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Guest Blog: USA Edition – Where the Designers Shop!

to 10px; WIDTH: 226px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 227px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Guest Blogger La Reine, author of the tres populaire blog She’s Shopping Now, is back again on the beat in NYC, bringing you insider information on:


Tata from me, The Antiques Diva™, and Bonjour from La Reine of She’s Shopping Now!


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top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>Décor aficionados always want to know where the pros shop: those secret, insider places for those in the know, where designers always score the best finds. And those places that don’t have that nasty little sign “To The Trade Only”.

I was lucky enough to be sent on assignment by The Antiques Diva™ to meet with Fran Reilly, of Iconic Antiques and Modern, at her showroom in Center44. Center44? Never heard of it! But now I, too, am in the know…and soon you will be as well!

Center44 is an NYC antiques and vintage home decor showroom somewhat hidden in midtown – East 44th Street in the historic Creative Arts Building – on the 2nd floor of a building whose main signage proclaims “Rachel Ray Show”: it’s where the show is taped. But take the elevator up to 2, and welcome to a massive showroom filled with a diverse collection of antiques and vintage pieces from over 75 international dealers.

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Any time I enter an antiques store, my first look is to see what works for me; then my eyes can refocus to find pieces for whomever I’m shopping with. Immediately my eye lust was satisfied: Fran first walked me to her booth, where the walls sparkle with glitzy gilded mirrors, one of my personal weaknesses. After we dropped our coats (on a pair of gorgeous zebra-print armchairs), Fran toured me through the showroom filled with attention-grabbing vignettes: stylized room settings; glowing eclectic, modern and traditional lighting; accessories ranging from filigree crosses to Bohemian crystal to French tower clocks to evening bags; and furniture in every imaginable style and pedigree from 19th century antiques to post-war modern to Chinese antiquities…and a whole lot more.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 271px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />LS Antiques

I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Paul Plumadore and Jim Tindell, the founders and owners of Center44, who after a lifetime in the creative and antiques world opened Center44 just a few years ago. There couldn’t be two nicer guys – I could listen to Jim’s hospitable southern drawl all day. And hospitality is all part of the Center44 experience. I’m not a decorator, I’m a shopper. And while there are plenty of decorators cruising the aisles, clipboard in hand, the public is graciously welcomed to shop there too.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 267px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Ghislain Antiques

Which decorators shop there, you might ask? Do the names Bunny Williams, Nate Burkus, Kelly Wearstler, Albert Hadley, Amy Lau mean anything to you? You’d never heard of Center44 either? Then we haven’t been paying attention: since its opening, Center44 has received great media press, including Architectural Digest, New York Magazine, O at Home, the New York Times, and TimeOut New York: there’s a whole wall full of framed accolades. In fact, Nate Berkus is such a fan he not only named it one of his favorite places to shop, he also dragged a camera crew in there and featured it on the tv show E! News!

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 211px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Cynthia Sweets

But don’t be intimidated by the names and caché: Center44 is welcoming and easy to explore, especially with my shopping companion Fran and my hosts Jim and Paul. Take your time, look around: there’s a new story at every turn, and a new temptation in every step.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 267px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Center 44

Center44 services include:

  • an extensive website with detailed descriptions (including photos and prices) of their inventory, dealer listings, press, and portfolio projects
  • a weekly newsletter The Shout Out that profiles new pieces, dealer events, and industry news …plus some fun tidbits from Jim and Paul
  • on-site furniture and art restoration

The details:

222 East 44th Street
New York, NY 10017
Monday-Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Phone (212) 450-7988 Fax (212) 450-7975

What else caught la Reine’s eye at Center44? Take a peek at her blog ShesShoppingNow for more drool-worthy finds!

Guest Blogger & The Diva of The Day!

