A Phoenix from the Ashes

I first met Toma Clark Haines in Chicago while she was on a United States press tour in November of last year. I attended a seminar about sourcing antiques internationally and she was one of the panelists. That evening my friend Robyn and I invited Clark Haines to join us at RL for cocktails and we had a wonderful time filled with laughter and “getting to know you” stories. 


Little did I know, about three months later I would be traveling across the globe to work for Mrs. Clark Haines as a Creative Consultant for her company, The Antiques Diva® & Co. She owns and operates Europe’s largest antique touring and sourcing company.  Working with a team of locally-based agents, she offers custom antiques buying tours in 10 countries to both tourists (mere shopping mortals) and the trade (antique dealers and interior designers).

When this stylemaker is not on a buying tour, Toma is also a freelance travel and design writer, an international public speaker, an interior decorator and social media guru.  If she doesn’t fit the model of a SASSY woman, I don’t know who else does!


Upon my arrival to Germany, I was invited to join Toma and her husband for dinner at their flat. I am always interested to see how people live at home, particularly successful people.  I think your home says a lot about you including what standards you hold, what your tastes are, if your life is balanced. In fact, one of Toma’s philosophies for her business is that your home should tell a story. She has been quoted saying, “I believe one should walk into your home and know who you are, where you have been and where you’re going. Your home should reflect you and your interests.” Through her antiques sourcing tours, her goal is for the client to come away with those classic, sometimes quirky, old world, one-of-a-kind pieces that will serve as a backdrop to their daily life. 


I was also intrigued because of what’s happened in Toma’s life in the last year and a half.  On Thanksgiving of 2012 her apartment building caught fire when her downstairs neighbor left a candle burning overnight, and she lost nearly everything she owned, including her home. This tragic incident would leave many people down and out, but in true diva fashion, Toma rose to the occasion like a Phoenix from the ashes. 


Deciding that she couldn’t recreate what she had before, Toma chose to embrace something new. After spending four months in temporary furnished housing, she and her husband fell in love with an apartment in Berlin’s Old Malthouse, an urban renewal project that had taken the Schultheiss Brewery and converted the industrial historic monument into sensational living spaces. She was used to decorating traditional spaces such as her previous apartment which was a historically listed property, but as she says, “The only way for me to not lament what I lost was to start over with something so radically different than what I had before so there was no comparison.” This new place would be a bit different.


With soaring ceilings, an open layout, and exposed brick walls, Toma was presented with the challenge of outfitting the three floor flat to suit her traditional tastes but also to be at harmony with the non-conventional architecture. Although the loss was significant (many pieces were one of a kind antiques), she utilized her contacts in the industry and set to work on rebuilding a home. 


One year after the fire, she and her husband hosted a cocktail party in their new home.  In diva style, a sense of humor prevailed, and the theme of the party revolved around fire.  From direct correlations, such as a playlist filled with songs including “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love,” to more discreet innuendoes like serving “smoked” salmon and flambé baked Alaska.  And it just so happened to work out that their dining room is actually the former roasting oven and chimney of the old malthouse (but it’s shaped like an igloo oddly enough).  Suffice it to say that the Phoenix has officially risen! 


After touring her lovely home and hearing the stories behind each item that she hand selected, I am inspired to think that any of us can start over…at any time. And it doesn’t have to take a house fire to force us. I am reminded to be mindful of every object that I bring into my house. I am encouraged to actually live with gorgeous antiques (her guests are welcome to sit on chairs that are from the eighteenth century). And I am reminded that all of us will have setbacks and we will fall at some point: but what matters is that we get up. What matters is how we get back up; and that creating a home is a constant journey, not a onetime destination.