath. Check.
Wake up an hour later… Check.
Sitting on the bow of the Dragon Boat, perched high above facing my team, I found my mind clearing. My role as the drummer was to be the heartbeat of the team. I was to watch and mimic the Pacers – when their paddle went up, my arm went up; when their paddle dipped into the water, my drum pounded. I was the only one on the boat who could see their movements – and my job was to communicate to the rest of the team the speed with which to row. It is critical that all paddlers are synchronized in order for the boat to move forward easily.
More than that, my job was to motivate and to encourage: helping the team using drills to increase team strength and unity. And in many ways, it reminded me of our Antiques Diva Antiques Dealer Training and Mentoring Mentoring Program where my job is to bring out the best in you – to help you find your stride in your antique business. Susan Shaw, of W Road Collection, explains of the training program,
“The way you work in your Antiques Diva Mentoring Program is exactly like the coxswain – the coach on the water, the leader in the boat making all as one in unison propelling the boat forward. I cannot thank you enough for helping me with the forward motion.”
As we floated through Venice passing some of the most significant locations among the islands – S. Erasmo, S. Francesco del Deserto, Burano, Mezzorbo and Murano – I became mesmerized by the dipping on the Pacer’s oar into the water. If I lost concentration and skipped a beat – the whole boat lost synchronization. So I simply focused. On one thing. The dipping of the paddle into the water.
And in doing so – suddenly I was in the zone. My mind was quiet. As we moved water my mind went numb. I had a physical almost visceral feeling of detachment from time and place. All I could see – all I could think about – was the dipping of the paddle into the sea. As if floating up above the boat, I felt a suspension of gravity that was soothing – achieving complete and utter mindlessness.
During the Vogalonga I learned to meditate.
As an article in Entrepreneur magazine explains: Thought leaders such as Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and Steve Jobs have all lauded the importance of meditation for the entrepreneur.
“We often feel that we have to turn off the creative and wandering impulses of our brains in order to make things happen. Meditation sharpens focus, improves decision-making and boosts creativity.”
The Business of Antiques
The reality is when you’re running an antiques business, your most valuable asset is your mind. As an Antique Dealer, it’s easy to stay positive when buyers are buying… but what about those economic downturns when none of your inventory is selling? How do you maintain your positive mindset? Meditation helps find happiness – and focus – within, even during rough seas. Meditation also teaches you not to respond. Sometimes the best thing you can do in the Antiques Business is to wait it out – ride the tide until the next economic upturn.
For me, my entrepreneurial spirit inspires me to focus consistently on my vision. The secret to success is simply focusing on the goal and always going in the direction of it. Vision is integral to building a company. However, sometimes we can be so focused on our goals it can have a negative impact on our personal life, our relationships, our health, even our job performance. Learning to achieve a balance in your life actually increases your chances of being successful. Meditation helps find balance.
Basically, meditation puts you in the receiving zone. And as a business owner, finding your zone is one of the most important things you can do.
Years ago, before I had made the final decision to end my marriage, my marriage therapist encouraged me to get regular massages. While I was all about the concept of self-care, I thought it was hogwash that a massage could solve all the problems in my marriage. But by happenstance, I accidentally had 3 massages one month. And at the end of the month, my brain had absolute crystal clarity on some issues I’d been debating. So 3 months later when I was plagued with a business decision, I did something radical. I booked a 2-hour massage. By forgetting about my problem I was able to solve it.
Have you ever forgotten someone’s name and no matter what you do – you can’t remember it? Then you wake in the middle of the night remembering that name? That’s your subconscious at work. When you meditate you’re letting your subconscious do the work for you. Just like when I was sitting on the bow of the boat using all my core muscles to maintain my balance – I found I was better able to balance – then I sank into the sensation. I stopped resisting it and went with the flow. And trust me, lest you think massages have nothing to do with a Regatta… every team member on our boat would disagree. I think all 12 of the paddlers booked massages immediately following the rowing marathon!
I mentioned that Susan Shaw of W Road Collection – one of our clients in our Antiques Diva Training program – compared my role as a Mentor for Antiques Dealers to that of a Coxswain. So what does a Coxswain do?
- The coxswain is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word gives a literal meaning of “boat servant.” In our mentoring program, we are serving you. We are assessing where you want to take your antiques business and helping you chart your course for success.
- The coxswain is tasked with motivating the crew as well as steering as straight a course as possible to minimize the distance to the finish line, helping with speed, timing and fluidity. We help you achieve your goals.
- The coxswain is connected to the way the boat feels, what’s working, what needs to be changed. We evaluate your business, your personal strengths and weaknesses and we advise what needs to be changed.
In addition to offering our Antiques Diva Training or Mentoring Program for Antiques Dealers, we also offer a slew of marketing services for Antique Dealers from help setting up business systems to helping set up your newsletter or social media strategy. One of the most important services we are offering for our Antiques Dealer Clients at this moment is our content marketing audit for antique dealers by Catherine Russell, AD&CO Content Manager.
Content Marketing For Antique Dealers
In this month’s blog we’ve run the gamut from a Regatta in Venice to SEO optimization, but remember last month’s blog when I talked briefly about journaling? To close that’s what I’d like to focus on. I said mediation puts you in the receiving mode. The best way to process after meditating is to journal.
As an antique dealer, I’d encourage you to start journaling about your business. Go out and buy yourself a notebook and start writing.
- Describe what your business currently looks like.
- Write what you’re proud of.
- Write what problems you’re currently experiencing in your antiques business.
- What are your goals?
- What would your fantasy business look like?
- Where would you sell?
- How would you sell?
- And how would you adapt your business to fit your desired lifestyle?
- What things do you need to do to change your business to reach your goals?
Most dealers I know have a thin line between their personal life and professional life – in creative businesses those lines always tend to blur. My own life especially. Thus, when I journal, my journal is one part personal, one part professional. If you’re a loyal blog read you’ll have heard me mention that my decision to start The Antiques Diva & Co came out of my “Morning Pages.” Author Julia Cameron of the Artist Way explains Morning Pages are essentially a mind-dump – three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Sometimes I do “Morning Pages” but most mornings I do my own version of Mel Robbins 5 Second Journal.
In a recent Facebook Live Post with Steven Favreau of the Favreulous Factory I talked about my own morning routine and how I use a journal to focus on the MIT – Most Important Thing to bring me focus and prioritize my day.
Today my Most Important Thing Is You – Sharing with you how you can improve your antique business and how we can help you along the way either through our antiques buying tours or antique dealer mentoring program.
On a personal level, I encourage you to go find what makes you happy. For me, one of the things that make most happy is my cats Fortuny and Fiorella (and their lovely 3 babies!!!) My kittens had kittens!
Toma – The Antiques Diva
When I was in my 20’s and had first moved to Paris, I opened a new journal and I wrote one sentence. I’ve started a million other journals since then, living a million different lives, as my journey took me the last two decades from living in Paris to Amsterdam and Berlin before making Venice home – but in that particular journal, there is still only that one sentence. The rest of the journal is blank. I didn’t know what words would follow – but I knew I was writing my manifestation. My mantra. The life I would live.
I want a life less ordinary.
My mom often reflects, “Your life is interesting, but it’s not easy.” She sees past the glamour of my life to the day to day toils of living abroad. Here there are inconveniences you don’t face in Oklahoma where I grew up. Radiators that never seem to heat the apartment causing me to sleep under fur coats in the winter. She sees me carrying groceries home in the rain over bridges and up flights of stairs. She’s regaled with stories of the acqua alta filling my magazzino and me frantically elevating storage items so they’re not ruined by the famed Venetian floods. More than once our Skype has been interrupted when the electrical fuse blows because I turned the tea kettle on forgetting I was running the washing machine. She sees the minor – but yet – practical – inconveniences of my life abroad. And while my life may not be convenient by American terms, darn it’s sexy.
I joke I can tolerate anything but two things – ugly decor and to be bored. And – my life is many things – but it’s always beautiful and it’s always interesting.
It’s this sentiment that made me smile when I saw the theme of this year’s Biennale di Venezia – “May You Live In Interesting Times.” The quote refers to 1966 when Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech saying, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” Anything is possible.