La Reine
Author of She’s Shopping Now

(seen right Shopping in Berlin)

Berlin Art Market – Kunst und Nostalgie Markt

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>One of the things I love most about living in Berlin is Saturday mornings in the city. While on rainy days my husband, The Wine Guy, and I love nothing more than to sleep in, snuggling with the cat, but when the sun shines we get dressed and wander out in the city to explore our surroundings. We live in Mitte – which literally means the “center” of the city – and within minutes of stumbling out of our front door we’re at the Unter den Linden, basking in the shadow of Brandenburg Gate or lingering on the lawns at the Reichstag. If we’re in the mood for brunch we might head over to the Oranienburger Strasse and if we’re in the mood for a stroll along the river we hold hands and weave in and out of the joggers fencing the Spree. Inevitably, these strolls detour to the Berliner Kunst Markt (Berlin Art Market) at Museum Island.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The contents of the art market tend more towards tourist art than serious collector pieces, but the paintings are quirky and colorful and fun – the type of painting you might hang in your bathroom, a child’s bedroom, guest room or hall so that each time you pass by you just have to smile and remember your trip to Berlin. Paintings are sold alongside polish pottery, art glass and cute tiles commemorating local landmarks.

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />My friend, The English Rose, visiting me in Berlin and picking up a souvenir on her trip!

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />A closer look at those tiles… The English Rose bought the tile of Brandenberg Gate.

You can visit the Berlin Art Market every Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 5pm… and if it’s a sunny day you never know… you might bump into The Wine Guy & me making our Saturday morning rounds in Berlin!

Kunst und Nostalgie Markt
Am Zeughaus
Berlin – Mitte

Have a Happy Saturday!

The Antiques Diva™

(Seen right with The English Rose opposite the art market and across the river in front of The Berliner Dom)

Pen Appeal

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”×1024.jpg” border=”0″ />top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>When my friend La Reine visited me in Berlin last summer, she was looking for the perfect souvenir to buy her husband, The Big Guy. Naturally, I took her on a Berlin Diva Tour, shopping at one of my favorite flea markets Berliner Trödelmarkt und Kunst- und Kunsthandwerkermarkt Straße des 17. Juni. La Reine recently mentioned our hunt in a post on her fab new blog, She’s Shopping Now, while giving great details on fountain pen collecting.

For today’s diva post, I’m sending you chez elle to read her post on Pen Appeal!

And Ladies, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, take note! An antique or vintage fountain pen (or pen accessories) makes a great “mantique” present for your significant other!

Until next time, happy shopping!
The Antiques Diva™

And So To Bed…

UPDATE! Rumor has it that between my last visit and now, the Porthault Linen factory in Rieux-en-Cambresis has closed. According to the D. Porthault website, their factories are located in Normandy, on the west coast of France, and in Cambrai, in northern France.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The Antiques Diva™ theory on bedroom decorating is “Keep it simple & peaceful for a good night’s sleep!” This is where The Diva & husband rest their weary heads at night.

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>Research says we spend one third of our life in bed – thus, putting your money in the mattress isn’t such a bad idea if you want to get a good night’s sleep! First off, I love American retailers such as TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning and Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy high thread count, Egyptian cotton sheets and duvets at bargain-bin prices and, though I live in Europe, I often shop these discount stores while in the good ole’ USA. On my annual visit to America, I stock up on savings whilst guaranteeing a good night’s sleep the rest of the year!

But if you’re a Princess-and-The-Pea-sort-of-girl, I’ve got a brand for you. In my opinion the best linen in the world is made by D. Porthault, the first French linen firm to introduce printed bed linens after being so inspired by Monet, Renoir and other Impressionist painters that they decided surely one would sleep better ensconced in printed French blossoms.

to 10px; WIDTH: 267px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Image from Victoria Magazine – D. Porthault collection

Of course, being ensconced comes at a price – a set of D. Porthault sheets can set you back thousands of dollars. But why pay full price when you can pay a mere fraction of that? Instead of shopping retail, spend the savings you’ll realize to cover the cost of an airline ticket to the D. Porthault factory outlet, just outside of Lille, France in Roubaix.

to 10px; WIDTH: 150px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 150px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Roubaix is the former heart of the French textile industry and now the center of mail-order shopping in France. The city used to be known as the ‘city of 1,000 chimneys’ and the old factories and their chimney’s still stand. Getting to the D. Porthault factory is certain to cause confusion on your GPS, but stay the course and you’ll be rewarded when you arrive at the destination:
D. Porthault
19 Rue Robespierre
Rieux-en-Cambresis, France

to 10px; WIDTH: 183px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 280px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />But you don’t have to take just my word for it, take that of my shopping idol, Born to Shop expert Suzy Gershman. She writes in her memoir, C’est La Vie, “A one thousand dollar sheet costs about ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS at the outlet. The Porthault outlet store is located right within the factory. Most of the world’s top hotels have Porthault robes. The Porthault factory outlet sells both commercial lines as well as consumer lines, both are deluxe brands released (in the factory) at a small fraction of the regular retail price.” If it’s good enough for the world’s top hotels, then it’s good enough for me! Of course, with the plethora of guests I’ve been hosting since my recent move to Berlin, I might have opened a B&B; for friends and family and not even known it!

