by Malena Lott
Like a lot of cool folks I meet, Toma Clark Haines began as an online friend —the wife of a Woodward High School classmate, BJ Haines. I got to know her through BJ’s posts about her and their lives in Germany — and her globe-trotting adventures as an antiques tour guide to places like Paris, London and almost anywhere else her clients wanted to go in Europe.
Check it: Toma (pronounced Tom-uh) hails from a small town in Western Oklahoma where she and BJ met in high school and continued their courtship at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK.
When BJ was hired overseas, she began doing what she loved – spending the weekends at the Paris Flea market for antiques for their pad until she ran out of space and money and began helping friends do the same, for free. In 2008, she started her guides business, The Antiques Diva and Co. and now has thirteen Diva Guides on staff. According to her site, you can, “Join The Antiques Diva® & Co for a private one-on-one European Antique, Vintage, Flea Market and Home Decorating Tour in France, England, Italy, Holland, Belgium, or Germany!”
Not only do I love that her team travels, but she intimately knows where to find the best piece to meet the clients’ needs and it’s often not in the country you would think it would be in. That’s why it pays to have an insider working with you.
After five years in business, the Divas are hotter than ever and Toma has become a popular speaker and panelist on the design circuit. She had so many requests, she hired a publicist from NYC to help wrangle her schedule and media ops in 2013.
Toma still has family in Oklahoma and visits when she can, keeping up with her Divas and crazy schedule on her laptop. I was fortunate to sit down with her one early morning at Starbucks in Edmond, OK on a recent trip where I could ask her about her favorite things to share with you. (Yes, I’d rather have flown to Paris! One day!)
Favorite style: French, Louis XV, Rococo lines, curved, very feminine, but pair it with minimal modern, with something lavish and over the top. Lavish things need something to bring it down.
Favorite color palettes: I’ve always been drawn to red, black, contrasting colors. And black is my neutral and then but like pow colors. Our couch is white leather, Stockholm Swedish equivalent, so color is introduced but in soft gradiants. I like white and gray, too.
Favorite fabrics/textures: Fabric silk or knubby zinc in a space. I always trying to sell clients on zinc. I get to try on other people’s style so I can appreciate many other styles.
What she loves: Trade clients and tours, things that shine. Attract eye bit of glamour to the space – diva element.
(Toma and BJ lost their house in Germany to a fire last year, including many treasured pieces so the last year has been about starting over and buying anew.)
My favorite antique save from the fire is my Louis XV commode! I looked and looked and knew price wise it would run 2K and I didn’t have it. It’s important to know that in Paris in the month of August the entire country goes on vacation. The best weekend at the Paris Flea Market is the last weekend in July because vendors want money in their pockets for vacation. I ended up getting the commode, rosewood marketry and pinking tone marble and has the maker’s mark. Started out at $1,800 and ended at $1,000. If you have cash, it talks.
How to find what the right piece for you? Has to do entirely with personal taste doesn’t matter if it’s what you makes your heart tick. Don’t care that it’s a stylish piece, it will be again.
Tips for antiquing? Antiquing in general: buy what you love. #1 question is how do I know if it’s worth it? The fact is, if you love it and it’s a price you are willing to pay, it’s the right price. Range of what something might be priced…it’s subjective, which is why the price you’re willing to pay is what it comes down to.
Where do you like to shop for antiques in Oklahoma?
The Rink Gallery in OKC. Several vendors could easily be set up in Paris Flea market. Go down every single aisle and then do it in reverse. Do it in opposite direction.
How do you work with your clients? We will take you to anywhere in our 10 tour countries, and for trade clients like antique dealers and designers, to other places. All of our tours are customized. I am looking for chandeliers for example, brass, glass, crystal. I start asking questions. I ask them to send a photos of what they want. A photo says more than anyone could ever describe. For example, they may say they want Spanish colonial antiques, but the picture of what they wanted was actually English. If a client is renovating their home and wanting to decorate doing a project in their own home, I’ll ask them for inspiration photos and and may tell them the two countries where they’ll have the best luck and it’s not exact item but feel/genre/style. It’s feasible for anyone to do. Paris Flea Market prices are high, but once you get outside of it, all over Europe, the prices go down. Even with with shipping, it makes it financial feasible to do.
What’s hot now? Definitely zinc is a top one, and taxidermy is very hot. Birds, especially. I’m personally looking for a swan but they are outrageously expensive. They are vintage, maybe 40 years old, sometimes older than that. Swedish is very desirable at the moment. About one in four is asking for architectural salvage items o door, window frame. I just shipped an entire neogothic 19th century ceiling from a cathedral in the Netherlands and the client is putting it in her home in Ohio. Vintage limestone fireplaces from middle of France.
How much do you personally travel? About half the time: 2-3 weeks a month. Lately it’s been a lot so I have the world’s most patient husband. If I’m going to be gone, he meets me on the weekends if he can.
Toma advises that you don’t have to buy an entire container if you don’t find enough antiques to fill one. She has clients who have bought one armoire and just needed that space in a container and so could share someone else’s container shipped to the U.S.
It’s also important to note that The Antiques Diva pre-qualifies the clients – not just for their wish list, but for common points of interest. She wants them to feel like they’ve stepped into a friendship they’ve had for years.
And I have no doubt they’ll keep coming back for more.
Visit Toma’s site at AntiquesDiva.com and keep up with her blog and fun travels and media appearances. Go give this cool Oklahoma-gal a follow on Facebook, too. Thanks, Toma. You’re my favorite international diva.
Pictorial provided by The Antiques Diva: