The Antiques Diva Does Italia!

Toma Clark Haines definitely knows la dolce vita!

We’re speaking Italian on this Travel Tuesday with some exciting news. Our ONLY choice for European lifestyle tours, The Antiques Diva, is expanding to, you guessed it, Italia; and Toma is already working her magic on the romantic language by saying, “Buongiorno Baby” to anyone wanting to come along for the Tuscan ride!

Tuscan tastemaker Susan Pennington will create and direct the tours, which will amble through the best venues in Florence, Sienna, Arezzo and Lucca (here’s a feature in Belle Inspiration). A British expat living in the heart of Tuscany, Pennington was once an antiques buyer for Harrods in London and an auction-house specialist in New York City. She’s lived in Tuscany for the past two decades, running Montestigliano, a local agriturismo business known for its sumptuous Tuscan-style luxury décor.

Word up, Diva fans; this is Toma’s sixth country, and the list of destinations for gallivanting is impressive: France, England, Belgium, Holland, Germany and, now, Italy. Where’s my passport? Did someone say the University of Bologna is calling?

P.S. We understand there is a spot of royalty in The Antiques Diva’s future. Check in at adroyt in the next week or so and we’ll fill you in!


Of the Paris Persuasion

Was it just two weeks ago I was flitting around Paris with Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva? Uh-huh, and what a blast we had combing the Marche aux Puces and sifting through floor-upon-floor of goodies at Bazaar Hotel de Ville (She even cooked a sumptuous Parisian-inspired meal!) One of my favorite souvenirs from Paris is the tote bag she had made for me. Get a load of the close-up below and you’ll understand why!

About to Embark on a Diva-fied Day of Shopping (note the tote)!

About to Embark on a Diva-fied Day of Shopping (note the tote)!

This is the second year I’ve had the delight of touring Paris flea markets with Toma and I thought I’d pass along news about one of her newest offerings, customized Diva City Tours. I asked her to explains to RBD readers what inspired her to create seven-day gallivants chock full of more fun than the faint at heart could endure! She has a great group of Divas lined up for her Paris tour from March 7 through 13 and she will be posting news on her blog so be sure to stop in for a bit of voyeuristic pleasure Diva style!

The Diva Dishes on Her New Explorations: The concept behind The Antiques Diva® & Co European Shopping Tours is simple: we combine the jet-setting lifestyle of a diva with antique shopping in favorite European cities, including Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin and beyond. Our one-day tours have been wildly successful due to this formula of carrying a shopping sack in one hand and a champagne glass in the other!

What differentiates us from most antique shopping tour companies is that we do not arrange group tours, shoving a bunch of strangers together for an inflexible, pre-set period of days. Instead, we cater to our clients travel dates, taking them by the hand on one-day tours that maximize their time with a private, one-on-one customized shopping experience.

While we do offer a variety of services for antique dealers and interior designers, we also offer shopping tours to mere mortals…letting our clients source European antiques and vintage pieces at addresses usually only known to the trade. We recognize that most clients don’t antique shop in a vacuum: while they want to shop les puce they are also visiting these cities to tour the destinations.

All our Diva Guides are well versed on what’s hot in their city and thus we’re always making recommendations to clients on where to eat, drink, shop and tour; our Diva Guides are your best friend abroad. With our new multi-day Diva City Tours, we’re taking those tips a step further and offering clients a chance to see Europe through our mascara-laden eyes.

Frames at the Marche aux Puces

Frames at the Marche aux Puces

These Diva City Tours are usually four-day packaged trips whereby the Diva Guide takes the clients to a variety of must-see addresses in the city. In our popular Paris Diva City Tour we do cooking classes at the Ritz, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants and tucked-away bistros a tourist hasn’t touched. We shop both vintage and haute couture, see where Coco became Chanel, but then turn around and surprise clients by hitting the local grocery store where they can load up on innovative European products they’d never find in America or the UK.

We visit out-of-the-way museums and when the day is done, we pop over to a friend’s apartment to have champagne and macaroons in a grand salon. The multi-day Diva City Tours are designed to show clients what their lives might look like if they lived in one of these international cities, as the next best thing to living in Paris, Antwerp, Berlin or Amsterdam is touring with someone who does! This tour comes with a WARNING, though: 3 of our last 10 clients decided to move abroad after doing the Diva City Tours!

Some of My Loot from BHV

Some of My Loot from BHV.