While you’re in Lille, you’ll want to maximize your shopping time. That’s why you want to go to Lille, France the FIRST WEEKEND in SEPTEMBER every year for their Grand Braderie – literally a town-wide garage sale! You can stock up on French furniture and antiques to go with those gorgeous sheets and table cloths you’ve just purchased. And before leaving Lille, you’ll naturally have to hit ALL those other factory outlets – my favorite is L’Usine – an outlet mall with three floors selling 200 brands of discounts of up to 60 percent off. If you don’t find anything at D. Porthault (sadly there’s no guarantee you’ll find the bargains Suzy talked about in her book) then you’ll definitely find something at L’Usine … Check out the Deschamps outlet store and keep your eye open for linens with labels such as Cristian Lacroix, Pierre Frey, Yves Delorme – all, bien sur, at deeply discounted prices!

to+bed+diva.jpg”>to+bed+diva.jpg” border=”0″ />L’Usine
228, Avenue Alfred Motte
59100 Roubaix, France
L’Usine Website

Until Next Time, Bonne Nuit!

The Antiques Diva
(Seen Right at Le Grand Hotel Intercontinental Paris)

Life Laundry – Personal Ponderings

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo Credit: tos/3061534.html” target=”_blank”>Tim Cox

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>Every year at Christmas I write one of those annoying letters – you know the ones – where friends tell you about their year in excruciating detail, tucking in snapshots of beach holidays and telling ridiculously cheery good news. The one that causes you to groan out loud. When writing my Christmas letters I, for one, like to share the beastly details along with the best. The year my husband and I suddenly were transferred to Paris with his company in September, we started the Christmas newsletter by giving an accurate-to-date count of the number of gray hairs I’d sprouted as of that point and then went into a long, detailed account of our dearly departed pet Catalina’s problems with gingivitis before announcing to the world that we’d finally fulfilled our life dream and moved to Paris.

In a world divided by optimists & pessimists, I fall strongly on the side of the former. I have a sunny disposition – one that I’ve been told can be annoying at times as I truly always see the silver lining in any situation and am a generally happy-go-lucky girl. As a child, my mother said about me – and mind you, I come from a rural, agricultural upbringing so don’t let the colorfulness of this next phrase shock – that I could “fall in a bucket of cow manure and find a bright, shiny penny”.

to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 300px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />October has always been my favorite month because it’s my birthday month. I enjoy fall colors and turtleneck/scarf season and even Halloween. But this October, with my 36th birthday looming, I no longer am in my early 30’s. Instead, I’ve fallen into that next category that appears on nearly all forms – “the 36-41” age category. If generous, one will say “She’s in her mid-30’s” while one less forgiving (and inevitably one who sees a cup half-empty) will proclaim “She’s leaning towards 40”. But I must tell I might be aging faster than the speed of light: my bill at the hair stylist seems to have doubled in the last year as I fight the battle against the grays and my body no longer obeys the way it did in my 20’s. But this Fall – this October – is a good one.

to 10px; WIDTH: 200px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 130px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />And though I could tell you about how my car was recently towed because I’d parked on the lane behind my Berlin apartment in a zone temporarily marked “no parking due to the Berlin marathon” and didn’t notice the sign written in German because it blended with all the campaign posters for the upcoming election, or that due to a clerical error with health insurance my recent extensive medical testing that should have been fully covered by insurance is now costing me 700E. And I could even tell that I’ve entered into a battle with the German postal system that makes the battle against my gray hair seem meek – this battle a result of the fact that each and every package sent to my home address gets returned to sender due to postal system errors. Instead, I’m now giving everyone and their dog my husband’s office address and asking his employer to obtain packages on our behalf…. You see, there’s the silver lining in everything. My medical tests may have cost me, but I’m as healthy as a horse. And that car that was towed? Well, it really turned out quite well. First off, it wasn’t stolen, which was my initial thought. Secondly, though it cost me 170Euro, I did discover that the impounding lot was only a block away, the police dispatcher in my neighborhood is a lovely young lady who speaks perfect English and now I know who to call in case of an emergency – or stolen car!

