In recent years, we have witnessed the rising trend for all things vintage, and not just in interiors. Our consumer society, which once sought out the most modern, cutting edge and exclusive designs for the home, has taken a step back in time and objects that were once so highly coveted now share the lime light with an older, more experienced and more mature version of themselves…antiques! The desire to own the newest, shiniest pieces for our homes has given way to a need to fill our homes with unique pieces that have a story to tell and that have stood the test of time.

Perhaps this change in mentality has come about due to the economic crisis. As more people have less disposable income they are less likely to spend what little they do have on objects that have become synonymous with our throw away culture. Instead they are looking to the past, a time when things were made to last, durable, and had a real value that was appreciated through the generations. Our new found love of antiques is easy to understand, but as many of us now live in modern homes the question is how to incorporate these heirlooms and artefacts seamlessly into our interior design schemes. And where are the best places to shop for antiques?

To find out Freshome consulted an expert in the field. Toma Clark Haines, aka The Antiques Diva, is an American expat living in Berlin and Chief Executive Diva of her company, which offers customized antique buying tours for both tourists and the trade (antique dealers and designers). The  tours cover 8 countries – France, England, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Holland and Germany –offering everything from a 1 day tour to a full on 14 day agenda. The tours are lead by 8 Diva Guides who help to source antiques, negotiate prices, translate to local dialect, and liaise with international shippers to help clients get their purchases back home.

What is your favourite European location to go shopping for antiques and why?

That’s like asking a mother to choose their favourite child.  Each country offers unique antiquing opportunities.  France is the mecca for antique shoppers; Paris and Provence offer the best selection of antiques anywhere in the world and are the most amazing places to shop.

But the best prices can sometimes be found outside of France. You can often find beautiful French antiques in England and often at better prices than in France.  England has a diverse and eclectic inventory with perhaps the widest variety of antiques anywhere in the world.

If I’m shopping on price point I want Belgium – little Belgie is like the step child of Europe everyone tends to forget about… and in my arsenal of where to stop, shop and drop some dough on antiques it is one of my best kept secrets.

Mamma Mia… how could I forget Italy! Everything is beautiful in Italy – and what they’re really good at is design… staying ahead of the trends.  Since the Florentines birthed the Renaissance, the Italians have been impacting the way we live – stylishly – around the world.

What advice would you give to anyone who is new to shopping for antiques and who is looking to bag an antiques bargain?

If you want to bag a bargain it’s important to get off the beaten path. Big markets and fairs and popular destinations such as Paris or London will yield the best pre-choreographed selection of inventory in one chic locale… but buyers searching for bargains have got to go deeper into the countryside and invest a little time in the process. When I’m visiting a new country, I look at map and find the rural areas that are unknown to me and I start googling the antiques and flea market scene for that area. Once you are in the area, you have to ask everyone you meet where to go and what to buy. This last point may seem obvious, but if you want a bargain, ask for a discount. This is the most important life lesson I can share… if you want something, ask for it.

Where are the best places to visit in search of antiques for your home?

I’m a flea market junkie. I love flea markets for the social aspect, street foods and people watching as much as I love them for the vintage finds. But for decorating your home, I’d say the best education and contact list you can find would be at an antiques fair like London or Bath’s Decorative Antiques Fair.  You’ll meet the top decorative vendors in the shortest amount of time, finding the crème de la crème in one locale.

What would you say to those people who have a modern interior design scheme and believe that antiques wouldn’t really fit in?

Modern decorators are my dream client.  Just like in love, opposites attract.  Take two opposing forces and put them together and baby you’ve got chemistry. My office for The Antiques Diva & Co headquarters is a great example of mixing modern and antique. I have a white glass Ikea table as a desk – stark and modern, clean lines, no embellishments – and then I juxtaposed those clean lines with the most over-the-top, obnoxious turquoise velvet Baroque gilt chairs I could find. The result? Magic. The Antiques Diva® & Co rule of design is that every room should have one piece that has history, tells a story from the past, whether it’s a piece passed down through your family, or a piece you picked up while vacationing in Paris.

You believe that your home should be collected, not decorated. What do you mean by this?

Our homes should tell a story – where we’ve been and where we’re going – and what moves us.

When using antiques in your home, what should you bear in mind when mixing pieces from different eras and styles?

The most boring thing you can do in your home is to decorate all in one style; whether you’ve bought an entire living room floor model at Ikea or bought the most pricey Art Deco collection money can buy. Variety is the spice of life and layering your home with different periods and price tags creates a cozy comfortable home. Just as if you were contrasting colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel, mixing precious and pop punctuate a room in ways all one echelon could never do on its own.

If you’re not an artist but a scientist, approach mixing antique periods and styles as if it were Newton’s 3rd law of motion:  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Put a glitzy baroque chair with curvy lines and lots of bling opposite an empire commode to contrast it with dark woods and sleek lines. If the room is filled with black lacquered pieces, add a little yin to the yang by adding a mid-century modern white Eames Side Shell Chair.

[Images 1, 3, 7 & 8 courtesy of Laila McCubbin Jones]

Freshome would like to thanks Toma Clark Haines for taking the time to share her valuable advice and insights  into the world of antiquing. We’d love to know how you use antiques in your home and where you like to shop for them so please let us know.