Insiders Tip: Tourists traveling in Paris might be surprised to know that some of the best souvenirs in Paris come from the local hardware store. The department store BHV, or Bazaar Hotel de Ville, has a basement level bricolage store that serves up everything from those charming blue & white Parisian house numbers to gorgeous fleur-de-lys picture hooks to upscale Parisian tea towels, copper pots and a variety of accessories for the home.


Ardor in the Court!

The Pompadour Settee by Currey & Company

The Pompadour Settee by Currey & Company

The French Court was already moving toward excess long before the opulence reached its peak with the overindulgences of Queen Marie Antoinette, who had the perfect predecessor in Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of Louis XV from 1745 until her death in 1764. Before she was anointed Madame to the king, the Marquise de Pompadour, or Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, was known as a dramatic socialite on the court scene. Her first meeting with the monarch took place at a royal masked ball.

She was costumed as a shepherdess while the king was decked out as a topiary. And the rest, as they say, is history.Well, I say god bless them and their gilded little hearts. Where would the antique business be without all the glitz and glamour? Could you imagine an over-the-top marble-clad hall filled with primitive antiques? As much as I love them, absolutely not!

The fall market at High Point gets underway tomorrow and one of my favorite companies is rolling out several new lines of furnishings, one of which includes this Pompadour Settee. It radiates that special Currey & Company sophistication that I always admire.

Can’t you just see the Madame herself, draped delicately across the upholstered cushion with her ornate pointy slippers barely touching the floor as she feigns swooning when her royal lover enters her salon? Would she notice the double caning or the hand-applied finish that has been antique washed and accented with fold leaf? Probably not; she’d be too busy adjusting the down-wrapped foam cushions in order the create the best effect as she batted her eyes at the men in the room!

If you doubt the drama demanded by the courtiers of her and Antoinette’s time, this masked ball scene from Patrice Leconte’s film Ridicule provides a tiny taste of the treacherous tactics the social climbers would go to gain fame. Pity the man with the red beak while enjoying the amazing Fanny Ardant!


Oldies and Goodies: Side by Side

I happened into Olde Good Things today to see what’s in store because there always seems to be something new to see in this shop that sells antiques and “altered antiques.” If you’re a fan of patina, you’ll get a good hit of time-worn lovliness here. They have several locations in Manhattan, two in Los Angeles and a warehouse in Scranton, PA.


Channeling Your Inner Diva

Toma Clark Haines

Toma Clark Haines

When The Antiques Diva tells you that she will have you shopping until you drop, you had better believe her! I spent a day in Paris with the daring Toma Clark Haines, the Diva herself, and was just about to the point of crying uncle when she breezed us right into The Ritz and straight into the Bar Hemingway! After one of head barman Colin Field’s French 75 cocktails, which he claims are the perfect balm for soothing fretful feet after a day of shopping or sightseeing, we were nearly as good as new.

As a design journalist, I had been hearing about the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris’ famed flea market, for years. Some of my favorites among the homes I’ve covered were either filled with or accented with personable finds from the market, and I’d always dreamed of going myself. One of the reasons I had wrangled Patty into accompanying me to Paris (which, I’ll admit, was not a difficult task!) is that I don’t speak French and she does. But even with her language skills, we knew that trying to go it alone with tasks as intricate as price negotiations would be a mistake.

I learned about Toma through Carmen Natschke, The Decorating Diva, when she featured both of us on her kicky site that serves as one of my favorite surveys of what’s hot in design (I’ll be featuring her Look Books in a future post). I knew the minute I read Carmen’s write-up that Toma was a gift from the antique-shopping gods and I was right. We formulated a plan and Toma rang our buzzer at 9 a.m. the morning our adventure was to commence. It was non-stop action from that moment on and I was thrilled to hang on for the ride!

I was staying in an apartment in the 2nd arrondissement so Toma planned our route to take us to the Porte de Vanves Flea Market first, as it was on the way to the other venues she had planned for us. Toma calls Porte de Vanves the “other Paris flea market,” and I nabbed great finds there. She also took me to a Vide Grenier, which literally means “empty-your-attic sale.” These are neighborhood flea markets that dot the city on weekends. After a quick lunch, she guided me to our most magnificent stop: Les Puce de Paris, or Clignancourt as some people call it, referring to its location at the city’s perimeter in the Porte de Clignancourt.

There are so many facets to the hulking market that it would have been impossible for me to have made sense of it on my own. Two thousand vendors are spread out through thirteen districts and 7 miles of alleyways! Toma had identified three districts that she felt would suit my needs the best, just one of the ways her expertise made the experience manageable. I hit the usual sensory overload that I always reach during such stimulating experiences, but I never once felt lost during the nearly 10 hours we moved through the city and its renowned markets.

