Last Minute Christmas Gifts: New Classic Interiors

Dear Diva Readers,

top:5px;float:left;color:white;background:#781300;border:1px solid darkkhaki;font-size:100px;line-height:90px;padding-top:1px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>After visiting Alessandra Branca’s Chicago Shop last week I’ve got Branca’s Signature Red on my mind…. And nothing says Christmas to me as much as big bold swaths of red!  Living in an Alessandra Branca-designed house would be like having Christmas all year long.  Last year, Branca’s book New Classic Interiors topped my Christmas list and I was delighted when my husband took my multitude of hints and “surprised” me with it.  This book is one of my favorite decorating books and it was definitely a gift that kept on giving all year long! 

If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift for a diva decorating lover on your list, Branca’s book New Classic Interiors is ideal for giving oodles of design inspiration.  Ideal for diva decorators!

Happy Reading,

The Antiques Diva ®

Najaarsexpositie in The Hague

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top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>Just last weekend I wrote sharing details on one of my favorite vendors in The Hague, S van Leeuwen, and not so long before that I was divulging details on the oh-so-diva-worthy Rocks & Clocks. They recently teamed up Chez van Leeuwen for an Antiques Diva Tour of The Hague, sharing historical information and fascinating stories on their inventory and seriously regaling the ladies on the group Diva Tour. They’re back together again for what I’m certain will be a wonderfully good time (full of great buys) in S. van Leeuwen’s Najaarsexpositie Dec 3-13, 2009. You’ll want to add this date to your December To Do’s!

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />to 10px; WIDTH: 400px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />S. van Leeuwen specializes in antique Dutch furniture, Chinese & Delft porcelain as well as high quality silver work, while you’ll recall Rocks & Clocks specializes in classic and designer jewelry from 1900-1940.

Make sure to stop at S. van Leeuwen’s located at Noordeinde 164 on one of the following dates:

Dec 3 & 10, 5-9pm
Dec 4 & 11, 12-5pm
Dec 5, 12-4pm
Dec 12, 12-5pm
Dec 6-13, 12-5

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />to 10px; WIDTH: 399px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />And if this duo wasn’t already enough to get your blood pumping, they’ve added a few other diva-worthy vendors to their exposition. Not only will S. van Leeuwen & Rocks & Clocks be offering special items just in time for Christmas, but they’ll be joined by their colleague from Antes Art Form, a specialist in French glassworks from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau period as well as Brigitta Sueters who makes jewelry inspired by the past!

to 10px; WIDTH: 75px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 100px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Kunsthandel Willemspark will be there as well, offering one of my favorite buys. Have I mentioned before in past Diva blog posts my weakness for vintage posters and signs? I’m downright bummed to miss his inventory in person as while this event is going on I’ll be doing La Diva Loca for a few days this December in New York City! My loss might be your gain as there’ll be more for you to buy if I’m not on the scene scooping up the goods before you!

to 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ />Last but not least, I think the dealers stepped on a stroke of genius when they decided to branch out beyond antiques by offering a little something extra – wearable art! Hat designer Suzanne Scheepers will be onboard showing her hand-made designs, making this event a perfect Diva’s Day Out!! I’m seriously bummed to miss it!!! You’ll just have to go on my behalf and, as always, tell them The Antiques Diva™ sent you!

Happy Shopping!!!

The Antiques Diva™

Do Note: Diva Tours is closed December and January for Holiday! We’ve got some great tours planned for Spring 2010 – email for details!

A Paris Shopping Tip from Babyccino

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The Babyccino Crew
top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>The 4 lovely ladies blogging at Babyccino are always full of great tips! This recent scoop on their site was so good I had to share it with you. Make sure to visit the Babycinno site for more exciting articles from The Babyccino Crew.

Babycinno writes:

It’s been the talk of town. Merci, Paris’ newest concept store, opened its doors last week. When I visited it was so new they were still finishing off the paintwork!

Even if you are just in Paris for an afternoon, it is worth checking out. A huge loft style space houses a florist, an eclectic bookstore, a wonderful vintage collection, designer clothes at a discount, homeware and a great kid’s clothing and accessories area. It is the kind of place you can pick up a delicate Isabel Marant necklace for 20 euros or spend several thousand euros on a sofa.

