By Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva & Co
Perhaps I was feeling daring and a little dark or dangerous – or just plain mysterious. But while decorating my 3 level loft in Berlin, Germany in the industrial monument The Old Malt House, I felt a decisive need that the lower level of my flat be painted black. I’ve never been an AC-DC kind of girl but I felt the lyrics of “Back in Black” pumping in my pulse as I raced to the local Farrow and Ball store. Channeling my dark side I discovered I wasn’t a jet black kind of girl but rather an Off-Black 75.
Yep, that seemed right – my cocktail of choice is a French 75 – champagne with gin – or as I like to say “Coco Chanel with a Dagger”. This was definitely the vibe I was going for in the lower level of our home – elegance meets the night.
With the paint purchased we set to work transforming my lower level… or rather my handyman, Stephen, set to work and I gave the occasional squeal of supportive delight as the color saturated the walls. One might think black would be oppressive – pulling the walls inwards in a claustrophobic fashion – but instead it absorbs the light.
With each stroke of the roller the walls of the room recessed into infinity. As Stephen worked, by the third coat of paint I fear I learned new German curse words as he muttered under his breath. Black isn’t an easy color to paint but the result can be perfection. It has just the right degree of edginess, moodiness, chicness and elegance.
The lower level not only houses our bedroom, bathroom, laundry room and an unheard-of-in-Europe walk-in closet, but also the entryway and the stairs leading upwards to our light-filled double eight living room above. I’ve always felt that an entry-room, however small, is one of the most important rooms in the house. People often neglect to decorate this space, considering it merely an afterthought with utilitarian purpose, but I believe it sets the tone of the house.
“A well-decorated entryway gives guests a hint at what to expect – sort of like an amuse bouche does before your meal. It tempts you to linger.”
With the walls – and even ceiling – painted black I had several choices for décor. I could go with an “opposites attract” theme or I could take an “iron sharpens iron” decorating philosophy and layer shades of gray, increasing the depth of the small space. As owner of Europe’s largest antiques sourcing company, The Antiques Diva® & Co, I was fortunate to have at my fingertips a plethora of pieces to choose from. I wanted a statement piece and I knew just where I’d find it in one of our most secret of sources -a by-appointment-only shop in a private residence in the south of France. The Spanish secretaire was from the 18th Century – it was older than America and it had exuberant curves that lightened the original black paint. Chipped and worn, the secretaire is the embodiment of wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic made fashionable by the Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt that promotes the beauty of imperfection.
Above the secretaire I’ve hung a dark, poignant Baroque painting from an unknown 17th century artist. While the secretaire cost a minor fortune at 4000 Euro ($5466 USD), the painting above it was a steal at 380 Euro ($500 USD). When buying antiques I often find that I can spend more on one piece because I love it while saving money on another. The average of the 2 purchases together works out, making both more reasonable in price point.
Proving that mixing styles and periods works, I contrasted my 18th C Rococo secretaire and 17th C Painting with a bright red vintage Juju hat, a Bamike feather headdress from Africa. Symbolizing prosperity and believed to possess the positive qualities of birds representing the beauty and fragility of life, the headdress, which would traditionally be worn by the royal dancers during important ceremonies held by the tribal chief, is the one burst of color that transformed my entrance. Further down the hall way, I chose to contrast the dark with a pale yellow antique 18th C Gustavian long case clock I purchased on our Antiques Diva Sweden Antique Buying Tour for 9500 SEK – approx. $1400 USD. The crowning touch was a modern chandelier dripping crystals like icicles to this pass through space.
Toma Clark Haines is The Antiques Diva® – owner of Europe’s largest antiques tour company working with a team of 18 guides in 10 European countries. In addition to leading buying tours The Antiques Diva® & Co offers personal shopping services for those times when clients can’t come abroad to source in person.
Lessons in Real Life Decorating:
On Thanksgiving night in 2012, there was a fire in Toma & BJ Haines apartment in Berlin where they lost all of their possessions and left them looking for a new place to live. This is the journey they have taken to rebuilding a new home in a new building.