"I'm looking for drama in my interiors. That means pieces with great shapes, rich textures, and patina, patina, patina!" This week, we chat to none other than The Antiques Diva herself, Toma Clark-Haines.

Q: The antiques industry has rapidly evolved during the pandemic. What key lessons have you taken away? 

A: People do business with people. The world may have gone virtual, but buyers want to connect with the people behind the brands and customer interaction is more important than ever. One of the things we teach in our Antique Dealer Training and Mentoring Program is that dealers need to be the face of their brand in order to connect with their buyers. The connection is important. As a result, video content is key- especially when working with the American market. We work with dealers to develop a video content strategy that connects with their target audience.

Early in the pandemic, I made the bold move to share my personal diary during quarantine on republicoftoma.com. In my blog posts, I spoke about day-to-day life in quarantine. I was vulnerable, open, and real. I confessed the struggles I was going through being alone in lockdown in Italy.  It seemed a strange "marketing move," but my business doing antique buying tours has been really disrupted, so I needed to find a way to stay relevant. I stayed relevant by being real. I discussed what was going on in my life at the time.

Also, I pivoted The Antiques Diva to incorporate virtual tours, long-distance buying and selling services, brand-coaching, and more. When you can't go outside, you go in. I started painting again and will be launching a fabric collection in June 2021 at High Point Market. One of the most important lessons I've learned has been about supply and demand. Between Brexit and the pandemic, there is a shortage of inventory on the market. Brits are having problems securing inventory from France because the French are having problems securing inventory from house clearings due to Covid restrictions. Auction houses are experiencing higher volumes of traffic and prices are surging.

In these times, dealers need to think smart. They have to be strategic. I often speak about the gentrification of antiques. What's on the market at a lower price point? Antiques dealers are the arbiters of style- what they sell, interior designers buy, and home décor trends emerge.

Q: Your finger is always on the pulse when it comes to interior trends, are you predicting any revivals in the near future? 

A: Asian antiques are killing it right now.  With Brits facing difficulties sourcing antiques on the continent, and normal trade routes drying up during the pandemic, our British buyers are relying upon Antiques Diva Asia to bring South East Asian Antiques into Europe. We are watching a global movement of inventory in a different fashion to previous years. For three years I've been predicting this will be the trend, and based upon sales my predictions have finally come true. Combine Brexit sourcing difficulties with a pandemic that doesn't allow people to travel and we've all got island fever!  Americans have been embracing this wanderlust vibe for the last several years. Buying exotic touches from faraway places allows us to travel in our own homes.

Speaking of homes, we are selling more practical items. Tables, chairs, sofas, side tables, and even armoires. Remember when armoires were all the rage? And then dropped out of fashion with the advent of the flat-screen TV? Well, they are back as people are seeking storage spaces, particularly for their home office. Tables that can be converted into desks have also been big sellers. Art sales have also increased significantly... perhaps we're all tired of looking at the same four walls?

In these times, dealers need to think smart. They have to be strategic. I often speak about the gentrification of antiques. What's on the market at a lower price point? Antiques dealers are the arbiters of style- what they sell, interior designers buy, and home décor trends emerge.

Q: Furnishing an interior, especially from scratch, can be daunting. Where should you start? 

A: In the last 20 years, I've moved eight times within four countries. I always start with the lighting in a new home. Lighting is the jewellery of the room and sets the vibe of a space. When it comes to lighting, it's got to be Italian. From lighting, I then look at pieces with fabulous lines. In love- as well as in antiques- opposites attract. I love a low-slung sofa combined with sexy legs on a French bergère, or the long voluptuous lines of a chaise longue. I'm looking for drama in my interiors, and that means pieces with great shapes, rich textures, and patina, patina, patina!

I always start with the lighting in a new home. Lighting is the jewellery of the room and sets the vibe of a space. When it comes to lighting, it's got to be Italian.

Q: The Antiques Diva is more or less global and pre-pandemic you travelled a lot. What made you settle in Venice? 

