Toma Clark Haines is The Antiques Diva® – Chief Executive Diva of The Antiques Diva® & Co European Tours – Europe’s largest antiques touring and sourcing company. As an American who has lived abroad nearly 15 years, it has been said Clark Haines is conquering countries faster than Napoleon. Working with a team of 18+ locally-based agents, The Antiques Diva® & Co offers customized antique buying tours in 8 countries (and counting) working with both the public as well as the trade. Her favorite part of her job is stocking clients antique stores and creating new trends in home fashions.
When this Global Tastemaker is not taking some of the top names in the design industry on buying tours, Clark Haines is also a freelance travel and design writer, an international public speaker and a social media guru. She is a champagne connoisseur, a vintage Chanel addict and her hobbies include driving fast cars and gourmet cooking. Traveling extensively for work, she divides her time between her home in Berlin, Germany and each of her companies tour countries as well as quarterly visits to the USA. Her long-term goals include expanding her company into Asia. Her greatest challenge in life is remembering when she wakes each day whether to greet the day with a Buogiorno, Bonjour, Guten Tag or simply Good Day.
Meet Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva.
Faten Abdallah (FA): What inspired you to go into antiques?
Toma Clark Haines (TCH):If I think about my life history, antiques and travel were always intertwined in my mind. My mother was a third generation American. Her grandparents moved over from England and my whole life I grew up hearing stories of far-away places and long-ago times. The past was always a part of my present. As a child we ate with the silverware my grandparents carried over on the boat when they moved to America. I have always been a traveler – whether in my mind or in reality. I’ve traveled in more than 45 countries – and to me antiques are another way of traveling. They transport you. Antiques transport you to other times, other places and give glimpses into other lives. They tell a story - they’re more than decor - they take you on adventure to someplace less ordinary. That’s the intent behind the tours my company The Antiques Diva & Co offers…. We are the largest antiques touring company in Europe - offering one on one customized buying tours to both tourists as well as the trade in 8 countries - France, Belgium, England, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. Our goal is to give our clients an opportunity to culturally cruise a country through antiques - the pieces one buys on tour give glimpses into what life is like inside those villa windows and Parisian apartments making their adventure part of a greater story.
FA: What makes antiques unique and valuable?
TCH: There are several rules of thought when it comes to what makes antiques valuable. Die Hards will tell you - “In order to be antique it must be 100 years old.” Working internationally customs officials often accept “Almost Antiques” (those items that are 75 to 99 years old) as an “antique” when it comes to import and export restrictions. And the antique trends as of late are bringing Vintage into the modern day. Technically - to be vintage an item should be from the 1940’s, 50’s or 60’s - but 1970’s and 80’s ceramics and furniture are ruling the market at the moment. When it comes to what makes antiques unique and valuable - I’d say exactly what I told myself on my 40th birthday…. “Age Doesn’t Matter.” Whether it’s a piece from the 1760’s, the 1860’s or the 1960’s - quality counts - how well it’s constructed, the lines, especially anything hand-made or limited edition add value, but decorative appeal counts most of all in todays market place. People today buy based upon an asthetic - it’s less about pedigree and more about style. While there are millions of fabulous antique value guide books giving estimates on antiques - my opinion - the value of an antique - especially in those decorative pieces - is entirely subjective. The right price for an antique is what they buyer would be willing to pay - and working internationally - I know that price changes by country and/or region. Value changes according to country and their taste preferences - in France long lives the Louis'… Gilt-wood still demands top euro. Meanwhile in Holland where the Dutch like clean lines and interiors anything Rococo is practically given away. A Louis XV style console in France that might sale for 1500E in the Netherlands might sell for 500E and then… bring that same item to America and the vendors will multiply their purchase prices by a mark up of 3 to 5 times their cost. So if you ask me… The real value in antiques comes down to Love Sweet Love. If you buy what you love you’ll never regret your purchases and it will always keep it’s value.
FA: What's the most interesting antique you have found, purchased or sold?