I found myself reflecting on this sentiment during the opening week of the Biennale as I attended the #DiorBall- also known as the #TiepoloBall – organized by the Venetian Heritage Foundation for their 20th anniversary. Held in the Baroque 17th-century Palazzo Labia, the ball was a reenactment of the 1951 Beistegui “Bal Oriental” – dubbed the ball of the century. Both in 1951 and this month at the event, all of European society floated down the Grand Canal clamoring to get in. Among the original guests in 1951 were Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles. Now, the guests were Sienna Miller, Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp, Peter Marino, Monica Bellucci… and… uhm… me?!?! alongside my dear friend Steven Moore of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. At times like this, I pinch myself. How did I get this life I’m living? With 380 guests in attendance, it was a formal sit down dinner catered by the Gritti Palace. And just as at the original event, the guests were charged to dress as if in a Tiepolo painting – tableaux vivants – so they became part of the decoration. As we climbed the stairs after being dropped by our water taxis and private boats at the palazzo we were presented in the main salon of the palace in the room where Giambattista Tiepolo painted his masterpiece The Banquet of Cleopatra. It was magic… (You can read more about the night in Vogue.)
Behind the scenes at the Venice Biennale Dior Tiepolo Ball
When debating what to wear to a ball hosted by one of the world’s greatest fashion houses where everyone I knew was going to be wearing haute couture… I decided to focus on the accessories. After all, “if” as Oprah says, “there’s one thing I know” – I know it’s all about the accessories. My dress was pretty – an emerald green empire waist strapless gown that I’d worn once before but on my head – I wore a swan. Yes. You read that right – but don’t take my word for it, watch Paris Mode TV to catch a glimpse of my feathers!
The jewelry was all my own design, Republic of Toma. Around my neck, I wore a ring of interconnecting pearl frogs with black diamonds for eyes. In life – not just in romance – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to get what you want. That means sometimes you have to go through failures and times in your life that things don’t go your way to get what you want.
At my table in the SeaRoom, I sat at one head of the table with my escort Steven across the table parallel me. At the very moment the Frenchman from Van Cleef & Arpels sitting to my right asked, “Why do you live in Venice?” and I responded matter of factly, “Because it makes me happy,” a photo was snapped. On my face is a look I rarely see. A look of quiet contemplation. I manifested this life. I build this life. A life less ordinary. I have found my home. Ca’ Toma.
In Dior’s autobiography, he wrote about the 1951 event, describing that evening as “the most beautiful” he had ever seen and that he “would ever see” and the event “a true work of art.” As my friend Steven Moore was on the water taxi heading home after an amazing week in Venice to England he texted me, “No detail was left unattended. No matter how small. We seemed to float along as if in a dream. I kept thinking I was going to wake up, but sometimes dreams do come true.”
You and only you have the power to make your dreams come true.
What are you dreaming?
Antiquing in the South of France
Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Two photos, taken a week apart capture the essence of me. In one I’m wearing a White Swan fascinator on my head at the Dior Ball in Venice. In the other, I’m wearing a white motorcycle helmet while sitting in a sidecar of a WWII era Ulta motorcycle antiquing in the South of France putting finishing touches on our newly revised Antiques Diva Provence Tours. (lol. Sidecar optional :). #WatchThisSpace we’re working on organizing our next training program for antique dealers held at a special retreat in the South of France. The photo is not about the helmet – though that is a great accessory – It’s about the adventure. We’re visiting Carpentras and Ville Neuve les Avignon, Aix en Provence and of course Ile sur la Sorgue. The deballages – in Avignon, Montpellier and Bezier – are still at the top of our #mustshop Provence list for antique dealers – but we’re also adding in appointments in private homes, and a surprising amount of chic new concept stores that show you that antiques can be super sexy. I’ve fallen in love with Marseilles recently – a city that wasn’t my favorite and now suddenly feels like home. It’s a city where Europe and Africa meet, allowing you to take a journey within a journey.
Journeys Ca’ Toma
Perhaps that journey within a journey is also what I like about reading. Summer is coming and we’ve our cabana booked in Lido and my stack of summer reads is mountainous. My bookshelves are overflowing with biographies, business books, travelogues and simple inspiration/motivation. It can take me months to finish a book as I don’t want to reach the end of the author’s journeys. I’m sad when it’s time to say goodbye, like parting with a dear friend who I don’t know when I will see again.
The last few books on the list start revolving around Venice… As Joann Locktov writes, “I Dream of Venice.” (If you’ve not read Joanne’s books then you must add her newest book to your reading list.) Hmmm… this makes me ponder… Joanne is another American woman making a mark on Venice.
As an American woman living here, I find it fascinating is that Venice has a history of being influenced by American women. There is Peggy of course. But the Countess Elsie Gozzio saved Fortuny, allowing it to become what it is today. And it’s practically impossible to write a chronicle of the 20th C without including the salons of Princess Winnaretta Singer de Polignac – yes, that Singer of sewing machine family fame. When she married her husband Edmond she bought him the Palazzo Contarini Polignac as a gift. And then there was Isabella Stewart Gardner who of course rented the nearby Palazzo Barbaro in 1890 becoming a patron of the arts. Today these American women who left their mark on Venice surround my home here. I live across the Grand Canal from the Guggenheim and the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac. My grocery store stands in the shadow of the Palazzo Orfei (today known as the Palazzo Fortuny on the Campo San Beneto) and the Palazzo Barbaro is a mere stone’s throw away.
Colnaghi: Private Exhibit at Abbazia di San Gregorio
During the Biennale Opening Week, I attended countless parties – but one of my favorites was the invitation from Parisian interior designer Chahan Minassian, Richard Nathan and Jorge Coll, the Spanish art dealer, and the CEO of Colnaghi, one of the world’s oldest and most significant art galleries. In the historic Abbazia di San Gregorio, Chahan Minassian created his signature atmosphere incorporating Colnaghi master paintings with vintage and modern furniture and design showing how one lives with art and antiques. The collaboration is “the home of a 21st-century traveller” illustrating the lifestyle of a modern-day collector. And much like the Rothschild home I featured in last months blog, the Abbazia di San Gregorio encapsulates the timeless spirit of the Grand Tourist in a contemporary setting. Just as in love and in science, in interiors opposites attract. The juxtaposition of contemporary furnishings set amidst medieval architecture and art spanning the centuries is simply sexy.
While the exhibit is private, Colnaghi will take private appointments to shop the exhibit where all the art is for sale. Of the Grand Tour connection, Jorge Coll of Colnaghi explains,
“Throughout this project, we want to show that a collection is not just a pool of assets: its real value lies in its connection with the life of a collector and is built from memories, experiences, friendships and discoveries. Building a collection is a voyage of discovery and, as with every voyage, the traveler needs guides if he or she is to arrive at the right destination. The collector needs to have good people to do research, to create the right relationship with the experts and dealers to ensure that what is collected is something that he or she can feel proud of and enjoy, something that will live on into the future.”
A Private Tour of Abbazia di San Gregorio
Over the years on The Antiques Diva blog, I’ve written frequently about the Grand Tour – and last month after my visit to see Alessandro in China, I introduced the Silk Road into my dialogue. His book detailing his journey bicycling from Venice to China comes out soon and I’m anticipating its release. Silk is the thread that unravels in my mind as my mind shifts from the Colnaghi private exhibit in Venice to the Palazzo Fortuny. While you can’t visit the Fortuny factory itself – the process is still a tightly woven secret – you can visit the 15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century lived and created. Mariano Fortuny was a 19th/20th C Renaissance man and perhaps one of the people from heaven I’d most like to meet. While we think of Fortuny for fabric – his stretch and influence go beyond textiles. He was a pioneer photographer, an inventor of theatre and stage lighting plus he patented a plethora of inventions, among them a machine for pleating silk which he used to create his Grecian-style “Delphos” dresses. In his will, Mariano spelled out his wishes that the factory no longer makes the Delphos gown after his wife Henriette’s death.
15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where Mariano Fortuny lived
Knowing the rarity of these gowns, my friend Nancy Heckler donated her mother’s Delphos gown to the museum. (You can find out more about Nancy’s mother’s foundation by visiting the janetcramerfund.com). When the curators opened the box and unfolded the pleated Japanese silk dress they wept. The dress now is on display in a room layered in antique and oriental fabrics alongside more exotic artifacts and patterns from Africa, Central America, and Polynesia. The room is indeed another tribute to the Grand Tour and beyond. It’s a glimpse into the objects that inspired an artist from around the world – and perhaps a glimpse into one of the greatest minds on the intellectual and artistic scene at the turn of the 19th century.
