Toma Clark Haines has the type of glamorous life we all wish we led: she lives in trendy Berlin, travels to the best antique shops in Europe (of course, she knows all the good not-to-be mentioned-in-guidebook shops), eats at the finest restaurants, and, on top of all that, gets paid for it all too! She is the owner of The Antiques Diva & Co., offering antique buying tours throughout Europe and a wonderful friend who I met on BlogTour NYC last year. We caught up in her whirlwind schedule to talk about all things antique.
1. What initially interested you about antiques?
I’ve always loved decorating but I didn’t want mass produced furniture – rather I was looking for the type of one-off, one-of a kind, customized décor that you find in vintage and antique pieces. Moving overseas 12 years ago was a dream come true as it gave me the opportunity to spend a copious amount of time shopping the flea markets, auction houses and antique warehouses of Europe.
Originally I was shopping for myself, but as I ran out of space and money, I began helping friends shop, and later friends of friends. Eventually my business The Antiques Diva® & Co European Tours was born and today my company works with a team of 10 professional stylistas offering antique buying tours in 8 countries in Europe – France, Belgium, Italy, England, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden leading everything from a 1 day tour to a full on 14 day extravaganza. All our tours are fully customized and private. We help clients buy abroad and then liaise them with international shippers to help them get their purchases home sweet home across the pond!
2. What is your proudest moment?
When I started my company in 2008 at the height of recession — everybody thought I was nuts to start a luxury based travel business in a down economy. More than one person told me I should quit when business was slow to take off. Forbes magazine did an article featuring Company Founders whose businesses have survived 5 years. They profiled me as #6 out of 100 small business owners who had created jobs and survived the recession. Since starting my company I’ve had lots of media attention. There have been bigger quotes and articles about my tours in the NY Times, Travel + Leisure and the Washington Post but this Forbes quote hit home more than any of them. My quote was only 3 sentences long and yet, seeing my company name on their list made me realize more than any other media mention that I had made it! As Gloria Gaynor said “I will survive!”
3. What’s the most interesting trip you’ve taken?
In my world, every day is an adventure. Last Thursday on a business trip I had breakfast in Berlin, lunch in Prague and dinner in Budapest! Living abroad even a trip to the grocery store can be an experience! But if you want to talk holidays – perhaps my favorite vacation was a year ago when my husband and I took a month to go to Croatia giving us enough time to get to know the culture and make local friends. One of my favorite days Sasha, the owner of D’vino Wine Bar in Dubrovnik, took my husband and I out for a day wine tasting at his favorite producers. We started the day in a village in Korcula with oysters and Croatian sparkling wine for breakfast at 6am!
4. Are you having fun?
Is the Pope Catholic? I’m having a ball! In fact, I’d say the hardest thing about my life is that I have fun for a living. Which means when I’m not working sometimes I don’t feel like going out and having fun because fun sometimes feels like work! I’ve had to learn the art of doing nothing. By nature my instinct is to carpe diem every minute of the day and my husband has taught me the peace of just being. I love nothing more than curling up in his arms and being silent for a few minutes. Of course, then the champagne calls my name again and I’m ready to rumble!
5. What piece of advice do you offer a potential client in order for them to have the best experience?
Allow yourself to fall in love. Clients give me shopping lists a mile long. While we customize all our tours to help our clients source their dream list, my hope is that each client will experience what the French call “coup de foudre” – love at first sight. I hope they will be walking through a flea market and see something they never knew they wanted and yet suddenly be head over heels in love and have to have it!
If you think antiques shopping in Europe sounds fun but don’t think you could find the good places, Toma’s tours should be on your list. (Her company also offers “Trade Only” tours as well.) Clicking on any of the photos above will take you to The Antiques Diva website. Who wants to go with me?!?