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Merci is the brainchild of Marie-France Cohen whom, 30 years ago, founded Bonpoint. After selling the Bonpoint empire she decided that she wanted to give something back and so came up with the idea of Merci. All the profits of the store go directly to a charity founded by Mme Cohen for children and women in Madagascar. Everything on sale is donated by designers and is sold at a discounted rate in the store. There are lots and lots of treats for moms, but if it’s kid’s stuff you are after, the children’s corner is great, full of Bonpoint and other goodies. There is even a counter selling Bonpoint fabric, so if you are a bit of a credit cruncher you can make your own little outfits and not have to compromise on quality of the cotton!

This place is definitely a labour of love. When I went with my friend Belinda to check it out, Marie-France Cohen herself was the person helping us out and making sure that we were getting all the attention we needed.

Now honestly, is there a better way to use your credit card than with the knowledge that ultimately your spending is going to charity? I think not! Happy shopping, I say!

Emilie at Babycinno
“The Diva of The Day”

P.S. Carol at Paris Breakfasts recently posted a series of pictures of the interior of this shop… to check out Carol’s site and to get more info on Merci visit here.

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What is Babyccino?

Four girls in 4 cities (London, Paris, Amsterdam and Milan) blog discussing life, kids, style and all their favourite must-haves. From art projects and toys to fashion and food, the conversation is genuine, helpful and sometimes funny! With insider tips and reviews from each city, the girls also offer up the best kid-friendly restaurants, shops and activities in their four cities – a great guide for ‘hip and happening’ mums who are either living in or traveling to their cities. Visit the travel guides here.

Mantiques: An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy – Part 1

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>First up in The Mantiques Series is “An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy”. The Pelikan Pen Guy is a real man’s man. He happens to be one of my husband’s best friends (both a mentor and a menace) and we couldn’t imagine our life in Europe without he and his wife, The Swiss Miss. He is a fascinating fellow, to be sure. Born & raised in Germany, he came of age in America where he resided for 20 some years before returning to Europe to reclaim his youth and wallow in opportunities to speak his native tongue. He’s a world traveller extraordinaire and also a collector – thus, his home is a virtual treasure trove of Louvre-esque antiques picked up from a lifetime devoted to tourframe.html” target=”_blank”>The Grand Tour. A few weeks ago, he & I had an opportunity to sit down in Paris in the posh Petit Zinc restaurant where he regaled me with details of his fountain pen collection. But don’t take my word for it… lets go straight to the street in an exclusive Antiques Diva Interview!

Exclusive Interview
An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy: Part 1
Antiques Diva:

While your name might be explanation enough, why don’t you begin by telling The Antiques Diva’s readers what you collect?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

I collect a multitude of things. Primarily, I started off with just fountain pens. Specific lines of pens – makes – and I evolved into ink wells, dip pens and then became interested in” target=”_blank”>the history of writing instruments. I also have a collection of novelty pens with corporate logos, stuff like that.

Antiques Diva:

How long have you been collecting and what was it that got you started in the first place?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

It goes back to 1963. All German grade school students learn to write with a fountain pen. So I got my first Pelikano – a big brand of Pelikan pens made for school children – and the teacher then taught us how to write correctly with a fountain pen. (Side note – the Pen Guy’s daughter, The Little Swiss Miss also does this in the Swiss school system).

Antiques Diva:

So you learned to use a fountain pen as a child and then developed an interest in them?

Pelikan Pen Guy:
top:10px;margin-bottom:10px;margin-left:10px;font-family: Arial,Helvetica,Georgia;font-size:22px;line-height:18px;color:grey;text-align: right;”>Pens are useable jewelry

There is a certain amount of skill that goes into writing with one – how you hold it, etc. I have an American friend who wanted to buy a fountain pen. He went into a German department store, went up to the counter and the lady handed him a fountain pen. As he began to write, she slapped him! He wasn’t holding the pen correctly and could potentially damage the nib. She was assuming that in the USA, like in Germany, everybody correctly knew how to write with a fountain pen. If you don’t know how, it can be a little difficult.

Antiques Diva:

Honestly, I’m horrible at writing with a fountain pen! I tried and I know I’m probably ruining nibs – it’s safe to assume you shouldn’t rip the paper when you are trying to write, right?! By the way, how many pens are in your collection?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

If you added all the pens, including ones with company logos, it is probably upwards of 1,000. If you are counting just the pens that I really consider to be collectible fountain pens, I’m thinking it’s about 400. I’ve actually stopped counting. Years ago, when I was doing this, I would actually inventory everything – where I bought them, what I paid for them, what their names were – they all do have names, but I just don’t have the time for it anymore.

Now most of what I buy is at brocantes and I bring them home, put them on a shelf and they just sit there. It’s a huge problem because when you first start out, you put together a display case, etc. Well, over the years, that has grown tremendously. I’ve got two cherry wood multi-drawered boxes and each has 64 pens. I’ve added a couple smaller wooden boxes and my wife, who is an expert at cartonage, made me a box which holds 24 pens. At
some point I got lazy and purchased, over the internet, what looks like 3-ring binders but they are actually nylon cases with the rings and plastics inside, specifically made for pens. I’ve got two or three of them I guess.

Antiques Diva:

Is there a pen website that you frequent to purchase these supplies?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

For supplies and stuff, the best place to go is probably eBay. If you search for fountain pens and supplies it’s incredible how much you’ll find.

Antiques Diva:

In your 400 pens that you consider collectible, what is your preference?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

There are probably 400 different types of Pelikan pens and my goal was to have one of each type. It’s probably not an achievable goal because they come out with 5 to 10 different models each year and I just don’t collect that fast. I have the very 1st type of Pelikan pen ever made. From the late 1920’s. The reason I know it’s one of the 1st is because the 1st series of Pelikan pens were made with Bakelite. It’s very hard, but it also fractures quite easily so the pens would get leaks very easily – not a good thing for a pen – so they only produced them for one year. After that, they switched to true celluloid as is used today.

The other thing you find out is that – just like with stamp collectors – if there is a defect or material changes, they become another collectors item. Pelikan pens were made originally by a German company and they sold licenses to make Pelikans in different parts of the world. So, for example, you have Dutch Pelikan pens which were a limited series made right after the 2nd World War. And they didn’t follow the design exactly the same so you could have a Pelikan 120 pen and you could tell whether your pen was a Dutch Pelikan pen or a German Pelikan pen or from some other country. Shape of the cap, where the logo was – all the different variations. Of the 400 in my collection that I consider collectibles, probably 200 are Pelikans.

Antiques Diva:

Clearly you have a preference for Pelikan. Are there other makers that you like?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

Without a doubt. And, you know, a large part of collecting is what I was just mentioning – you collect a certain make like Pelikan – but at the same time, there are pens that you look at and just fall in love with. Because of the beauty. Pens are useable jewelry– that’s a definition. For example, there is a series of pens that Omas has put out. Omas is an Italian maker – there are quite a few Italian makers that I like – Omas would be one, Aurora would be another and Visconti would be a third one. They just make incredibly beautiful pens. Visconti, years ago, put out a pen called the Titanic – a limited edition pen.. It was a huge pen – was actually uncomfortable writing with it. But it’s a beautifully designed pen and it has a piece of porcelain actually from the titanic – it’s a true collectors item. There are other companies – smaller – that many people might not be aware of. Ancora is another Italian pen company and they have a series made out of sea shells, actually. They have an exclusive resin in order to reproduce the richness of pearls of the south seas.

Sometimes you get lucky – for example, a company will make a limited edition series – only make 400 pens – and getting one of those 400 in and of itself is pretty cool but what’s even cooler is if you get, for example, #41 and #42 in that series. And you’ll see that there are people who try to collect a series – try and get as many in a series as they can.

Antiques Diva:

Tell me about the price range of pens.

Pelikan Pen Guy:

On average, a good quality fountain pen is going to run you about $350. That’s a good everyday fountain pen. You can certainly find good pens that are considerably cheaper. Typically the ones I collect I don’t write with everyday. There is a company called Rotring and another called Lamy, which are both German companies. They both make outstanding fountain pens that are, on average, considerably cheaper – more in the $100 range. And yet the quality and penmanship is outstanding, particularly Rotring. It is one that I highly recommend to people because of it’s solid brass barrels, even though they are steel nibs, they are very well-made steel nibs, flexible. There is a premium for gold nibs, but the manufacturing has gotten s
o good for steel it actually creates a very nice writing pen with a steel nib.

Antiques Diva:

What are a few things in your collection?

Pelikan Pen Guy:

There’s a series of Pelikan pens. I love Pelikan. There’s some beautiful Omas pens, also the Aurora Optima, a blue one, that my wife bought me for Christmas. If you really want to write comfortably with a fountain pen, Namiki (a Japanese designer) makes a retractable nib. It’s push button – you push the button and the nib comes out – so you can wear it in your pocket. The nib is fully enclosed so it can not leak. The Japanese are known for the quality / manufacturing of their nibs. They’re also known for this particular way of making fountain pens. Most fountain pens in the West are made with celluloids, and different colors or swirls . In Japan, they have a process called Maki and they use it for boxes and other things and Namiki uses it for fountain pens. It involves lacquers. They put layer after layer after layer of lacquers and intricate designs – it’s a piece of art.

Antiques Diva:

Whenever someone talk about pens, I always think Mont Blanc.

Pelikan Pen Guy:

Mont Blanc probably leads the industry in terms of taking the fountain pen and making it a piece of jewelry. And they have a caché – certainly they command much higher prices as a result of that caché. In terms of the quality of the pen, however, I like to say that I write with Mont Blancs, but I collect better fountain pens.

Antiques Diva:

With a provocative quote such as this one, perhaps its best to end here today. Readers come back in a few days for the conclusion of “An Audience with The Pelikan Pen Guy” as we discuss the differences between pens from different countries and receive advice on starting a pen collection.

Until next time,

The Antiques Diva™

Click here for Part 2 of this interview.

PS. Should you, or someone you love, have a Mantiques Collection worthy of discussing on The Antiques Diva™, email me at

Living La Diva Loca – Part 2 – Shoe Shopping

After divulging the details of haute couture, gala-gown shopping in Living La Diva Loca Part 1, dozens of readers emailed wanting to know more about our upcoming party at the Louvre in Paris, asking for pre-party pics. Alas, I’d love to accommodate my readers but I can’t show you a thing just yet. Part of the allure of buying haute couture is that they finish making the dress after you order it — thus no photos for you, dear readers, until the dress is signed, sealed and delivered!

I’ve scheduled a fitting for Friday and will be going with my two “vrienden”, The Belgian Beauty and Ms. Holland, for moral support. My husband, The Wine Guy, can only take so much shopping so he’ll happily leave the second fitting to the ladies, especially now that his job of making the final approval on the selected gown is done. After we stand around, giggling like school girls while my fitting takes place, we’re off to brunch at La Place in Utrecht. WG’s treat by the way, as he’s all about making this a perfect occasion!

For those of you wanting a few more dress details, I can tell you that the dress is black, strapless, and has a heart-shaped bust line. Naturally, it’s floor length but I suspect you’ll find it surprisingly simple. The heavy upholstery weight of the fabric makes it hang like a dream and I only wish I looked as good on my wedding day as I hope to feel at the fete! A few readers have suggested that I use my publicity prowess as The Antiques Diva ™ to convince a jeweler to allow me to borrow the perfect accessories for the night in question, but alas I don’t have that much pull (just yet anyway) – so I suspect I’ll be wearing Swarovski crystals or perhaps some art deco paste in place of the “real thing”. Edith, my couture assistant, has suggested I wear shoulder-length, pendulum earrings and though this seems a bold move, she’s not led me wrong so far. As my friend, Lady Lotus, has pointed out, “all the celebs wear them with strapless gowns at the Oscars and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you!”

Thursday was spent in Amsterdam in a flurry of shoe shopping. While you might assume that being a diva automatically implies I’d love shoe shopping, I have feet the shape of army tanks and find that they are better off hidden in wooden clogs than strappy sandals and sexy open-toe pumps. My heart cries for Manolo Blahnik, but my feet shout for Easy Spirit and, as I’m excruciatingly hard on shoes, I’ve been known more than once to hit a Payless when visiting the States. I detest the entire process of shoe shopping and I can’t think of a worse way to spend the day.

It started at noon in the Jordaan on the Prinsenstraat at Square Feet, and though they had two pairs that fit the bill (with one pricing in at 50E ($69) and 79E ($109) for the other), one shoe pinched my toe and the other my heel so I walked right out of the store, intent on finding a perfect fit. Then it was over to Harlemmerstraat # 85 to Nottinghill Shoes, where I was tempted to purchase an evening bag as they had several items of interest. Ultimately, I decided against going for one of their sacks as The Belgian Beauty has loaned me a little, black, beaded bag that is perfect for the occassion. In Nottinghill, I found an Aladdin’s Cave of shoes, but alas, the only shoe that fit like a glove was a patent leather Hugo Boss stiletto, which would have rung up at 189E (a shocking $262). Knowing I’m not likely to wear this shoe more than a handful of times in the next year (and having already blown the budget on the gown), I couldn’t justify a shoe splurge of this nature.

Nevertheless, I did take note that Hugo Boss was made for my toe-stomping-weapons-of-mass-destruction and I’ll certainly be motivated to check out their outlet store near Stuttgart next time WG & I visit our German friends Michael and Anette. They’ve promised that the prices and selection at the factory is to die for. I might have to schedule a trip to visit them sooner rather than later just to indulge in a day of shopping, Hugo Boss style.

Still empty handed and now hungry to boot, I popped into Bagel and Beans for a quick bite to eat. B&B; is my favorite fast food eatery in A’dam and I find I indulge in their pastrami bagel after art class way too often. With a full belly, I was off again for more hard-core shoe shopping. This led me to my favorite Dutch department store, Maison de Bonneterie, where the shoes broke the bank and several of my toes so I limped my way down the street to the Magna Plaza, where I was certain I’d find something appropriate.

I know that as a European Shopping Diva, The Antiques Diva is supposed to eschew American-style shopping malls in favor of smaller boutiques and one-off stores, but the Magna Plaza happens to be one of my favorite enclosed places to shop in this rainy city. Locals call it “the Post House Gothic”, as the building is a former post office of Gothic design, so shopping at least is taking place in a sufficiently historic locale. While I didn’t score any shoes while in the mall, I
came out of Angie V with a new wallet emblazoned with a rhinestone, princess crown from the Copenhagen designer Friis & Co. And I fell in love with an Italian-Belgian designer (or was that a Belgian-Italian designer) named Stilla – Sarah Pacini and I think I may go back next week and spend my winter wardrobe budget on one shin-length, white, cashmere and wool cardigan that I’m certain I’d live in for the rest of the year. It’s the type of sweater you pass on to your grandchildren.

With a good idea for “the look” I’m going for this fall, I left the Magna Plaza dejected, shoe-less and limping yet again as my feet were tired of being shoved in and out of one spiked shoe after another. This time I headed towards the decidedly un-diva-like Van Haren Shoes. VH is a “rack-room” shoe store where you’re as likely to have your purse stolen when you sit it down to try on a pair of shoes as you are to find a sensational good deal on a decent pair of pumps. Though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did leave VH with a beautiful pair of pointed-toe ballerina flats, prettily tipped with a school-girl black bow. At 19E for the pair ($26), I couldn’t go wrong. In fact, they were so comfortable that I actually switched them out with the brown, turquoise-studded moccasins I was wearing with my Levis ® and the white, linen shirt I’d bought with La Reine, The English Chicky & Madame Faith in St Emilion earlier this summer. Though cute, these shoes had too thin of a bottom for walking on Amsterdam’s bricked streets and I found that between trying on shoes and shopping for 6 hours with barely a break, my dogs were barking.Dejected, I decided it was time to head home. Then, unexpectedly, I caught a whiff of something I’d know anywhere. Even amidst the crowds and the jumble of humanity , over the perfume of Amsterdam’s “Coffee Houses”, smashed in the pedestrian Nieuwendijk, I smelled Italian leather. And it smelled good. Dolcis, a low-priced, high-quality shoe store, was right opposite Van Haren. I’d missed it earlier as my mind was intent on pushing through the crowds hanging out in front of VH while watching my purse as a hoodlum lurked too nearby for my comfort.

In Dolcis I found not one, but three different pairs of pumps that were party perfect. Though they are sexy shoes, they are walkable enough to not be bothersome, and yet give me enough of a lift that my husband may be standing on his tippy-toes all night so as not to look shorter than me. After fearing that I might end up doing something stupid and heading back to Nottinghill Shoes simply because I’d run out of cheaper, equally comfortable high heel options, I found my shoes. A beautiful pair of black pumps that are just practical enough that I might actually wear them again, but not so practical that I was bored by the choice. And at 49E for the pair ($67), there might just be room to consider buying that white, fox fur stole that looks like it was stolen off a Marilyn Monroe photo shoot that I found at Lady Days, my favorite vintage clothing shop in Amsterdam.

Shoes purchased, accessories at least partially sorted, I fear it’s time to close. But stay tuned for all this Gala-Talk isn’t over yet. We’ve got to get Penguin Boy (aka, my husband) sorted out! Seeing him in his tux makes me nearly swoon, but he’s still in need of a good tuxedo shirt to wear underneath. Luckily for me, my good friend, The Gourmet Goddess, has given me a myriad of Bond Street Shopping Secrets for Penguin Boy (and you) to check out during the next trip to London.

Until next time,

The Antiques Diva ™

Check out the Living La Diva Loca Series!
Part 1 – Haute Couture Ball Gown Shopping
Part 2 – Shoe Shopping
Part 3 – Tuxedo Shirt Shopping
Part 4 – A Night To Remember
Part 5 – Little Black Book