I always joke that I wish my friends could see into my own mind. While I’m far from an intellectual, my mind is nevertheless a beautiful place. I dream in colors that Pantone hasn’t classified yet. As I begin the process of writing my book I’m seeking the words to describe that cavern in my head. In the end – art is often merely about just that. Expressing ourselves. I visited the Förg in Venice exhibit at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac – one of the official collateral events of the Biennale. The curators of the exhibition have layered Gunther’s art over the family’s own tapestries which lined the walls of the piano noble. As we were leaving the exhibit which is held in a private home a member of the Polignac family stopped my friend Steven Moore – one of the worlds leading porcelain experts – to ask his opinion. And back up the stairs we climbed, to see a collection of tiles on the palazzo balcony walls. My friend named the artist he believed who had created the tilework and as we stood on the balcony overlooking the mouth of the Grand Canal again I smiled that smile of quiet contemplation and felt that perhaps finally – nearly 20 years later – I had the words to write in that journal after my one sentence, “I want a life less ordinary.”
Until next month,
If you’ve ever attended one of my lectures at High Point Market or the D&D geared towards interior designers you’ll inevitably have heard me say “The most important tool you can have in your toolbox is a passport.” Mine is battered, covered with baggage tag stickers and filled with page after page of stamps and visas. In my current passport, I have only 10 blank pages remaining. (Note to self: Order Extra Pages). Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” If that’s the case, then I’ve been living a well-read life.
More and more during these last few years, I’m taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses. As business travel is a regular part of my life the easiest way to do this is adding days onto each trip to bookend a business trip. This last month has had a heavy focus on travel – with my vacation to China followed by a business trip across the USA to High Point, New York, Boston and London.
Often as an individual I’ve got my eyes set on the horizon looking towards the destination – I sometimes get so busy considering my plan and next steps of action that I forget to celebrate the milestones.
I dream big.
And in order to achieve big things – it’s necessary to dream bigger than everyone else around you.
But life is a journey – not a destination.
As I write, I’m on the train, the Frecciarossa, en route home from Piemonte from Easter weekend with friends. At home on my bedside table is Eckart Tolle’s Power of Now – a reminder to simply enjoy the Great Big Right Now. I’m soaking up the moments – and as a result, I am finding more and more inspiration each day. For design. For writing. But also just for day to day life. I’m cooking more. Being more creative in general. I’ve even pulled out my watercolors which I haven’t played with in years.
Design Inspiration can come from anywhere. Often it’s my travels that inspire me, sometimes it’s an everyday object that I see in a new way, people I meet and places I go that weave themselves into my soul. When my friend Alessandro told me he was moving to China he gave me Andrea di Robilant’s book Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and his Last Muse. He told me the title was important, “Hemingway because you were an English literature major in uni. Last Autumn because it’s my last autumn before I move. And Venice IS your muse.”
He was right. Moving here has inspired me. Venice is an obvious choice for inspiration – but inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. Those who follow me on Instagram were fascinated when they learned that the leather on my Roccoco-style bench in my Antiques Diva Furniture Collection by Aidan Gray was inspired by the designo leather in my Mercedes SUV.
Last week I was struck with Global Design Inspiration while visiting friends in England at the end of a business trip. The entire world was brought to me in one destination. Ascott House is a palace-like Jacobean black and white timbered cottage that was the creation of Leopold de Rothschild and architect George Devey. It’s a quintessentially English Country House with exquisite English antiques standing alongside Dutch and Flemish masterworks and fine French furniture and art. I nearly ran into a Rodin as I stepped backward in the Billards Room turned Library.
In the library I looked around – the room was beyond cozy – but something felt different. It was more casual than one would have expected a formal library. (The photo above makes the space look much more formal than in real life). When I commented on the unusually light color of the wooden library shelves the docent confessed, “though it’s now a National Trust estate the family still uses the property – and they stripped the wood to make the room more airy.” Bingo! I suddenly realized why I loved the house so much. That was the difference. While it is a museum – it’s still a family home part of the year.
It’s the perfect example of how to live with antiques.
But not just any antiques – Ascott House could be the pictorial definition of the word wanderlust. It’s layered with generation after generation of antiques, textiles and embroideries from the Grand Tour and the Silk Road. The Silk Road was the ancient network of trade routes that connected the East with the West. It meandered along the northern borders of China, India, and Persia and wove through Turkey, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. It was important because it helped to generate trade and commerce between a number of different kingdoms and empires but trade was not the only purpose of the Silk Road. Just as on the Grand Tour young men and women learned the most important developments in language, arts, court etiquette, legal and political systems, science and culture, the Silk Road was also about the exchange of ideas.
The more we travel, the more we open our minds.
In a conversation recently with a television producer, I was told that Americans don’t want to see TV shows filmed abroad. “How can you travel the world through antiques if you’re not interested in the travel aspect?” I wondered. It seemed incomprehensible. Was the producer telling me the entire American viewing audience had Xenophobia – the fear of foreign places? I’ve made a career out of making both international antiques and foreign places accessible – I’ve been called the Anthony Bourdain of antiques – that girl who travels the world uncovering lesser-known places and exploring their cultures and antiques – then sharing my #Divascoveries with my followers.
As humans – as humanity – we grow when we’re connected with people and places outside of ourselves. We are all connected. What happens in one part of the world, impacts another. Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? The theory is based upon an idea if you track the path of a hurricane from its inception, you’d see that it was all caused by a change in air pressure caused from the flap of a butterfly’s wings three weeks prior and halfway across the world. The Silk Roads network of connecting pathways changed history because the people who traveled along part or all of the Silk Road planted their cultures like seeds carried to distant lands.
Bringing your travels home has long been a tradition in interior design. A classic English Country House simply wouldn’t be an English Country House without its global influence – seeds plucked from faraway places and transplanted at home.
Ascott House exemplifies the East Meets West decorating vibe. My favorite room is the living room where you’ll find Ikat silk chapans from Uzbekistan repurposed into Roman Shades. Someone painstakingly de-assembled vintage robes and hand-stitched the fabric together to form patchwork, and then used the patchwork to make the fabric for the blinds. In one corner of the curtain, you can see still see the vague outline of the sleeve of an arm. The whole setting is very Robert Kime – one of my favorite London Interior Designers known for his elaborate use of antique textiles, creating what 1st Dibs calls, “comfortable classically English Rooms that his clients – including Prince Charles – say they never want to leave.”
I found myself thinking about travel, collecting and interior design as I toured Ascott House. What is it that makes us desire to see far away places and to bring a piece of it home? Is it a Napoleonic desire to conquest? A holdover from the caveman days of hunting and gathering? Why do we collect? Is it merely a means to give meaning to our lives – making an emotional connection to a period, place or time? Or does it have deeper meaning?
As Ascott House caused me to contemplate my own travel I thought about how antiquing abroad has influenced me over the years. The Antiques Diva started because I was traveling the world. Some people buy a t-shirt on holiday. I buy antiques as my souvenir because that’s what interests me. The French word souvenir means memories, and for me – that’s what I am doing when I antique abroad. I buy memories.
Traveling and antiques have always been intertwined in my mind. As a child, I remember family dinners when my mother pulled out the antique silver that my grandparents brought over with them on the boat from England to America. This cutlery represented not only my family’s heritage but faraway places that influenced how we lived. I saw antiques as a way to be transported to other times and other places.
While traveling in China last month one of my favorite moments was in Kaifeng, the 11th Century Song dynasty capital. My friend and I had stumbled into an antiques and artisans two-story gallery that was partially abandoned. Antique furniture, fragments and tools were propped against walls, while porcelain and lacquerware filled the shelves. Men gathered at card tables played mahjong near their stalls. One of the things I Iike about antiques is that antiques unite us. When you go antiquing, people with different backgrounds, interests and passions collide. Each person can find something that speaks to their soul. My friend Alessandro is a physicist and etno-mathematician. On a purely surface level, we couldn’t be more different if we tried. I lost track of him while we were browsing the stalls and at a certain point, I rounded the corner and saw him bent over a box smiling from ear to ear. He looked up and showed me what he’d found – an antique abacus, a Chinese counting tool. Ironically, he was the one who bought antiques that day – not me.
