Lessons In Real Life Decorating Diva Style

An Introduction to Starting Over - Real Life Decorating

by Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva® & Co European Tours


Toma Clark Haines & BJ Haines in their Berlin Germany home.
photo credit: Laila McCubbin Jones, Global Living Magazine


Several years ago House Beautiful did a series where contributing editor Frances Schultz embarked on a renovation of Bee Cottage sharing with readers behind the scenes details of how she decorated her home.  She told what paint, wall papers, lighting fixtures and furniture she chose, highlighting her decorating challenges and solutions and revealing her secret sources for scoring fab finds.  I loved this series and each month avidly followed Frances’ progress as she made her East Hampton house a home.  Real Life Decorating!


A couple of months after I lost my home and nearly everything in it in a fire on Thanksgiving 2012 when my downstairs neighbor left a candle burning when he went to bed, The Daily Basics editor Cynthia Bogart emailed asking if I’d like to write about “starting over”.  A flurry of emails later and we agreed that I would write the Daily Basics own version of Bee Cottage’s Lessons in Real Life Decorating as I let readers in behind the scenes as I embark on an adventure decorating my new home in Europe, furnishing it from the ground up.




"It’s not important how you get knocked down—that’s going to happen—it’s that you get back up."

— Ben Afleck

Our apartment before the fire. Photo Credit: Laila McCubbin Jones, Global Living Magazine



Our apartment after the fire

Our apartment was a hop, skip and a jump to Reichstag, the German Parliament. photo credit Laila McCubbin Jones

Our apartment was a hop, skip and a jump to Reichstag, the German Parliament. photo credit Laila McCubbin Jones

Starting over is never easy but I’ve decided to get back up with “Diva Style” with a little help from my friends in the design and antiques world.  I should confess that as owner of Europe’s largest antique shopping tour company – The Antiques Diva® & Co European Tours helping both the trade and tourists buy antiques abroad in 8 countries – I have a brilliant little black book of sources on this side of the pond and in this series I’m going to reveal where I personally choose to shop in Europe to decorate my European home, share photos on what I buy and why and better yet, tell what I paid for certain purchases on this side of the pond.   My series is not a guide for how to start over after a fire – for my life is anything but “by the book”, but it gives a good glimpse into what it’s like to live and work in Europe and gives you access to my personal source list for buying abroad.  And should you find something in my new home you can’t live without, my company helps clients source antiques in Europe, so we can always help you score something similar and liaise you with a shipper to get the goods back home.

But before shopping for antiques all across the continent can commence, first I needed to find a home to put those purchases.  My husband, my cat and I lived in temporary furnished housing for 4 months while searching for the perfect property.   Our previous pre-fire apartment was a gorgeous historically listed property, an altbau in Berlin just a stone’s throw from Brandenburg Gate and a hop skip and a jump from the Reichstag – the German Parliament building. Our flat in Mitte – the center of the city – was a perfectly proportioned apartment that was Traditional with a capital “T”…


Working in antiques I have always tended towards classical design, but something happened that night when I woke at 1:30am with my home in flames.   Not only did my life change in an instant with carbon monoxide poisoning and a little PTS but I realized I needed a change.   I am very visual person and going forward I needed visual change to mentally put myself in a new state of mind.  I could not recreate what I had before in my home… I had to start over with a new slate – a fresh palette.  And so rather than searching for another traditional apartment in Berlin, I called up my relocation agent in Berlin,  Sophie Svensson, and asked for her help finding “something different”..

Industrial Historic Momument – Die Alte Mälzerei – Photo Credit alte-maelzerei-pankow.blogspot.com

Industrial Historic Momument – Die Alte Mälzerei – Photo Credit alte-maelzerei-pankow.blogspot.com

Berlin’s Old Malthouse (Die Alte Mälzerei) - Our new home!

Berlin’s Old Malthouse (Die Alte Mälzerei) – Our new home!