Life is about yen and yang. You take the good with the bad and though this last month I’ve seen loads of bad and even stubbed my toe shortly before sitting down to write this blog, this last month has also been sensational. It started with meeting my blog hero Ronda Carman of “All the Best”, getting a podcast interview on her site, then doing my blog interview “Hamming it Up with The Antiques Diva” with “La Mom” then that interview getting picked up first by Parisien Salon and then by Lonely Planet. Meanwhile I hit the glossy pages this month, making an appearance in the October issues of both Marie Claire & Travel + Leisure, the latter alongside one of the darlings of the antique world, Claudia Strasser of Paris Apartment.

And as this blog is posting, I’m sitting in a café beside an antique market in Paris, having a coup de champagne. End September and early October is being filled with an explosion of new clients, new blog readers as a result of all this recent media coverage and my Fall French Flea Market Extravaganza. I left my apartment in Berlin on Sept 22 and won’t sleep in my own bed again (or see my darling husband) until Oct 7, but in the meantime I’ve led a series of group tours (and a journalist) around The Netherlands, then I hit the road running, arriving in Paris for a glorious two weeks of one-on-one dates with private clients, spending time with 3 different journalists and doing several small group tours.

On top of it all, I’ve eaten Paris one bite at a time and caught up with old friends, tucking visits in between antique shops and flea markets. I’m exhausted but life is good. And when I return home to Berlin, I’ll crawl into bed with my husband, snuggling into the nook of his arm, and then I will sleep again… Until then, it’s time for another café crème and time to hit another flea market with client on arm! It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Until next time,

The Antiques Diva™

A Podcast Interview with The Antiques Diva and All The Best

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Toma Haines & Ronda Carman, chez Antiques Diva, Berlin

Dearest Diva Readers,

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>You’ve read my words, suffered through my comma splices & I fear that my high school English teachers (both of whom subscribe to this blog & to their credit have never once emailed me a page of red scribbles) cringe over my tendency for turning nouns into verbs and creating new words. What you might not know is that I speak with the same punctuation marks with which I write… and almost all my sentences end in an exclamation mark. I thought it might be fun if rather than reading diva details that, instead, I would let you LISTEN to me TALK in the first of a series of Podcast Interviews Ronda Carman, author of All the Best, is conducting on her sensational site!

I had an amazing opportunity last week to spend time tête-à-tête with Ronda Carman who happens to be one of the most successful design bloggers in the blogosphere. Google practically any mega name in design and you’ll find Ronda’s name paired in association with that person. A walk through her website finds an unparalled resource of “All the Best” designers, artists, entrepreneurs, movers & shakers and global taste makers. When I first started blogging, unbeknownst to Ronda, she became my hidden mentor. I stalked (er… I meant to say “studied”) her blog, the people that she profiled, and her way with the press, the personalities & paparazzi. This girl had style & as one who recognizes style I licked the crumbs of her site. And all along I had this secret fantasy that someday I might appear on her pages!

Flash forward 2 years and Ronda sends me a tweet saying “I’ll be in Berlin, can we meet up?” You would have thought I was meeting the Queen such was my excitement – I was meeting my Blog Hero in the flesh! And perhaps Queen isn’t so far off, for Ronda could easily be labeled “The Queen of Design” with the designers acting as her entourage! Needless to say, I was a little nervous. After sitting down face to face with Ronda & her darling husband for dinner chez moi, I was so amazed by what an approachable, kind, honest & utterly nice person Ronda was that I forgot how intimidated I had been to meet her and just started having fun! She has that way about her.

If I can say one thing, Ronda truly epitomizes “All the Best”.

Now, pop on over to Ronda’s site and eavesdrop on the conversation she & I had as we discussed my life story, revealing how the dreams of small-town girl growing up in rural Oklahoma lead to a life in Europe and starting a business abroad.