Meanwhile while touring this gallery I was introduced to something new. I’d become obsessed with the Chinese traditional painting. In the gallery nearly 2 dozen artists had ateliers and you could watch them dip their brushes into black ink or water-based color pigments, creating patterns on paper or silk using traditional themes, materials and techniques. Watching the artist paint felt like peeking through the window into the soul of the country. Guóhua, as traditional Chinese painting is called, is one of the three pillars of Chinese culture (the others being medicine and opera.) Chinese painters tend to learn their craft by copying earlier masters in order to build their foundation.
To understand the past is to understand the future.
Elizabeth Hammer, Head of Sales of Chinese Classical and Modern Paintings at Christie’s New York explains that “the most prized Chinese traditional paintings are those that reveal the artist’s personality and character. It is believed that an evil person cannot make a fine work of art. To really understand an artist’s works, it helps to learn his or her biography, and about the times in which the artist lived.”
Last year during the Architectural Biennale in Venice I met the team from Chanel who were documenting Coco’s life, travels and inspirations for Chanel’s in-house archives. “We need to see what she saw, be influenced by her influences, to design a brand that stays according to her vision.” Once you’ve traveled, that knowledge of a country, it’s people, traditions and architecture, their decorative arts and their environment, the natural world – the subtle sense of a place – will continue to inform you. Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
But it’s not just Paris that’s a moveable feast – all your travels – your adventures – are your personal progressive dinner.
For me, while visiting Ascott House my olfactory memory went straight to the Silk Road. Having just been in China last month, my jaw dropped when I walked into Ascott House’s Porcelain Room filled with turquoise and purple-glazed ceramics from the mid to late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) displayed in specially designed bamboo cabinets. The collection was formed by Anthony de Rothschild when he used a buying agent (the 1920’s equivalent of an Antiques Diva Guide) to help him source pieces that suited his tastes.
In the end – that’s what it all comes down to. Taste. Buy what you love. Whether you’re an antique dealer, interior designer, or a private antique buyer – that is the best advice I can give you. Buy what you love. As Elizabeth Hammer of Christie’s explains, “Follow your instinct when collecting and buy something that delights you.”
As I close I challenge you:
Go someplace new. Do something new. Maybe you can’t go to Uzbekistan this week – but you can seek out an Uzbek restaurant. Take yourself on an Artist Date. Last month in New York City we did our first ever Antiques Dealer Training Workshop. Interior designers Justin Shaulis and Robert Passal joined us as guest speakers for a break-out session, advising our attendees on How Antique Dealers Should Work With Interior Designers. While closing, Robert told a personal story of his own career and how he became an interior designer after he read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist Way – a book that also inspired me to launch The Antiques Diva & Co. In her book, Cameron advises each week to take an Artist Date. Make time for yourself – on your own – to do something enchanting. Expose yourself to new places and new ideas. Where will you go on an Artist Date this week?
To Book Your Antiques Diva Tour in 16 Countries
or inquire about our new Training Program for Antique Dealers email firstname.lastname@example.org
Toma – The Antiques Diva
Last month I wrote a blog sharing details of my personal life as well as in #Divaland. While you may know me as The Antiques Diva – I joke to my real-life friends “Don’t call me Diva!” The real me – Toma Clark Haines – is “Toma Only.”
This nickname harks back to circa age 4 when my grandmother would call me “Toma Iola.” I was named after her, with my first name the female derivative of my grandfather Thomas and my second name coming from her’s, “Minnie Iola.” She was the only who ever called me Toma Iola and Little Me would get so angry. I would stomp my feet telling her, “No. Toma Only” so she then called me “Toma Only.”
I can’t help but to pause and pay tribute to the woman I was named after.
Grandma Minnie was a spitfire. She loved shoes. And the color red. She liked to set her hair before bed in green curlers. And she kept a fully stocked glass cookie jar at all times. Her hands were rough. She was a rancher’s wife. She always wore a silk scarf. And she worked harder than anyone I knew. She had a laugh that the wind would carry across the Oklahoma planes and as my dad drove me up the long dirt road to Grandma’s the wheat would dance and shimmy in excitement. When she disciplined me a smile slipped out the corner of her mouth. She let me sit on her lap when I was naughty. And I was naughty often. I would lean against her soft chest and feel at home. She would do laundry and hang her giant bras to drip dry over the old iron bath and I would gape in wonder. I took a cantaloupe from the cold pantry and tried putting it in one of her bras but the melon fell to the floor spilling seeds on the cracked linoleum. She let me wear her jewelry. She was not even 5 foot tall. She had secret closets. Closets and closets full of treasures that she let me dig through and explore wonderlands. She let me go on adventures. I would travel into her closet and come out a pirate, a secretary, a cowboy, a geisha, a lion tamer, a diva… In fact, I went into her closet and I tried on different personas until… I came out me.
The last year since moving to Venice has been a voyage in discovering myself – determining my priorities. I love my job. It’s what I would do if I weren’t working. I’m one of those truly lucky people who gets paid to pursue their passion. As a result, I work too much. And one day about a year ago I felt tired. Perhaps it was the stress of a divorce, an impressive ability to avoid dealing with my problems, an international move combined with a decade of 80 hour work weeks or a constant state of jetlag. So I decided to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I decided to pursue BALANCE – yes, I write the word entirely in caps. It’s daunting that word, it felt big and insurmountable. Impossible.
Not entirely knowing where to start I went to the gym. Not because I wanted to lose weight (though, yes indeed I needed to) but to work out stress. And then I started meditating. I took Italian lessons. I realized how utterly I suck at the pursuit of languages but continued anyway. I started Marie Kondo-ing my house before I knew who Marie Kondo was. Going room to room and ridding myself of possessions that didn’t make me happy. At the core – that was what I was in pursuit of. Happiness. I got 2 kittens – Fortuny and Fiorella and my heart swelled. I dated an Italian boy. Or two. 😉 I home-cooked dinners for lunch and sat at my dining room table in my kitchen with a cloth napkin and candles lit at a table set for one. And I continued to work. But on my terms. I took naps. I read books in my chaise longue. I rethought my business. I tried to travel less. (I failed greatly at that goal.) I relied more than ever on my team. I learned to delegate. I learned to shut down my computer at the end of the day knowing that I had 605 unread emails. #SorryNotSorry I learned to shut off. And in doing so, it turned ME on. Toma Only.
Robb Report Features Me
Over the last decade, I’ve been in 100’s of magazines, from Forbes, New York Times, Marie Claire, House Beautiful, the Wall Street Journal (even Wall Street International last week). But sometimes a journalist hones in on the essence of YOU. Hadley Keller did it in her Architectural Digest article when she gave me the moniker, “the woman in red lipstick”. Vogue’s Lynn Yaeger called me, “The Woman of the World.” And Aspire Design and Home magazine flattered me by quoting my famous mantra as I sashayed along the Seine, “I wear heels, I walk fast, You better keep up.” And Robb Report did it again, in an article on Mercanteinfiera where they quoted me extensively and starting the article by referring to me as a “Bon Vivant.”
Definition: Bon Vivant. One who lives well.
In fact, that’s such a fabulous description of me that I might request it on my tombstone.
In our Antiques Dealer Mentoring Program it’s one of the first questions I ask a client. “What do you want to be known for?” Yes. We need to know professionally what you want. But personally is what I care about. At the end of your life – What goes on your gravestone? Nothing else matters. One client answered, “She was kind to everyone” and my heart swelled. Our antique dealer mentoring program honed in on that – what it means to be kind and for her, that also meant she meticulously researched her items, shared information with everyone, created a space in her booth at Round Top that the other dealers and shoppers consider a resting ground, a respite in the middle of the Texas heat. Another client laughed and said, “She made a darn good martini.”
What are your priorities and how are they reflected in your business? When I work with mentoring clients, I want you to focus so every decision you make for your career keeps that goal in mind.
Since launching the training program, I was surprised by the number of long-term established dealers who had contacted us. We expected new and nearly new dealers but I didn’t expect 2nd and 3rd generation antique dealers and antique dealers who had been in the business 20, 30 years. The secret to success in business is to #AlwaysKeepLearning. Starting a new career in antiques is exciting – it feeds your soul to pursue your dream. But what about when you’ve been doing the job a while and you are starting to get bored? When it’s no longer a passion but a chore? How do you teach a new dog old tricks? How do you add knowledge when you know everyone and everything? You shake it up. You deconstruct it. You do a complete ReBoot. A complete RePrograming. Diva 3.0. In on our Antiques Dealer Training Program, that’s what we try to help you do, whether you enroll in our intensive one-on-one 10-week mentoring program or if you join me at our small group training in NYC April 10 & 11.
