Wanderlust With The Anthony Bourdain of Antiques

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.

Photo Credit: Asian Art Brief files

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.    

Photo Credit – Asian Art Brief

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.”

Interior designers Justin Shaulis and Robert Passal
with Toma Clark Haines at our NYC Antique Dealer Workshop

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 toma@antiquesdiva.com 

Happy Wandering,
Toma – The Antiques Diva

The NEW Neoclassical

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 | The NEW Neoclassical | The Antiques Diva
Pompeii, Italy 

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.

Louis XVI Demilune | The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray
Neoclassical design elements 

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.

Louis XVI | The NEW Neoclassical | The Antiques Diva
Louis XVI

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?  

Louis XVI Demilune | The NEW Neoclassical
Louis XVI Style Demilune: The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray


Louis XVI Demilune | The NEW Neoclassical | The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray
Louis XVI Demilune with Lucite wrapped console.


Louis XVI Demilune | The NEW Neoclassical | The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray
Louis XVI Style Demilune in a Neoclassical fashion with a vase carved between the stretchers on the legs.


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
Aidan Gray
201 North Main, High Point North Carolina

The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray Home launch event at HPMKT

Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva


Dreams Do Come True

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.

to-dream-a-little-bigger.png” alt=”You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger” 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 Weeks CEO of Aidan Gray Home
Randal Weeks, CEO of Aidan Gray Home

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. 

Making dreams come true
And the shoe fit… making dreams come true

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.  

Collaboration and Creativity
We collaborated, we challenged, we compromised, we created 

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 

Sneak Peek of our Marie Antoinette Chair with Lucite and Faux Leather

Chair as Sculpture: Marie-Antoinette Chair”The channel quilted faux leather seat reinforces the construction and makes this refined antique incredibly practical for today’s active and busy lifestyles. Our Marie-Antoinette Chair’s simplicity has been modernized to compliment any style of home or interior. We are making this in an armchair, armless chair, and a settee version. 

Archduchess Acrylic Chair: Pushing the envelope on the Marie-Antoinette Chair even more! The Louis XVI style dining chair has been re-invented with not only function but as ART for the home. 

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. Bubbles and Bites: The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray Home launch event at HPMKTIt 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