Listen Here:

Until next time,

The Antiques Diva™
(seen with All the Best author Ronda Carman)

Living La Dolce Diva – Part 1

So, I lied. I didn’t mean to, but I did.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />top: 2px; padding-right: 5px; font-family: times;”>Last month, I wrote a blog telling about our upcoming trip to Italy. I waxed on about how for once in my life I was going to slow down and smell the roses. That rather than attempting to crunch a Grand Tour of Italy into a week and a half of vacation, that my husband and I had decided to visit just one location – taking it easy, lingering over the sights of Florence, absorbing the culture and romancing the moment. But this intention towards slow traveltowards only studying one site – was a fallacy in my mind before we’d walked out the door, rolling our luggage behind. You see, what I forgot to mention in that particular post was that before we even arrived in Italy, we were taking another trip to visit friends for 4 days and that we allowed an extra 3 days worth of time for taking detours on the 11 ½ hour drive each way from Berlin, Germany to Florence, 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The plan was quite simple, really, and though we saw lots more than just Florence as I proclaimed, we really did take time to linger as long as possible at each site visited. The vacation started one day after work, driving late into the evening, arriving at our friend’s front door in Stuttgart Germany as the coo-coo tweeted twelve times and the station wagon turned into a pumpkin. Herr and Frau Stuttgart were waiting “chez them”, dressed in PJ’s and we kissed hello, laughing over a glass of wine before slipping under the covers and awoke to the smell of freshly baked bread the next morning.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />For the next two days we lingered at “The Stuttgart Family” house, sitting in their garden, admiring their view, their vineyard and 10,000 rose bushes. On a lazy afternoon we went into town, meandering the Stuttgart Flea Market stalls and visiting antique shops and then spent the evening at a nearby Schloss, listening to music at the regional music festival.

to 10px; width: 320px; cursor: hand; height: 320px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The next day we drove our black Benz to the Mercedes Benz Museum – a tour that while very interesting to me later came back to haunt WG when I asked him to join me in Florence at the” target=”_blank”>Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Then the next afternoon the 4 of us hopped in our car and drove to the border where Austria, Germany and Switzerland meet at Lake Constance, taking the funicular to the top of the mountain enjoying the wonderful, panoramic view.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Perhaps it was that very view that inspired our detour for the next day as WG & I departed on our drive towards Italy. As we crossed into Switzerland, I pulled the Europe atlas from the pocket behind my seat to look up the route our GPS was guiding us on, and realized that with a slight detour we could visit St Moritz, a place I’d never been but always wanted to see. As it was June, the roads were clear from snow and ice for the season and the great glacier pass was open for traffic, though around us as we crested the mountains snow still rested on the ground. From St Moritz, we continued our journey south crossing into Italy and arrived just in time for dinner at Bellagio, on Lake Como.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The next day we arrived in Florence, just as planned, checking into our “oh so humble” hotel, marveling over it’s great location and noting that a mention in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die doesn’t guarantee the hotel won’t have mildew in the shower. Perhaps it was because the room was less than inviting that we found ourselves meandering the streets of Florence, leaving early in the day and returning late at night.

to 10px; width: 300px; cursor: hand; height: 400px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Mornings were started with a jolt of liquid personality, saddling up to the bar at cafes dotted on the Ponte Vecchio, ordering half-priced cappuccino or espresso (discounted because you drink whilst standing). Sufficiently caffeinated, we dashed to and thro across one of the most amazing cities in Europe. Florence – the birth place of the Renaissance – seeped into my soul, causing a rebirth of my artistic sensibility. We visited the Uffizi, the to/home.html” target=”_blank”>Galleria Dell’Accademia, Il Duomo, and the Medici Chapels, not to mention the Palazzo Vecchio and Mercato Nuovo and Mercato San Lorenzo and” target=”_blank”>Church of Santa Croce alongside its famous leather school.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />We took a walking tour with Art Vivia that was the best walking tour I’ve ever taken and we ate copious quantities of gelato, shopped relentlessly for Italian silk ties and purses made by Florentine leather designers.