2 Day Antique Dealer Training Workshop
April 10 – 11, 2019 in New York City:
I would love for you to join me, Toma Clark Haines The Antiques Diva, and Margaret Schwartz of Modern Antiquarian in New York City for a small group 2-day training for antique dealers. This program allows you to network, ask questions and power through The Antiques Diva Training & Mentorship 3-month program in 2 days!
Learn from Industry Leaders and Insiders:
- Expert antique dealers and buyers who understand the antiques market
- How to stay ahead of design trends
- Strategies to make your passion for antiques profitable
- And so much more!
Act Fast! Workshop price returns to $2000 on April 7.
Part of my pursuit of BALANCE has been attempting to travel less – I’ve totally failed at that goal, but I like to think I’m failing forward. I’m choosing wiser when it comes to traveling. In addition to the upcoming trip to NYC to lead the 2-day mentoring workshop (I’m combining that with a trip to High Point #WatchThisSpace), I’m taking a vacation across China. And that trip is all personal. I’m traveling with a boy and attempting to go with one carry-on sized suitcase packing for temps from 30C to -10C.
(If you want to watch how I packed for that trip catch me on a Facebook Live @TheAntiquesDiva on a casual day at home WATCH.) I do have one minor shopping fantasy for the trip to China that I’ll find a piece of fabulous art to hang over my couch. By the way – the chaise lounge (right of the couch) is actually the very chaise lounge that I based my Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray chaise on!
In January I achieved 100K status on United – 100,000 miles in the course of a year!!! So what were the last few trips that helped me reach my Premier 1K status with those 6 complimentary first class upgrades for 2019? (lol – insert mental image of a champagne glass and full-reclined sleeping bed here!)
The Antiques Diva Furniture Collection by Aidan Gray
Dreams do come true. In October I fulfilled my 20 year-long dream of creating my own furniture collection: The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray. In the slideshow below you’ll catch the fabulous (and famous!) people in the interior design trade who came out to help me celebrate at our Launch Party at the October High Point Market.
THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT!
The top hits in the #ADbyAC collection are without a doubt:
- the lucite Louis 16 style console
- the lucite backed chairs
- the contemporary take on animal prints on our abstract ottoman
Occasionally you have those pinch-me moments and that moment happened when a director on HGTV was talking to me after I spoke on a panel about Global Women in Design and she said, “blah blah blah… your iconic chair… blah blah, blah…” and I said, “Wait… Iconic!!?” And laughed – I may pretend to be a Diva but my feet are pretty firmly on the ground – I learned a long time ago not to believe my own press. “I would hardly call it Iconic. The collection only launched yesterday.” And she brushed my objection aside, “Yes but you know it and I know it… years later it’s how it will be referred to. So why not start now?”
All We Have Is Now
Anyone who knows me well knows that Carpe Diem is my mantra. Seize the Day. Imagine my absolute delight when I was in England recently leading a series of events for the Bath Decorative Fair and I discovered a neon sign that read, “All we have is Now.” I’ve pinned about a dozen neon signs to my Pinterest board over the last 6 months for #DesignInspiration as I started working on decorating my Venice apartment. Imagine my joy when I found this one in the Malthouse Collective in Stroud, England. Needless to say, that baby found itself as part of my checked luggage and now hangs above my chaise longue in my living room.
One of the things that have taken on extreme importance in the last year or two has been the concept of home. And while I make my home in Europe – America always feels like home to me. I sort of straddle 2 continents mentally. You can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take America out of the girl.
I’m thrilled we’ve started offering more and more #NoPassportRequired Tours:
The Original Miami Beach Antique Show
When the fair coordinators at US Antique Shows asked me to lead a series of tours at The Original Miami Beach Show I jumped at the chance. Miami? In January? You don’t have to ask me twice. A slew of antique dealers and designers from around the USA flew in to join me including Margaret Schwartz and Kelly Macguire of Modern Antiquarian, Laurent Gouon and Mimi Montgomery of Lolo French Antiques et More, Michael Mitchell and Tyler Hill of Mitchell Hill, Nancy Price of Nancy Price Interiors and Stacey Tiveron of Ronati.
Held each year in January, The Original Miami Beach Antique Show is a destination antique show. Days are spent shopping the antiques fair, stocking up on amazing inventory from jewelry to mid-century to some of the best art deco on the planet, as well as a surprising amount of classical antiques; while nights out involve Cuban music on Calle Oche, dining in some of the top-ranked restaurants in America, lounging by the pool and touring the local art deco scene.
Save the date for next year’s fair: January 4-8, 2020
Email me email@example.com or #WatchThisSpace for details on how you can join me next year for a #DivaTrip to #OMBAS
Charleston Antiques Tour with Southern Style Now
Speaking of our famous #NoPassportRequired Antique Tours, I’ve not had a chance to write about our recent Antiques Diva Charleston Antique Tour as part of Southern Style Now. After the success of their annual events in New Orleans and Savannah – the end of last year they moved the conference to Charleston where the antiquing is to die for! I took Southern Style Now fair participants on a 1-day tour of the best antique shops in Charleston! If you’re traveling in the South and seeking to source antiques definitely visit King Street to Shop Antiques Diva Style!
A few of our Antiques Diva Favorite Antique Dealers in Charleston include:
- Golden & Associates
- George C Birlant & Co
- David Skinner Antiques & Period Lighting
- Tucker Payne Antiques
- Silver Vault of Charleston
While not on King Street, there is another antique dealer in town that I MUST MENTION AS BEYOND FABULOUS – Wynsum Antiques where one of my favorite (and the nicest) dealers in town has an antique shop – Terry Stephenson of Juxtaposition!
As I write – Round Top is just about to start. And I’m starting to fantasize about planning our next group tour for Round Top in the Fall. Interested in joining me antiquing in Texas? #NoPassportRequired Let me know and I’ll keep you posted on this special GROUP TOUR as it develops.
Recently on Facebook, people have been posting their 10 Year Challenge – a photo taken 10 years ago versus today.
A decade ago The Antiques Diva & Co was almost 1 year old. In fact, there was no “& Co” as I was a one-woman firm. I had just finished pitching my book – The Antiques Diva Shopping Guide to Europe – and ultimately the book was rejected. I was so disappointed. And I thought maybe my career as a Diva was going to be short-lived. It was a global recession. No one was going to Europe. No one was buying antiques. And no one was reading books.
I had just started offering buying tours and we had only a handful of clients. Our biggest struggle was buyers at the time simply didn’t know mine was a service they could hire. They didn’t know to Google ‘Antique Buying Tours’ because they didn’t know such tours existed. The way clients would find me was by accident if they Googled ‘antiques in Europe’ and stumbled upon my blog. Every email I got from a new client began with some thing along the lines of “Oh My God – I didn’t know this service existed! I’m so glad I found you!” It was exciting but… there weren’t enough clients finding me randomly online to actually have a real business.
The Antiques Diva & Co was 1 year old and I felt like I was failing.
And then a friend sat me down and he said, “Toma, there is no shame in quitting. You need to accept that this idea is not going to work. Stop wasting your time.” And then he said the stinger words… “It’s not a good idea.” He wasn’t meaning to be an asshole – though
I knew one thing…
He was wrong.
I knew that I simply could see what he couldn’t see.
I could see where The Antiques Diva Brand was going.
He was in the proverbial forest in a place that was dark and scary with bears surrounded by trees which were covered in creepy crawly things. Meanwhile, I was soaring up above, seeing the majestic landscape lush with foliage and the fields and horizon up ahead. The colors were amazing… and My God there was a beautiful sunset up ahead. But… admittedly there was a headwind and I was being pushed back a bit by the wind. I definitely needed to flap my wings a little harder to fight against that gust which was pushing me back – but I was moving forward. I could see what he couldn’t see.
I always can see what others can’t see. That is my super power.
When I was 5 years old I discovered the TV Show Dallas. I wasn’t allowed to watch it but I would sneak a peek from my cracked open bedroom door after dark. I became obsessed with glamour and jewelry – it’s no surprise nearly 40 years later I started my own haute couture jewelry line the TCH Collection. As a child, I would cut paper diamonds and glue them piece by piece to my clothes and wherever I walked, a cloud of paper followed me around like Kate Spades quote “A trail of glitter follows wherever she goes.” My parents would get so frustrated – my dad would lecture, “Toma, stop being such a PigPen,” picturing the cloud of dust that follows the Snoopy character. And when he said this, I would get soo soo mad! “These are paper diamonds!!! 💎Can’t you see what I see!?”