A:  Love. No, not a man. Venice itself. I fell in love with Venice. When I was a child I dreamt of Venice. I had a black and white swimming suit I would wear standing in my bathtub with a yellow broom and I would swish the water and pretend I was a gondolier.  When I first moved from America to Europe 20+ years ago, I visited Venice and was disappointed. It was crowded and hot and I hated it. Years later I returned for work with The Antiques Diva & Co and made Venetian friends. They let me inside Venice. The real Venice. There are two Venices. The city the tourists know and the city that lays beyond. Venice is like an onion- you have to peel back the layers to get to the core of the city. I liked the adventure of peeling back the layers.

When I divorced, I found myself frequently going to Venice because it made me happy. I would wander the canals and alleys and get so lost. In getting lost I found myself again. I was living in Berlin at the time and realized that because my job was global, so long as I had a laptop and a plane ticket I could live anywhere. Moving to Venice was the best decision of my life.

Q: When did your passion for antiques start? 

My parents didn't have much money, but my mom had great style. She would scour the flea markets, thrift stores, and second-hand markets for fabulous finds from the past. One of her most prized possessions was the silver her grandparents- my great-grandparents- brought with them on the boat when they moved from England to America. I joke I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth- literally. We used the "good silver" every day because my mom's dad always said that there is no silver polish like the patina of daily use. My mom was a second-generation American. Meanwhile, my father's family fought in the Revolutionary War.

I moved to Europe 20+ years ago- first to Paris, then Amsterdam, then to Berlin, before moving to Venice three years ago - I brought the family silver with me and continue to use it every day. I've always seen antiques as another way of travelling; they take you on a voyage to other times and other places.

When I was young I would go with mom to garage sales and she would give me four quarters- $1- to spend. I was rich. For four quarters I could buy a Barbie doll, or a fantastic REAL teapot to play tea party with. I realised at a young age that you could get more for your money at garage sales. I never understood why I would buy new when there were such fabulous treasures for a $1. And more to the point- I could sell what I bought at a garage sale for the same price I paid! If I bought a new Barbie it immediately lost value and had the same value as the used one I purchased.

When I moved to Paris in my 20s with my then-husband, it was second nature to shop the brocantes and vide-greniers. I decorated my fifth-floor walk-up apartment with Paris flea market treasures. I was hooked. Bitten by the fleas.

Q: What prompted you to start your podcast, The Business of Antiques? 

When people ask me what I do, I say "I'm in the business of antiques."  My company, The Antiques Diva & Co, has always had a mission: to make antiques fun, sexy, modern, relevant, accessible, and PROFITABLE. Most of our clients in America are trade clients and buying for re-sell. If my clients sell well, they buy well, so I began giving clients tips on how to increase their sales. I realised quickly that most people who go into antiques go into the profession because they love antiques- NOT because they understand how to run a successful business.

I launched my Antique Dealer Training and Mentoring Program as well as our Antiques Diva marketing services. We help dealers to build websites, create marketing templates, and offer social media services. We introduce dealers to potential buyers to help them be more successful in their business. The podcast was developed to continue to support our audience and help them to make antiques more profitable.

Q: How do you unwind when you're not running your Antiques Diva Empire? 

Pre-Covid I would have said hopping on a plane and going someplace warm and sunny, with a good book and a great spa. Post-Covid, it's simpler times. I live in Venice, so I take long walks in the fog in the early morning. I am learning Italian and take classes four days a week. My mouth is learning the acrobatics required to pronounce those Rs! I love to cook and always set a gorgeous table (even when dining for one). I read and write a lot!

I've been fortunate because even though gyms are closed throughout Italy due to Covid, my gym allows you to book private sessions so you have the entire gym to yourself and your trainer.  I have weekly calls with my dear friend Gail McLeod- our head Antiques Diva agent in the UK and founder of Antique News and Fairs. Somehow, when you talk to a friend you feel like anything is possible. Friends and cats! Those are great solutions for unwinding. I have two cats named Fortuny and FIorella, and they are the naughtiest kittens in Venice- but also the most fun. I've trained them to walk on leashes so they go with me on my strolls. One of the nicest things about Venice at this time is that I have the city to myself. It's a magical experience to be alone in Venice.

