Six Unique European Antiques Destinations Every Antique Lover Must Visit

Toma Clark Haines, of The Antiques Diva & Co., shares her trains, cars, buses and gondolas to help us see the world of antiques.

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Paris Flea Market; Image courtesy of Paul Bert Serpette

In the fall of last year, I had the distinct pleasure of traveling the UK with Toma Clark Haines, a veteran antiques guide and owner of Europe’s largest antiques touring company, The Antiques Diva. The experience utterly transformed my view of the antiques world,  and what it has to offer. It also cemented my love for the people involved.

Searching for that perfect treasure can take you to the corner shop or to a far-flung destination that you thought you knew, but you realize you didn’t. These experiences will lead you to learn, love, and lust after things you never would have noticed before. Below are three of the finest and charming antiques destinations we visited, and three—now that we have the advice of the Diva herself—we would highly recommend touring. I definitely will. Will you?

Lorfords Antiques in Tetbury, The Cotswolds

A legendary city with a history as storied as its literary figures, London has no shortage of beautiful antiques shops. From Pimlico Road to Kensington’s Church Street, they abound. But despite the obvious draw for antiquarians of the city Charles Dickens waxed sarcastic about, recent years have seen a fundamental shift of the path of these treasure hunters towards a small town in The Cotswolds by the name of Tetbury. Once the site of an ancient hill fort, today Tetbury is famous for its architectural elegance, natural beauty, and twenty-plus antiques shops—all walking distance from one another.

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Ashby at Lorfords Antiques

The most lauded of the bunch, Lorfords, sits in the center of town and carries everything from Georgian, to Gustavian, to mid-century decorative furniture and accessories in a charmingly converted bus garage. Co-owners, Toby Lorford and Lesley Ferguson, rely on their impeccable taste to outfit the space. “It’s not a sacrosanct space,” says Lorford, “we will always pick something that is utterly magical or speaks particularly to us to display.” And in his opinion, so should you! “If you buy to your taste, almost anything will go together,” he says. With most of the pieces displaying elements of purpose, elegance, proportion, style, beauty and finish—it’s hard to leave empty handed. Veteran antiques guide Toma Clark Haines, agrees: “You will find the top 1% of the Paris Flea Market at Lorfords.” Lorford rightly admits “With all the shops here plus The Hangars—our newest project located nearby that houses nearly forty dealers—you won’t find Tetbury’s selection of antiques anywhere in the UK outside of a major fair.”

 The Hangars at Babdown Airfield in Tetbury, The Cotswolds

 When it comes to antiquing, is there anything more enticing than the thrill of the hunt? Ask the geniuses behinds Tetbury’s famed Lorfords’ shop! In 2014, the trailblazing team at Lorfords began the process of turning two WW2-era aircraft hangers at the Babdown Airfield into one of the most unexpected antiques destinations in Europe. Today, the aptly named Hangar One and Hangar Two house approximately 40 carefully chosen antiques dealers (with scores more sitting pretty on a waiting list)! Each dealer showcases a curated mixture of decorative and mid-century furniture and antiques that span a wide range of styles and periods. While the Hangars certainly tickle our senses of romance and adventure, they also offer truly exceptional service with incredible selections. Where else can you experience the combined ease and range of shopping online with the services you get from a single dealer’s shop?

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Ashby

And while each hangar has its own dedicated sales member who can help you find the piece you desire on site, both are also more than happy to put the word out amongst the dealer’s suppliers should that rare or unusual piece linger beyond your grasp. As sage advice goes, Toby Lorford’s is amongst our favorite: “Don’t get hung up on periods, styles, or originality: you should only focus on furnishing your home with things that make you happy. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, sit down, have a coffee and remember what you love! There are no rules for furnishing your home.” Right he is. Antiquing sure isn’t your grandmother’s sport anymore. Get thee to the airfield!

Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, London

London’s Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair—referred to by many as the Battersea Decorative Fair—is a triannual six-day affair filled with colliding worlds. With between 140-150 dealers at each gathering showcasing everything from 17th-century ceramics, art and furniture, to contemporary art and sculpture, one would expect to feel intimidated. Instead, the fair’s reputation for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere is quite cemented by the random sightings of well-behaved dogs on leashes. It also happens to be one of the most inspiring, well-curated shows around. A Standards Committee of some 35 experts vets each dealer and all the goods offered for sale—including the accuracy of their descriptions—so you can relax just a bit about “ buyer beware.” The exhibitors also habitually show their wares in vignettes set up to aid potential customers in their design vision. Pippa Roberts, the Communications Director for the show says: “It’s all about juxtaposition and offering the unexpected. You never know what you might find around the corner, so there is always an element of anticipation and excitement every time you visit.” Dealers are also more than willing to answer your questions, even the ones you might deem to silly to ask. A great tip? Walk around the fair twice: Both clockwise and counter-clockwise to ensure you have seen everything each stand has to offer. You never know what you might miss!