I’ve always been able to see what others could not see. And when I see something so clearly – I fight for it like the world depends upon it. If you believe it – anything is possible. In that moment when Mustache Man said, “This is not a good idea.” I thought, “Game on buddy.”
I had a vision while I was flying up over those trees that I was going to build an empire. I was a
I may not have had many clients, but I knew that I know things other people didn’t know, and I know people who know more than me, and I know that together that we could help those people by giving them access to our contacts and my Diva Lifestyle. When I started the company I thought it was for people like me who merely liked antiques; what I didn’t realize was that I was building a B2B business serving primarily the antiques trade.
After analyzing my client base, I realized that I have 2 very specific demographics:
1. Antique dealers who needed to increase their profit margin and inventory quality and selection – these were people who were already successful, but they were ready to take their business to the next level by buying overseas. And our job was to give them a hand-up on the path they were already heading. I liked these clients and we could fast-track them to success.
2. But the clients I liked most were the 2nd demographic. They were mostly women, and they were starting a new career. They had already been successful in their first career. It was usually something super practical – like a banker or accountant or a lawyer. Or maybe they had given up their career years earlier to stay home with the kids, to raise a family, and they were ready to have something of their own, something that fed their soul, something that represented them. These were the people I could help.
Why I Do What I Do
A couple weeks ago I got a private message on Instagram, it started:
“I’m sure you get 100s of messages and I don’t want to sound like a stalker or a fangirl but I love what you do. You’re amazing. I know you’re very busy, but… I am wondering if I could talk to you? While I’m not currently in the antiques industry, I have a strong interest in it. I’m at a point in my life where I want to do something more. I’ve always had an interest in interior design and I had a shop for a while. I feel I have a natural talent for many things, but none of them generate income. And I’d like to change that. I would like to support myself and not depend on my husband for that. Any advice about getting started in the antiques industry would be appreciated.”
It’s not really just about antiques. I have a fabulous life – super glamorous actually with amazing travel and more champagne than should be legal. Let’s just say being a Diva does have its perks. But… I don’t do it for the 🍾 champagne. I do it because I saw a need for this service to
Over the last 10 years, the business has changed. The team has grown from 1 to around 20 at the moment. We are now in 16 countries and 3 continents. We don’t just offer antique buying tours. We offer a Training and Mentoring Program for Antiques Dealers – a training program to teach new or nearly new
What Would You Ask Me?
Here’s something I want you to think about… is there a question you would ask me if you could? One of my #1 responsibilities in the company is to talk to incoming clients and to help them determine where they should shop, for what and when. I chat all the time with clients about their marketing plans and repeat clients know that they can always call me to bounce ideas off of me; and when I’m out and see things that remind me of a client I send all sorts of tempting texts and ideas.
If you’ve been dreaming about a new career as an antiques dealer – or perhaps simply need to fast-track a career you’ve already started selling antiques – then I would love to schedule a phone call with you to help you make your dreams come true.
Top Interior Design Influencers Who Are Making It Happen
In mid-November, I received an email with urgent in the title. It was from Kimberly Wray of Furniture Lighting and Design Magazine. I gave a giant yelp and my kitten Fortuny – who had been sleeping peacefully on my desk – jumped with a start.
“We are doing an article on the top interior design industry influencers who are making it happen in 2018 and I want to interview you.”
When the article came out Dec 28, 2018, I sighed and felt a little victory. This is me. I am a just a girl from Oklahoma. I didn’t grow up with any money. I think my parents simply struggled to pay the electric bill. Buying luxury furniture wasn’t a consideration and most of our furniture was hand me downs, vintage or secondhand. But my mom had fabulous taste. She knew the importance of angling the chair just the right way, and good lighting, lamps were always on and scattered around the house. She painted her own paintings and arranged bouquets of flowers and she grew the flowers herself or plucked wildflowers out of a field. Food was always readily available and no matter how many strays my dad brought home for dinner (which was a nightly occurrence) she stretched the food and there was always enough to seat one more. We didn’t have a fancy life but we lived well. Life was beautiful.
Antiques Diva Is A Lifestyle
And for me, that’s what it’s always been about… living gracefully. I got into antiques because I feel they add elegance to a home. I like the patina, the sense of history and the story. When you buy antiques you don’t just buy antiques – you buy a story. Antiques help you travel to other places and other times, if only in your mind.
Moving to Venice
Several years ago my husband of 20 years and I separated. To be honest, it was devastating for me. I couldn’t emotionally process it so I threw myself into working too much as a solution. It was good for my company growth but it wasn’t good for me on a personal level. And so I decided to change. I decided to reevaluate what my priorities are.
I needed more balance, less work, and definitely more personal time, which meant I needed to work more efficiently and effectively. I also realized I wasn’t happy living in Berlin. So I thought about all the places in the world I could live and my happy place was Venice.
A few photos from my move down the Grand Canal…
One year ago I loaded up a 40-foot container and my truck drove over the Alps. It took 3 boats, but I arrived at my new home in Venice on a flotilla going down the Grand Canal. My mover Alfredo Rubelli even tied my desk chair to the front of the boat so I could sit on the chair and wave to tourists as we passed them by. It was surreal. But I had arrived.
Paris Flea Market Champagne Brunch
Speaking of thinking like a Diva – Aspire Design and Home Magazine just published the best article on me that has ever been written. In The Antiques Diva Guide to Paris Flea Markets. they shared the definition of a Diva:
a woman who exudes great style and personality with confidence and expresses herself without letting others influence who they are.
On January 20, The Antiques Diva & Co held our 6th annual Paris Flea Market Champagne Brunch co-hosted by Aspire Magazine and Marché Dauphine. Each year we welcome guests from the international design community during Paris Design Week to a festive brunch at Les Puces before a day of antiques and vintage sourcing and #DesignInspiration. The article was published to promote the party I co-hosted with Marché Dauphine and Aspire Magazine.
Check out our Paris Flea Market Champagne Brunch party pics taken by photographer Joachim Pelletier …
2018 was devoted to Balance. And it was hard work, but I achieved that goal.
My Goal for 2019
2019 is dedicated to re-engaging in a personal level in my company. I believe the company needs more of me – more of my leadership and more of my voice and vision.
And I’m doing that by going back to the basics. My company started because I wrote a blog titled The Antiques Diva. People liked my blog and demanded that I take them on antique shopping tours. Somewhere along the line as I was growing the company, my voice got lost in the day to day madness. So I thought about it and I wondered, Why not go back to where this all started with my voice? This year on the blog I will be blogging less, but the blogs I will write will have more depth and more meaning. And drumroll… where did this company begin? It began because I wanted to write a book – so I’m starting over. I am writing a book. It’s not
Thanks for following along as I share my journey. My word for 2019 is Ready. I’m ready. Ready. And it’s going to be a great year.
Toma Clark Haines
The Antiques Diva
Boston remains close to my heart. Although I’ve lived and worked in Europe for nearly 20 years now, I travel frequently to the US and have had several opportunities to speak or attend events at the Boston Design Center and attend design events in the Boston area. I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest blogger, Chesie Breen, Editor-in-Chief of ID Boston Magazine, a trade publication published and distributed exclusively by the Boston Design Center.
Antiquing the East Coast: ID Magazine’s Favorite Trends by Chesie Breen
These are a few of my favorite things… in antiques up and down the East Coast.
We first came across Gray Antiques on Instagram (@grayantiques) and are now both obsessed and impressed by their highly unique and sophisticated mix of fine antiques and vintage pieces. Located in the historic district of Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Maryland, the shop was started by Carol L. Vargo and Katherine Behrens Crosby. Their work combines Vargo’s keen eye and retail experience with Crosby’s interior design background and knowledge of antiques from stints at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York and Boston. They offer, by appointment only, a range of antiques and decorative pieces in their shop, including continental antiques from the nineteenth century, twentieth-century pieces from Maison Jansen and Paul McCobb, as well as handmade lamp shades from Massachusetts-based Perrotine Co. and decorative tabletop accessories from Aerin. They believe today’s most modern and fresh homes are layered and personal, blending timeless pieces with new items to create an environment unique to the owners’ personalities.
