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
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