The dining room happens to be the inside of the chimney where the malt was brewed – a round room, with an igloo shaped exterior

The dining room happens to be the inside of the chimney where the malt was brewed – a round room, with an igloo shaped exterior

For me – 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.


We viewed properties all over Berlin, from swank pads in what was the West of Berlin near the Ku’Damm, to urban flats in the East just off the Gendarmenmarkt. We looked at centrally located apartments in walking distance to my husband’s office near the Sony Center and even toured an artist community in the far flung outskirts on the city as you drive East towards Poland.


And then I saw it.


I’ve always been a coup de foudre kind of girl – so I was familiar with the sensations of “love at first sight” – I had known I would marry my husband from our first date.  So when I walked into Berlin’s Old Malthouse (Die Alte Mälzerei), an urban renewal project that had taken the Schultheiß-Brauerei” (Schultheiss Brewery) and converted this industrial historic monument into sensational living spaces– I knew this was It!


With just over 2000 square feet, spanning the top 3 levels of the building, exposed brick walls, and soaring double height ceiling in the living room  I was sold hook line and sinker.  No more fishing for flats, I had found our new home in Berlin.  Now the only question was …. “How to decorate it?”  I’ve only done traditional living spaces before… and this space is anything but.  The dining room happens to be the inside of the chimney where the malt was brewed – a round room, with an igloo shaped exterior… to say I’ve got some decorating challenges ahead is an understatement.  But already my mind is brewing up decorating ideas… and I cannot wait to tackle this project and to take you along with me as I meet these decorating joys and challenges as I mix my penchant for gilt and glamor with this historic space.


Stay tuned for the continuing series – Lessons in Real Life Decorating – from The Antiques Diva®.   Move in date is April 1st – so next month you’ll get inside glimpses of this theatrical space.

Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva can be found at her site,  Antiques Diva.

An international public speaker, she writes regularly about antiques, travel and shopping. She’s been involved in numerous women’s organizations, having served as Chairman of The International Women’s Club Amsterdam and Director of the popular Bloom Where You’re Planted expatriation program in Paris, going on to serve as the Director of the Governing Board for that program. Toma has a passion for women’s causes and is actively involved in the expat community, volunteering a significant amount of her time.

On Twitter:  The Antiques Diva


For more on Toma’s Road to Rebuilding her Home

Lessons in Real Life Decorating Part Two

Lessons in Real Life Decorating Part Three

Lessons in Real Life Decorating Part Four

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  1. 03/20/2013 at 8:01 am

    Love Toma and so thrilled for her triumph over a devastating fire.
    Also love reading about the whole new look!
    Thanks Daily Basics for showing us all how to turn our challenges into successes.

  2. 03/21/2013 at 9:01 am

    Priscilla – what a sweet comment to post here, thank you. Your words warmed my heart!

  3. 03/21/2013 at 9:25 am

    What a great idea for a series! I’m very excited to watch Toma’s literal rise from the ashes, Especially in such an amazing space. Thanks Cynthia for hosting this fun series and I look forward to seeing both of you in Nola! xxooL

  4. 03/21/2013 at 9:27 am

    I am so very happy that there is goodness and renewal for Toma and her husband after difficult months! Toma is so talented, and such a light for many, she prevails when most of us are just thinking about it. Can’t wait to learn more about this new home for Toma and BJ!

  5. 03/21/2013 at 9:31 am

    Toma: I’m really looking forward to seeing this. What you have been through is just something that no one would want… and you have the amazing ability to see the best in everything! I love your optimism and spirit; maybe someday we will meet! Your Real Life Decorating will be followed closely by many people!

  6. 03/21/2013 at 2:24 pm

    I can’t imagine loosing everything in a fire and having to start over again. I am, however, familiar with quantum shifts… Looking forward to following your transformation from traditional to industrial historic.

    • 03/24/2013 at 2:44 am

      John, it’s going to be an adventure and the quantum shift will definitely challenge my decorating talents, but I’m looking forward to it! I just bought my sofa yesterday. Radical change from my last living room decor!

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