While you can certainly shop their well-edited website the real payoff comes when you work directly with this duo to source your design needs. Most of their pieces are acquired through auction, and they are experts at navigating this process and assisting designers and their clients with finding that perfect piece.
Market Stalls, BDC Suite 203
Anyone who visits the Market Stalls at the Boston Design Center knows that the secret weapon for spotting great finds with pedigree is Joe DiDonato.
This month he has his carefully trained eye on a new dealer: Lussier Lajoie Custom Framing. Along with exquisite and custom-designed framing, owner Daniel Lajoie sources a selection of rare and one-of-a-kind antique prints and reproductions. Adhering to museum conservation standards, products, and techniques, Lussier Lajoie Custom Framing designs and creates tailor-made frames that beautifully showcase each piece.
Falls Village, Connecticut
When interior designer Bunny Williams founded Trade Secrets with her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, from their home in Falls Village, Connecticut in 2001, their mantra quickly became, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!” Today, Trade Secrets is a must-visit destination every May for everyone from garden aficionados and collectors to anyone just interested in spending an afternoon supporting their community. “We’ve grown by leaps and bounds and raised a lot of important funds for Women’s Services. We’ve had all sorts of weather over the years, including snow on the ground, but it doesn’t dampen the joy that comes from a stroll through a beautiful country garden and shopping for rare plants and garden antiques,” says Williams.
This year, guests toured the couple’s gardens in Falls Village and were able to see Williams’s new creative studio for the first time. Also on tour was architect Gil Schafer’s garden, Middlefield, which he designed in collaboration with landscape architect Deborah Nevins. Rounding out the triangle was Wethersfield Estate, about which architectural historian Henry Hope Reed, Jr. wrote, “The inspiration is grand, the tradition noble, and the vision all-seeing.”
Kinsey Marble & Co.
What do designers, past and present—from Albert Hadley and Mark Hampton to Steven Gambrel, David Kleinberg, Charlotte Moss, and Richard Keith Langham—have in common? When the need arises to help a client curate and build a unique library, they all turn to Kinsey Marable for his highly coveted, distinctive expertise. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Kinsey Marable & Co. specializes in furnishing distinctive libraries from New York and California to London and Paris. Seventeen years ago, Kinsey, then an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, gave up securities trading to deal in a more exotic commodity: rare and out-of-print books. Today, he is widely considered the premier American source for libraries. Though subjects such as architecture, fine arts, gardening, and design usually anchor his commissions, his knowledge is vast and versatile; for Oprah Winfrey he assembled a complete collection of first-edition Pulitzer Prize winners.
Another service he provides is cataloging and organizing your existing collection, as well as providing conservation services and meticulous binding and leatherwork. Buying an entire collection and selling it intact is another forte—he cites the libraries of Nancy Lancaster and David and Evangeline Bruce as examples.
Read more about the best of East Coast antiques and find interior inspiration in the Fall 2018 issue of ID Boston Magazine, now available in the Boston Design Center.
The Antiques Diva offers American Antiques Tours: the best antiques sources and fairs in the United States – # No Passport Required! Our US Antiques Diva guides are antique and interior design experts who create custom antiques buying tours to our inside sources – where the designers shop. Whether you’re looking to buy one specific piece or fill an entire store, our personal shopping antique buying guides share their vast knowledge of secret sources to take you to all the right places.
Ciao for now,
Toma Clark Haines is The Antiques Diva
While taking my summer vacation in the Amalfi Coast this summer one of my favorite things I did – besides merely lounge poolside in my BoxerinBlue swimwear under the wafting smell of the lemon trees – was visit the Ruins of Pompeii, which I talked about in a recent blog post when I announced my furniture collection – The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray.
Pompeii continues to fascinate – Mount Vesuvius had erupted in a phenomenal fashion straight off a Hollywood movie script – perfectly preserving the ancient town of Pompeii and the surrounding countryside in ash. The result – while devastating at the time, burying the people alive – did preserve the works of arts for centuries allowing us to see frescoes from the time of Jesus. (Segway from religion to sex… ) While the frescoes in the brothels were… uhm… especially interesting… what continues to fascinate me is the lush decadent lifestyles they lived in ancient Roman times. When I think of 2000 years ago, I imagine people walking around barefoot and yet in Pompeii the rich were living in villas I’d be happy to call home today.
Pompeii was to Rome like the Hamptons are to New York. And these villas surely must have been where the profession of interior designer came about. The wealthy employed sculptors and painters and other artisans to create an atmosphere that reinforced their position in society. In addition to proper sewage, they had gyms and swimming pools, libraries and courtyards with gorgeous mosaics… but for me… it’s all about the frescoes. The villas were painted ceiling to floor with motifs that were anything from actual images of other villas to architectural elements such as porticos or even cards, rivers and coastlines as well trees, fruits, flowers, birds… But my favorite room, a kitchen in one of the villas, reminded me of my own home. The walls of the kitchen were painted with swimming fish found in the sea nearby.
At my home in Venice, I live in a small apartment a stone’s throw from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, on a side canal just off the Grand Canal. Soon after I got an apartment here I found myself dreaming of water – which apparently is a trait of Venetians. Water is as much a part of daily life in Venice as is air and breathing. Meanwhile fish swim in the canals outside my kitchen window, they are served in every restaurant and I even have pet goldfish (Frank Sinatra Jr and Frank Jr Jr – fans of the TV series Friends will catch the joke in the name of the later). Wanting to connect the interior of my apartment to my surroundings, I decided to commission the artisans from Porte Italia to come and paint fish swimming down my entry hall. I chose to do the entire entrance in a dramatic high gloss black paint – painting the ceiling as well as walls which makes the space feel infinitely larger.
A fan of Fornasetti, I had the artisans nod towards Piero’s style. The fish swim towards a reflection pool in the middle – aka, an 18th C Gilded Mirror with the original mottled and melting mercury glass. The mirrors frame design is straight out of a fresco design in Pompeii, a basket overflowing with pomegranates and roses. This mirror created most likely between Louis 15 and Louis 16 reign reflects the notion we discussed in a recent blog – where does design inspiration come from? Everything we see and feel and do, influence who we are and our design aesthetic. Louis 16th furniture makers were heavily influenced by Pompeii, just as I was heavily influenced by Louis 15 and 16th when designing my furniture collection – The Antiques Diva Collection for Aidan Gray, which debuts this week at High Point Market.
Fall 2018 High Point Market I’m speaking on 2 panels that broach the subject of Design Inspiration. I’ll be Facebook Living both events – so don’t worry if you’re not able to be there in person, know you can always catch it online on my personal page Toma Clark Haines.
Inspiration Behind the Designs – Saturday October 13 2-3pm
Surya Showplace 4100
Join interior and product designers Mary Douglas Drysdale, Michel Smith Boyd, Toma Clark Haines (“The Antiques Diva”), Xander Noori, and Keon Khajavi-Noori as they discuss where they seek inspiration, how they overcome the dreaded creative block, and give tips and tools for recharging your creative batteries.
Designing Women of the World – Sunday October 14 1.30 to 2.30pm
Suites at Market Square Seminar Room SAMS T 1014
How do you prioritize travel as a busy designer and business owner? How do you prepare for design inspiration at a particular destination? How does getting outside of your local marketplace help your business? Join our traveled designers as they discuss these questions and many more, while giving tips and inspiration on how to incorporate travel into your design process. Panelists include Adriana Hoyos, Tina Nicole, Toma Clark Haines, Sandra Espinet, and Aviva Stanoff with Deb Barrett as moderator. Reception and book signings to follow.
Until then, Be Inspired.
Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva®
Today while running errands in Venice, I popped down the Calle delle Mandole to the Punto Simply grocery store and popped into my friend Jewelry Designer Marisa Convento’s shop, where she sells her handmade creations using antique Venetian beads. She inquired about my new kittens Fortuny and Fiorella – she had after all priorities, my kittens are quickly becoming the most popular cats on Instagram – and then, she said, “Congratulations on the launch of your furniture collection! You have traveled the world and seen some of the best designs and antiques in Europe, Asia and the Americas… I KNOW this collection is going to be good.” She emphasized “know” by touching her heart. Blushing, I thanked her and said, “I’ve a lifetime of design inspiration – Now I’m taking that design inspiration and putting it to work.”