TCH: 1 in 5 queries coming into our company at the moment by clients seeking European Buying Tours are architectural salvage tour requests - antique dealers, architects, interior designers, developers, hoteliers and restaurateurs are all dying to source architectural pieces to use in projects. - these could be doors, mantles, windows, flooring, roof and flooring tiles, stairwells, bricks, etc. The most interesting antique I’ve ever helped a client buy was a Neo Gothic Cathedral Ceiling coming out of a church in Maastricht - the client was searching for a painting ceiling she could use in the renovation of her home and this piece was perfect. For 16K not only did it go into her own home - she (a designer) was also able to use parts of the piece in numerous clients homes as well!
FA: Advice on finding the best purchase prices for antiques. What about those who would like to sell some of their pieces?
TCH: We’ve all heard the expression… “It’s Not What You Know… It’s Who You Know.” When buying antiques as with most things in life… getting the best price comes down to relationships. If you find a vendor whose style of inventory you love develop a relationship with them. They may not have that exact item you’re looking for right now… but if you like their vibe/ their look then you can entrust them to search for inventory of your behalf. The more you buy from one vendor inevitably the better of price you get from that vendor when you buy multiple items. And returning customers are always given priority in pricing. Be memorable. Chat with the vendor. Most antique dealers are in this business because they love what they do - and if they know you love what they do - they’ll appreciate you appreciating them! When you return to their store - remind them what you bought from them and why you love it. My grandmother always said, “You can catch more flies with honey.” When buying Be Nice. (Heck, regardless of what you’re doing in life… Be Nice… Life’s Too Short For Anything Else!). Some of the worse advice I’ve ever heard on antiquing is “point out the faults of what’s wrong with piece.”… Don’t do this! First of all - it’s not nice - and doesn’t endear you to vendors. Second of all… that 18th C Spanish Console is Scratched??! Oh No! The vendor might need to RAISE THE PRICE THEN - You’re paying extra for that PATINA. Antiques aren’t perfect - just as when we age we get wrinkles and gray hair…. that’s what happens with antiques and those signs of a life-well-lived are often what creates the patina that raises the price not decreases it! Last but not least - always - always - always - ask for a discount. If you don’t ask.. You dont receive. The polite way to ask for a discount (if you dont feel comfortable negotiating) is to say “Is that your best price?” It’s easy, direct and to the point - if the vendor has room in their profit margin it puts them in control of choosing what discount to give you. And… sometimes you’ll be surprised. Once I was going to offer a vendor 40Euro for an item marked 50E - but when I asked their best price they responded 30E!
FA: What should someone look for when purchasing an antique?
TCH: When you buy antiques ask as much information as possible. Find out the age, the material, where it was made, how it was originally used, who would have used it. Ask where the vendor found the item - who they bought it from - gather as many details as possible about the story of the piece. Also google your purchases…. the internet is an amazing wealth of information on antiques!
FA: What have you learned about yourself as you made a career switch?
TCH: While today clients and readers know me as The Antiques Diva (R) - Chief Executive Diva of Europe’s largest antiques touring (and sourcing) company - I haven’t always been a diva! In a past life I worked in marketing and advertising working with clients such as Dunkin Donuts, Target, McDonalds, and Pearl Vision. This background has been fundamental in the growth of my company as I knew how to market my services. I’ve always thought of myself as a creative person - and never gave myself enough credit as a business woman. But what I learned about myself through starting my own company was that I actually enjoyed the process of running a business - making strategic decisions about the direction the company would take and implementing them. I’ve also learned in running a company - that it’s not all about me - it’s about my team. While I’m the face of the company - our business could not operate without the body. I have a team of 18 people who work with me and while we operate as a whole - I’ve learned that I shouldn’t micro-manage them as in order for them to operate at their peak performance they needed to have ownership in their roles. I’ve learned I dont have to do it all myself. Just because I can do something - doesn’t mean I have to do it. I’ve learned to trust others, ask for help and listen to others as getting outside opinions has been instrumental to my companies success…. And last but not least… I’ve learned to Trust My Instincts. Just because you ask for advice - it doesn’t mean you have to take it. As an entrepreneur you have to be both wise enough to ask for advice and strong enough to trust your instincts on whats right for your company.