The backstory is that we had such a great time thanks to Toma’s bubbly personality and positive attitude that I walked away from the experience feeling as if I’d made a new friend (see for yourself here). Once our antiquing adventures were finished, we freshened up at The Ritz before hitting the bar. Thanks to Toma’s urging, I’d packed one of my prettiest scarves, which I tied around my neck, instantly feeling an elegance befitting Paris and our storied locale.

When Colin ornamented our drinks with a fresh flower that he said he chose to compliment how he perceived our personalities, it felt like the icing on the cake. Getting to bring two very special finds home from Paris is the decorative marzipan curlicues! To schedule tours, visit Toma’s web site; to keep up with the latest, she had an informative blog. Happy antiquing all you Divas out there!


Of All the Stars in the Parisian Sky!

My Paris Apartment (for a time)!

Would you call me crazy if I told you I turned down luxurious rooms at the George V, Le Meurice and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée during my recent trip to Paris? Would you ask, “What in the world got into you?” if I said I traded the famed address 228 rue de Rivoli across from the Jardin des Tuileries for a tiny lane in the 2nd arrondissement? What had gotten into me was the desire to have a Paris experience that included a Parisian’s point of view so I exchanged my condo in South Beach for a place in Paris and voila: a light-filled apartment on a quaint street that trickled to its end beneath the elaborate stone arch at Faubourg Saint-Denis!

As I journaled during my first morning there, lounging on fluffy pillows stacked against a headboard upholstered in toile, I thought how fitting it was that I was staying in an apartment filled with antiques and collectibles, which had obviously been gathered and arranged with love. As a design journalist, I was realizing a dream that day as I headed to the Porte de Vanves and the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen at Clignancourt to have my first crack at the famed Paris flea markets

The apartment, which was a spacious two-bedroom with high ceilings, was tucked into Paris’ version of the garment district. Every morning when I exited the building, I found myself facing a fabric shop window holding a cranberry-colored tulle dress that would have made Marie Antoinette take notice—all flouncing folds and cascading creases. Walking down the street to catch the Metro at Bonne Nouvelle meant ducking between brawny men carrying bolts of fabric over their shoulders and circumventing hanging carts with assorted prêt-à-porter collections swaying with the chilly February breeze.

Before I’d set foot in the sophisticated city, I’d imagined myself shopping for brie, a baguette and a bottle of Sancere; then kicking back in the apartment to rest my weary feet from a grueling day of doing research for the articles I would write. That didn’t happen: there were simply too many restaurants calling, too many incredible experiences beckoning and too few hours available before I hopped my ride with Air France back to New York. I did shop for milk for my morning coffee and yogurt for breakfast in the neighborhood supermarket, which held a jostling throng of Parisians looking impatient to scurry quickly home from work. It doesn’t get more local than this, I thought, happy to be the only one standing in line with a pleasant expression on my face rather than a frown or a yawn.

The one night I was tempted to stay in, pop the cork on a bottle of wine, fix a salad, and work my way through some of the homeowner’s impressive collection of Italian opera CD’s, my travel-mate simply wouldn’t have it. She shamed me into action by reminding me that I was in Paris and I wasn’t allowed to stay home! We walked the quiet maze of cobblestone streets, an advantage of staying in a neighborhood that held lots of activity by day and little traffic by night, to a tiny brasserie we’d heard was a favorite eatery of François Pinault. The quaint restaurant was packed with locals and presented us with one of the strangest celebrity sightings either of us had ever had. Sitting at one of the tables was Joan Collins of “Dynasty” fame, quietly eating dinner with what appeared to be her family. The other diners were trying to be gracious and not watch her eat but there was a bit of fanfare taking place that had the maître d’ flustered.

As we strolled through the inky air toward home, we shook our heads at seeing the most unlikely star we would have imagined bumping into on any given night in Paris. As I sipped my coffee the next morning, I wondered how Aaron Spelling, Dynasty’s producer, might have spun a backstory for our evening. I sure hoped it would include a catfight between those high-haired Denver divas Krystle and Alexis. I could only imagine how the maître d’ would have handled that! Because this post has been submitted to the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition, I’d love to have your comments as to whether the post resonates with you; whether it inspires you; whether you’ve had similar experiences or whether you’ve visited a city in a similarly “local” way.