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Image courtesy of The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair

The Paris Flea Market Tour With The Antiques Diva

Paris’ Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, or the Paris Flea Market, is the stuff of legends. Its origins trace back to the late 19th century when rag-and-bone characters congregated near the city’s ports to sell flea-infested furniture and more. Today, the structures are permanent and fleas are thankfully no longer the issue—the real predicament lies in deftly maneuvering 14 sections spread over 750,000 square feet of what is considered the world’s largest antiques market. Everything from Louis XVI Empire-style furniture to Art Deco designs and tribal art line the maze of design-laden alleyways and stalls.

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Image courtesy of Paul Bert Serpette

Herein enters Europe’s biggest and most well known antiques touring company, The Antiques Diva & Co. The company specializes in helping you avoid the pitfalls of novice and seasoned antiques buyers alike. Local guides will pick you up at your hotel with a tour tailored to your needs. The guides will also serve as translators, negotiate prices, and liaise with a national shipper to get your purchases home safe. Still a bit wary? The company has been named as the only approved Antiques Tour Guide of Paul Bert Serpette—the Paris Flea Market’s flagship market and one of the most renowned. Toma Clark Haines, owner of The Antiques Diva, says: “It is one of the best places on earth to shop—if you know where to go. Our vendors know us, and when we come in we are given the real price, not the tourist price.” In the end though, she echoes the sentiments of many in the antique industry: “Buy what you love.”

Venice, Italy Tour with The Antiques Diva

When one thinks of Venice, antiques may not be what first come to mind. Instead, images of piazzas and bridges, cobble-stoned streets, the Basilica San Marco, Venetian glass, canals and gondolas, and passion above all loom large. But this otherworldly Italian city on the Adriatic Sea is home to historic palazzos and tucked-away shops full of treasures, though as anyone who has visited this enchanting city knows, it can be as frustrating at it is intriguing. There are two faces of Venice: One viewable to tourists and the other open to locals and their friends. This is where The Antiques Diva & Co. comes in. The local guides will take you through the labyrinthine networks of canals, alleys, bridges and islands and introduce you to dealers you will never find on your own. It’s a whole new Venice, and one where the enchantment of the experience truly does not get lost.

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Photos by Jose Manuel Alorda

The Antiques Diva herself, Toma Clark Haines, describes part of the tour: “Picture sitting on the Grand Canal in a gondola, shopping out of a palazzo. That is still one of the most romantic, surreal experiences of my life. I have to pinch myself every time I am there.” Romance aside, Venice was the epicenter of many artistic and cultural movements, specifically during the Renaissance period. Museum-quality paintings are therefore in abundance—and for decent prices considering the value. The city is also home to a wide variety of inspiring antique statuary and a cache of lighting Clark Haines describes as “phenomenal.” And while we wouldn’t expect anything less from the birthplace of the famous Baroque composer, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, the ornament and the filigree in the music is reflected in the jewelry.  

Sweden Country Tour with The Antiques Diva

Rolling hills, archipelagos, medieval towns, Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, ABBA, Stockholm—the list goes on and on. Mamma Mia, what more can you expect from a country? Well, Sweden also happens to be home to some of the most beautiful museum-quality period antiques around. Open almost any design magazine these days and you are bound to find a strategically placed piece of Swedish furniture. Between the classical proportions, pale palettes, and soothing textiles, Swedish antiques never cease to charm. Fairs such as the Malmo Decorative Fair are easy to attend on your own, but with The Antiques Diva & Co.’s Swedish guide, Daniel Larsson, you will have advance access to peruse the inventory before the fair even opens.

Six Unique Antiques Destinations and Exclusive Antiques Tours in Europe
Photo courtesy of Daniel Larsson for The Antiques Diva & Co.

Can’t make the fair’s dates? Larsson isn’t just your run-of-the-mill expert antiques guide—he also doubles as one of Sweden’s leading antiques dealers. He will give you a tour through Skåne & Sm åland—two gorgeous regions where many dealers’ trade-only warehouses are located. A journey through the picturesque countryside is just the beginning. Picture yourself arriving at a mansion or an old train-station-turned-antiques-warehouse. Or an out-of-the-way castle stocked to the brim with beautiful Gustavian or Empire pieces available to you at trade prices. The experience is wonderfully unique and a lucrative investment at that—the mark-up for Swedish antiques in the States is significantly higher since Sweden produced a limited number of true period pieces. Clark Haines admits: “A mother should never choose a favorite child. That being said, I would probably choose Sweden as my favorite tour.” Also, never be afraid to book a tour based on budget. According to Clark Haines: “Clients spend anywhere from 100 euros to a million euros. The point is to enjoy yourself!”

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