In a fit of channeling Fitzgerald, WG purchased a silk ascot for those crisp, fall days we lunch at Lutter & Wegner on the Gendarmenmarkt back home in Berlin. And I worshiped at the altar of Ferragamo, visiting Salvatore’s’ namesake museum dragging WG along in a tit-for-tat moment as he drug me through the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart a few days prior. Naturally, I can’t visit a city without checking out the antique scene so we strolled through the antiques district and spent an afternoon shopping the Piazza dei Ciompi Flea market.

to 10px; width: 300px; cursor: hand; height: 400px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />And we reconnected, my husband of 13 years and I, on this trip celebrating our anniversary. We held hands and made public displays of affection, kissing on street corners and snuggling on park benches, rubbing one another’s feet at the end of the day when we’d walked too much. As we took our car from the valet to start our return drive to Berlin, we were delighted in knowing that we’d be back to Florence next summer when we take my niece Tessa on a Grand Tour for her 16th birthday. When asked what she wanted to see while abroad, Italy topped her list, much to our delight, and we’re already planning next summer’s odyssey to Venice, Florence, Milan and Cinque Terre.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 345px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />In the meantime, with Venice on our mind, we detoured there on our drive home, spending an afternoon in Venice and taking in an early dinner before hitting the road yet again, cutting through the Alps and Austria before returning home to Berlin.

to 10px; width: 400px; cursor: hand; height: 300px; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />We may not have stopped and smelled the roses, but it was indeed a sensational vacation. One you’ll be reading about for weeks on end these coming months as I post hints, tips and addresses from our trip, telling tales and sharing divalicious photos of Living La Dolce Diva!


The Antiques Diva™

(Seen Right rubbing the brass porcellino which legend says will ensure a rapid return to Florence)

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10 Things About Me

Sarah Sophia recently took a blog challenge posting 10 things about herself and now she’s asked me to do the same – to reveal 10 things you might not know about me. So without further adieu…

to 10px; WIDTH: 234px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 320px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo: taken before gala at the Louvre

1) I may play a diva on the internet, but I’m exceedingly practical in real life. Friends always joke about my CFO husband’s family budget and his multiple spreadsheets but what they don’t know is that while he’s the fall guy I’m the one who holds him accountable for staying on top of things! He’s the impulse shopper – I’m the planner.

2) I’m so obsessed with décor because if my surroundings are unattractive it makes me physically and mentally ill. We have 1 junk room in our house that gives me a headache when I enter it…. However this one junk room allows the rest of the space to be seamless. Did you ever see the Friends episode where Chandler discovers Monica’s junk closet? That’s my junk room!

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Photo: view from my kitchen into living room

3) I dreamed I would marry my husband before I started dating him. We met when we were 16 and had one date, but we were both dating other people at the time. Two years later when I graduated from high school, we began dating but between that time and when I was 16, I had 3 prophetic dreams that I would marry him one day. Funnily enough, my ex-boyfriend’s mother (the mother of the boy I was dating in high school) – who had never met WG – also dreamed that I would marry him and told her son about the dream, asking “Does your girlfriend know anyone named WG?” She also dreamed that WG would work in finance.

4) I got married at the age of 22, two weeks after graduating university! He was 24! We’ve been married 13 years (and together 17) which means I am 35 and for the first time in my life I’m starting to feel old. Next year, he and I will have been together half my life – the best half of my life! Some people struggle with age at 29 or 30, 32 or 35 – for me, it hit me last month at 35 ½. I’m hoping this sensation of age is a passing one. On the bright side, most of my friends are older than me… so no matter how old I get, I’ll always be the younger friend!

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo: taken in my Berlin living room

5) My goal is to someday have multiple homes – a pied-a-terre in Paris, a small foothold in Italy, something in Belgium – a central base for my Antiques Diva Tour Business (and more importantly for basing our tax status out of) and another in Oklahoma to be near my family whenever I’m home-sick. Hmmm, I’d also like a gorgeous beach house in Thailand for getting away from it all and to be an Asian base.

6) My top 5 favorite foods in the world are 1. Foie Gras with Toast and Fig Confiture, 2. French Fries, 3. Gigantic American Salads, 4. Lemon Gelato 5.French Cheese Courses (served with a salad). I am obsessed with asparagus season, eating it daily while it’s on sale in the markets. I also love cherry tomatoes and rarely does a day go by without me eating a salad for either lunch, dinner or a first course. Once a year I get a craving for a big fat juicy American cheeseburger – and this craving must be met or else. While in general I prefer European cuisine, the “American” food I miss most while living abroad is “Mexican”.

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo: taken at my 35th birthday party, at our home in Holland

7) I’ve designed my life so that champagne will be a regular part of it. I always keep a bottle chilling “just in case” the impulse hits – as nothing makes an ordinary day more special than a bottle of bubbly.

to 10px; WIDTH: 240px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 320px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo: taken in my office – Catpuccino is also a reader!

8) I’ve read every night before bed my entire life. I’m currently reading Lifeguard by James Patterson, just finished When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro and the next two books waiting on my side table are Irving Stone’s 1961 best seller about the life of Michelangelo – The Agony and Ecstasy, and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Queen telling the tale of Mary Queen of Scots.

9) I don’t watch much television – and WG watches even less than me! We are both readers, retiring in the evenings to the library to read with a glass of port in hand – though I must confess, I might have majored in English literature in university, but WG is a more intelligent reader than I am. He’s currently working his way through anything written by an American expat in the 1920’s and 30’s and as of late, he’s been channeling Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Last week in Italy he even bought an ascot. We moved to Berlin a little over 3 months ago, and I still haven’t went to the store to buy the cable cord to hook up our TV to the cable outlet even though cable is provided free in our apartment.

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Photo: taken in Starbucks on the Unter den Linden nearby our home in what was East Berlin. And they call this progress?

10) I’m currently writing a novel in my spare time. I’ve written over 100 pages and am going strong. Just last week, I came up with an idea for a follow-up novel when I finish this one. I know it’s cliché, but I’m writing my novel fro
m the Starbucks on the Freiderichstrasse nearby my home in Berlin. I find when working on this book I need a change of scenery, so Starbucks has become my novel-writing office. I sit with a caramel macchiato in hand, me and my laptop for hours on end. I know this is Europe and I should not be frequenting Starbucks, but Starbuck’s wifi access and central location, cliché or not, win over Berlin authenticity and ambiance.

Now, I challenge you – can you tell me 10 things about YOU!?!!

Until next time,
The Antiques Diva™

Photo: taken last week at a stopover for dinner in Bellagio Italy

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We interrupt this blog for an Italian vacation…

to 10px; WIDTH: 240px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 320px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Buongiorno Diva Readers,

Today’s Italy photos were all taken last summer as we skipped across Italy, hitting Piedmont, Chianti, Naples and even Sicily. They’re being posted now as an Arrivederci before I depart for a delicious journey to Florence to celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary. My husband – The Wine Guy – and I have been to Italy several times before, but this time somehow feels a little more special.

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to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Usually when we travel in Italy we’re frantically hopping here and there, tasting wines in Piedmont before scurrying to Tuscany, Roma, Venice or the Amalfi Coast. I like racing across the autostrada – driving in Italy always gets my blood boiling and my pulse beating. When it’s my turn to drive, my husband reclines back in his seat, napping to avoid watching me take the curves, and I repeat aloud phrases in Italian along with my “Learn Italian in Your Car” cd. As WG floats in and out of consciousness, his dreams are peppered with me calling “Dov’è Stefano?” and other repeat-after-me vocab lessons.

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Though I don’t speak more than a few words in Italian beyond “Non parlo l’italiano. Parla inglese?” and “Quanto costa?”, my mouth wants to speak the language. I find the words, “Per favore”, “Mi dispiace” and “Mi chiamo Diva” rolling around in my mouth almost sensually as they rest on my tongue and in my mind and though I can’t speak the language my lips move as if trying to repeat what is said when I listen to the radio or watch two lovers speaking Italian at the table next to me. My mind takes off, trying to speak a language it doesn’t yet know, but I think that perhaps, if I believed in that kind of thing, it might have known it long ago. It makes me feel alive. I love Italy, the loud and affectionate Italians, the gelato, the food, the wine and the language.

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />The problem with Italy is that there are so many places to see that I can never decide on just one locale to visit and thus end up trying to see everything all at once. Readers who know me well know that I always have several pots boiling at one time, my hands dipped in many projects: chairing committees for various women’s and decorative arts societies, running my Antiques Diva™ business (which is bound one day to be an empire) – all while living an active social life that borders on diabolical. In the past, I’ve always vacationed this same way… running night and day, trying to see and do all. But perhaps it’s because I’m growing older, or perhaps my husband – a connoisseur of slow travel – has finally rubbed off on me… We’re leaving for Italy and instead of making a grand tour we are returning to Florence.

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Simply Florence and no place else. We’re driving into the city from our home in Berlin so I can feel the rush of the road (and to insure plenty of space on the return drive for Italian antiques and wooden crates of wine), but instead of visiting several cities and villages in the area, we’ve reserved a spot in a parking garage nearby the Ponte Vecchio and booked a simple suite in a hotel recommended in 1000 Places to See Before You Die, a bargain family-run pensione with a two-tiered roof-top terrace and 360 degree view overlooking the Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and the surrounding terra cotta roofscapes. And though we’ve “done” Florence before – at high speed – this time we’re going to linger.

to 10px; WIDTH: 240px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 320px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Last time we were there we did 3 musuems on our first day and were so brain dead by the 2nd that we barely remembered the 3rd, and though the reason for the trip is to study the art (and to eat the food), I’ve taken a different approach this time. I can’t help myself but to organize our days, it’s in my nature to plan and book outings for us. But each day I’ve planned only one thing per day. I’ve pre-booked our museum tickets – Tuesday is the Uffizi, Wednesday the Bargello, Thursday the Galleria Dell ‘Accademia, Friday the Medici Chapels and Saturday the Church of Santa Maria Novella and on and on…

to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />to 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 240px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Knowing me, I’ll feel compelled to go to Pitti Palace or the Museo San Marco, to visit the Duomo or the Church of Santa Croce, but our goal in booking one musuem for each day of our visit, is to encourage my husband and I to linger in each museum, to sit and sketch what we see, to take long coffee breaks and siestas when the sun is high in the sky. We want to drink wine at sunset, watching the view, eating long, delicious multi-coursed dinners full of antipasti, pasta, pesce and dolci – dining in Italy on dinner that only the Italians can create with such simplicity and flavor.

When we return home to Berlin, I’m certain we’ll have done more than we intended, but this to+florence9.jpg”>to+florence9.jpg” border=”0″ />time, on this trip, my goal is to leave a few things undone as a perfect excuse to return and enjoy the true pleasure that is Florence.

Arrivederci and A presto!

Signora Antiques Diva™

P.S. In the meantime, while I’m away, I hope you enjoy these upcoming Guest Blogs from La Reine, Lady Lotus and The Contessa

Bringing the Luxury Hotel to Your Home

Dear Diva Readers,

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>I’ve been intending to write about the trend of hotels selling their linens and more ever since last summer when on my Med Cruise I noticed that Holland America was selling everything from their bedding to their beach chairs. You could order the chairs online (or while lounging in the sun) from the boat and they’d be shipped (no pun intended) and waiting for you at home when you returned. Recently, The Informed Traveler put a good spin on this trend, claiming that in this bad economy, even if you can’t go to the hotel, you could at least bring the hotel to you.

The Informed Traveler writes:
“… You’ve cut back on travel and don’t foresee a stay at the” target=”_blank”>Ritz-Carlton anytime soon. Now you can bring the luxurious comforts of the Ritz-Carlton home with you, and replicate the experience chez vous with hundreds of exclusive items now made available at the online retail store. Recently launched,” target=”_blank”>The Shops at Ritz-Carlton features sumptuous sleepwear, spa products and toiletries, bathrobes, and even a mattress with the Ritz-Carlton Sleep Experience.”

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Hotel chains are branching out into the retail sector and I love it, for the sheets at the Marriot in Paris are divine and I loved my bedspread when staying at the Budapest Intercontinental. For years I’ve been taking pictures of bathrooms in 5 star hotels hoping to someday emulate “the look” at home should I ever “do over” a bathroom in one of my abodes. The artwork at the Swissotel Berlin (my temporary transition home when I moved from Amsterdam to Berlin) totally inspired me and I’ve just the place to hang the modern art. I for one am glad that hotels are branching out and trying to capture a bit more market share!

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Art for Sale at the Swissotel Berlin

The Hotel Adlon here in Berlin has even opened a “Lifestyle Shop” near the back entrance of the hotel and produces an accompanying high-quality glossy catalog offering everything from the Adlon’s beds to crystal wine decanters, silver candle sticks, books detailing the history of the famous hotel’s history to the silk pillow shams gracing reading chairs and lamps in their lobby!
Now, if only I could bring the cabin steward home with me to make towel monkeys to leave on my bed each night… of course, who needs a pretend monkey when you’ve got the real thing waiting for you at home already??

Until next time, Happy Shopping!

The Antiques Diva™

Photo right: The Diva’s Real Life Monkey – WG!

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