Diane Vreeland said, “The Eye Has To Travel.” Ernest Hemingway said, “Paris is a moveable feast.” What I always say is, “The most important tool in a designers briefcase is their passport.” Other cultures and countries educate the eye, entice the spirit, encourage travelers to think differently, to see new ways of doing things, and consider new ideas. In the 1960s and 70’s it was a right of passage to backpack across Europe. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, a young man of standing was not considered well-educated if he hadn’t taken The Grand Tour. Young men (and occasionally women) were traversing Europe, visiting Italy and France, learning the most important developments in language, arts, court etiquette, legal and political systems, science, culture and refined European taste. They visited France and Italy, Austria and the Low Countries and while they were out “getting cultured”, they also SHOPPED, Antiques Diva Style! Their purchases, known as “Grand Tour Souvenirs” were brought home and displayed in their salons in order to illustrate their knowledge and symbolize their refined tastes. Proof positive they were educated in the ways of the world!
During this time frame, one of the most important archeological discoveries of all time was uncovered – the Ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Visiting Pompeii was imperative. I had been there nearly 20 years ago, but this summer along with a friend I took a pilgrimage to one of the most influential design destinations on the planet and I realized how much of my own furniture collection was birthed here.
Pompeii, located south of Rome and not far from Naples and the Amalfi Coast, is well-known for the vicious eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the 29th August 70 A.D. The eruption led to the entirety of the city being buried beneath a 6 meter thick layer of volcanic ash that solidified and preserved everything that lay beneath for 17 long centuries… When excavators broke earth in 1748, the original Classical Design felt new again. But what was amazing, was that recent innovations that had only been discovered in the last century or two were found to have been in use nearly 1500 or 1600 years before. All of Europe was entranced by the discoveries of Pompeii. Neoclassical – the new classical – was en vogue! And for people returning from the Grand Tour, showing they had a piece from Pompeii was something then like having a piece of the Berlin wall was in the 1990’s. Artists began painting the ruins, and furniture makers began incorporating their symbols into their artwork.
The style was based on the designs of Classical Greece and Rome. Vases were the ultimate symbol of the ancient world and there was an enormous craze for them in the second half of the 18th century. You’ll note in our Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray we have a Lucite-wrapped console that’s done in a Neoclassical fashion and the base of the piece has a vase carved between the stretchers on the legs. Swags and festoons were totally in fashion – as were hanging garlands of fabric, ribbons, flowers and bud-like motifs based on Classical Roman decoration. Lines of small bead shapes are also a frequent embellishment.
Fans of the French furniture style Louis 16th will recognize these motifs repeated again and again. It was during the Louis 16th timeframe that the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered – and elements from Pompeii pop up in the Louis 16th furniture. The Louis 16th style is neoclassical.
So my question is… Is our furniture collection at Aidan Gray the NEW neoclassical?
I can’t wait to share with you The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray Home.
Join us Oct 14 9am to 11am for our launch party
Bubbles and Bites
201 North Main, High Point North Carolina
Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva
Today you know me as The Antiques Diva. I’ve lived in Europe nearly 20 years, having lived in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin before moving to Venice last year. But I grew up in Oklahoma and rarely traveled outside of the state as a child and teenager. I didn’t have a passport until I was 21 and I decided to study abroad and in doing so, it changed my life. On that first trip abroad to London, I realized that “Dreams Do Come True” and my dream was to live and work in Europe. I realized if I wanted something strongly enough, if I worked hard enough, that I could achieve my dreams. And my dreams were big. Ten years ago when I founded The Antiques Diva® & Co I had a very specific vision of where I wanted to bring my brand – and I’m still working on achieving all those goals. Today I’m excited to announce that I get to check one more of those goals off my checklist. This Fall Aidan Gray Home is launching The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray at the fall High Point Market, Oct. 13-17, 2018.
If one phrase captures the essence of my mindset, it’s “You Mustn’t Be Afraid to Dream a Little Bigger Darling.” Thanks to the way my parents raised me, I have always believed I could achieve whatever goals I set for myself. My dad is the ultimate at giving encouragement. He thought I could climb the highest tree or run faster than all the boys… and because he believed I could, I did. As I was growing up my parents did not have much money and things were always financially tight in our house. My parent’s house was small, but it was a wonderfully cozy home. My mom didn’t have much money to decorate with but she had good taste. And more importantly, she has an ability to make anything look beautiful. I remember her walking into the fields near our house and picking wildflowers. She would bring them home and put them in a rusted vintage Folgers coffee can and they looked like a centerpiece for Country Living. She went to garage sales and bought second-hand furniture and paintings and our interior design was always the coziest of all my friends. Today I owe a lot of who I am professionally to who she was as a mother. She inspired me to live beautifully. My father inspired me to achieve my dreams.
When I met Randal Weeks, CEO of Aidan Gray, we connected not only in business but connected as friends who have similar roots. We understood each other. He’s a Texas boy. I’m an Oklahoma girl. He grew up as a military kid, with his family moving around the world from military base to military base and his mother was a magician. She could move into a house in a foreign country and perform magic on military housing making the spaces as beautiful as she was. He saw the beauty she created in her world. And he was inspired by her and the way she lived her life.
In university, he studied architecture – but he was always drawn to furniture and interior design. When creating the architecture plans for the house he couldn’t help but think how the people would live in the space, what the lighting would be, how the furniture placement would interact with the structure itself. For him, architecture, interior design and furniture were always in the conversation. By happenstance one day while getting his MBA, he caught an episode of Oprah. And something she said resonated with him, “You will never be happy if you are not passionate about what you do.” And he thought – “she’s right.”
And he made the decision to pursue his dream to start a company that produces European inspired home furnishings. Since 2003, Aidan Gray has grown to become one of the leaders in the home furnishings industry.
Randal and I first met 6 years ago when he approached The Antiques Diva & Co to help source antiques in England, France and Belgium to use as design inspiration for creating his collections as well as accessorizing and selling in his showrooms. And – the shoe fit.
We were fast-friends enjoying a mutual respect for one another’s businesses and over the years worked together when Randal had international antiquing needs.
When two years ago I was approached by a licensing agent to design a licensed line of furniture for one of Aidan Gray’s competitors, I prepared a powerpoint presentation. And I did what they say you should never do. I flew to Dallas and I showed my ideas to Randal and said, “I’ve been asked to develop a furniture collection, and if I am going to do a furniture collection, I want to do it with you.” Before I was halfway through the presentation he was taking me into his warehouse and showing me some feet for a chair he was working on and we were excitedly discussing the idea of “the chair as art.” He got my vision immediately. My initial ideas were too “Form over Function” and he gently informed me, “It must be comfortable to sell!” We discussed my ideas and decided eventually decided the best way to start our collaboration was to hit the road together – traveling throughout France, Holland and Belgium, seeking design inspiration to develop a line of furniture together – and a collection was born. The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray
The Antiques Diva & Co’s goal is to make antiques accessible. Aidan Gray’s goal is to offer this same accessibility for European decor and home furnishings, so this is a perfect partnership! Designing this collection together was a natural progression for The Antiques Diva brand. Just as Louis XVI was inspired by his Grand Tour and the discoveries of Pompeii when creating his Neoclassical furniture, I’ve traveled the world and have seen the best-quality antiques and gained global design inspiration. Antiques help us learn from the past to create for the future.
But I didn’t want to create a line of antique reproductions – I wanted to create something that was inspired by the past but made for today – mixing media to create unique looks for furniture, using concepts and materials not available in the 18th century – such as authentic hand-carved woods combined with Lucite and faux leather.
Years before I started The Antiques Diva & Co – when I was in my mid- 20’s living in Paris – I remember sitting one day at the Café Les Deux Magots and telling a girlfriend that my dream was to someday design a line of furniture. At the time I didn’t think it would actually happen – it was a far-out fantasy – but words have power. Speak the desires of your heart out loud… and then work your butt off every day until your dreams come true. It is my great pleasure to invite you to join me at High Point Market | The World’s Home for Home Furnishings for the Launch Party for The Antiques Diva & Co Collection by Aidan Gray Home. Aidan Gray is located in High Point at 201 North Main. The fête is Sunday October 14, 2018, from 9am to 11am, but you are welcome to shop the collection every day during market October 12-17, 2018 (or online on the Aidan Gray website after the product launch in High Point). If you’re in High Point, I would love to take time personally to show you the collection in a private tour – email me Toma@antiquesdiva.com to make an appointment. For those of you who won’t be at market, over the coming months I will share photos on my blog and tell the behind the scenes stories of various pieces.
Hope to see you at High Point!
Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva