Published: May 16, 2017
Ironically, Toma Clark Haines, CEO and founder of The Antiques Diva & Co., is not at all a diva. More like a matchmaker between buyer and seller, she harnessed her passion and acumen for antiquing into a global business offering expert-led, one-on-one buying tours across two continents and 14 countries.
You run Europe’s largest antiques touring company. How did you get started doing this and what drove you in this direction?
When an opportunity to move overseas presented itself in my mid-20s, I leapt at the chance. My first weekend living in Paris I shopped the Paris Flea Market… and I was bit by the fleas. It became an obsession. My weekends were filled with buying pieces for my St Germain des Pres apartment. Before long, friends and later friends of friends seeing my treasures and hearing about my prowess at the puce began asking for my help. As part of that first wave of design bloggers, I began blogging about my adventures antiquing in Europe and readers emailed asking me to take them on tour. A business was born. Flash forward – I’ve lived in Europe 17 years and my company will turn ten years old next year. What started as a one-woman firm now has a team of 24 locally based Diva guides in 14 countries offering custom antique buying tours. We are a turn-key solution for buyers wanting to source antiques globally. And we’re not just Europe’s largest antiques touring company, but the world’s. Last year we launched in Asia offering buying tours! And you’ve got the exclusive inside scoop on some breaking news… coming this summer we launch in the USA: New York, California, Florida and Louisiana. We will even add in some group tours in Brimfield and Round Top.
How did you get the moniker of The Antiques Diva?
Just as Napoleon crowned himself, I took the throne with this title. When I started blogging, it was a tongue in cheek joke to describe the antiques diva lifestyle. I had a shopping sack in one hand and a champagne glass in the other – whenever I was in antique shops, champagne would magically appear! But here’s the truth… We aren’t divas at The AD&Co. The reason our company works is because we’re not actually divas – we should have called ourselves the administrative assistants, style hunters or sherpas!
What are some of your favorite antiquing spots?
Of course we’ll always have Paris, but Bali is the Paris Flea Market of Asia and it’s stolen my heart in recent years. Chiang Mai offers some of the most yummy shopping under the sun and Bangkok is bustling. Belgium is where antique buyers in the know go – it’s the motherland for trade shoppers. Sweden is simply swoon-worthy and offers some of the best quality pieces to be found. England is still one of my favorite places to source simply because it’s a melting pot – Brits have been scavenging the world for centuries and so all the world’s on sale in England. One-stop shopping. In the USA, our upcoming Stamford, Conn., tour will reveal where some of the leading New York City designers shop. I love Round Top, Texas, and Miami offers some of the best bargains on the planet if you know where to go. Lucky for you… we do.
You’re doing a lot of public speaking these days, too, most notably before the British Parliament’s House of Lords this year. What are some of the hot button issues affecting the trade that people – especially veteran collectors – are talking about or what are people most interested in?
At The Antiques Diva & Co. we’re an expert in global sourcing. As the world has become smaller, more and more people want to understand how they can source antiques internationally. It’s more than just where to go to find the best antique dealers and local artisans, but how do you do it? What’s the process and how does international shipping work? It’s not worth buying if you can’t get it home. They want to understand the customs regulations, as well as how long will it take and what it costs. I speak regularly around the world educating buyers on the process. More knowledge equals more buying power. In my speech at the LAPADA Conference at the House of Lords in London, I gave insight on international business relationships – discussing the particular dynamics necessary to create long-term trusted relationships between buyers and sellers and gave tips on how to communicate with international clientele.
With your busy schedule, how do you carve out downtime and what makes you happiest when you’re “off duty”?
Hmmm… is it lame to say when I’m not working, I still antique? I am one of the truly lucky people whose passion begets profits and working at The Antiques Diva & Co. rarely feels like work. What’s not to love? I travel the world going to exotic locations, see some of the most beautiful antiques for sale on the planet and meet some of the world’s most fascinating people – clients and dealers alike. Have you ever noticed that people who love antiques are always interesting people? The type of people you’d want to know? But it was Marilyn Monroe who said, “A career is good but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” For me, relaxing is about spending time with friends at home in my Berlin apartment in an early Nineteenth Century brewery. I studied cuisines when I lived in Paris and so a perfect night in involves me cooking something French, lighting some candles and enjoying with friends a good bottle (or two) of Bordeaux.
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