Q: What's your favourite location for an Antiques Diva buying tour? 

Ooo la la. That's got to be the most difficult question I am asked. I LOVE all my tour countries. It's got to be France. Paris prices are at rock bottom at the moment. Provence is always king... or shall I say, Le Roi! Britain also delights because of the wide variety of inventory. Many British dealers have become dear friends and understand the American market so well- even better than the Americans. I love Chaing Mai Thailand for sourcing antiques and Bali is also beyond wonderful. Mamma Mia... did I forget Sweden? How can you ask me to choose? This is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child.

Q: Do you ever get creative or writer's block? 

This past year I took a break from blogging on antiquesdiva.com for exactly that reason. During the pandemic, I lost my vision and needed time to think about where we were going next as a company. I took the decision to take a step back from blogging for antiques and focus on blogging on my website for our parent company republicoftoma.com. Only now, one year into the pandemic, do I feel like I'm getting my groove back! In general, my solution for writer's block is to do something else entirely to "forget" about what I'm trying to do. Once I stop forcing it, the words come naturally.

My favourite thing is my desk. It's a desk for a Diva- a French 18th Century marquetry bureau plat, with the most gorgeous ormolu mounts with the faces of women on all four corners. It's feminine yet powerful and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Yasmin Mogahed. “Being both soft and strong is a combination very few have mastered.” It also reminds me of how I want to run my business and what type of CEO I want to be.

Q: What's your most treasured antique? 

I mentioned my great-grandparents' silver earlier. My house is positively filled with antiques.  But my favourite piece is my desk. It's a desk for a Diva- a French 18th Century marquetry bureau plat with the most gorgeous ormolu mounts, with the faces of women on all four corners. It's feminine yet powerful and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Yasmin Mogahed. “Being both soft and strong is a combination very few have mastered.” It also reminds me of how I want to run my business and what type of CEO I want to be.

Q: What would our readers be surprised to learn about you?

I only pretend to be a Diva. Really I am a farm girl. Growing up, I lived on a ranch 30 miles from the nearest town. I learned to drive a pickup truck when I was 12 and a tractor when I was 14. I love adventure and I love horses, but I don't ride dressage- I ride Western. Although I once played polo in Buenos Aires, and it gave me a new respect for the thighs of English-style riders! I've played polo in Buenos Aires and jumped out of aeroplanes. I've gone elephant trekking in Myanmar and learned to steer my own elephant. Contrary to what you might expect, guiding an elephant is NOTHING like guiding a horse!!!

Q: What's your go-to comfort food dish? 

Mamma Mia. I may live in Italy, and I may have attended cookery school in Paris in my 20's, but when it comes to comfort food I am a true American. I am a rancher's daughter. Give me a really rare steak and fries any day and you've got a very happy girl!

Q: What has been your best lockdown purchase? 

A: Okay this question makes me realise I've been seriously remiss. I don't think I've made any indulgences (other than too much wine) in more than a year. Come to think of it, my wine cellar may be the benefactor of my best lockdown purchases. I decided mid-Covid life is too short to drink bad wine. After our first lockdown ended in the summer, I went to my favourite wine shop in Venice- Cantine del Vino già Schiavi- and informed them I needed to learn about wine. Rather than me choosing the wines, I asked them to prepare some palette teasers for me. The next day they delivered 36 bottles, each with a special nuance I need to taste. I'm working my way through their recommendations in a self-study wine course.

Q: What makes your house your home? 

A: I fill my house with objects from my travels. The word 'souvenir' in French means 'travel memories.' And that's what you will find in my home. Memories. Memories of places visited, people whose lives have intersected with mine. The architecture of life. My house becomes a home when it's filled with living things- my cats, plants, friends, family, and laughter. My home is about long dinners and late nights. Lazy mornings in bed. The smell of coffee in the morning.