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Collecting Art: Where to Begin and What to Know

From the Read the Stories from the Fall 2021 ABODE Magazine series
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Where do I find what I’m looking for? Can I mix contemporary pieces with traditional furnishings? How do I know if it’s good quality? How do I work with my existing collection?

These are a few of the questions clients ask Rachael Dolan and Marcia Moore. Both Dolan, a lead designer and interior architect with Mitchell Wall Architecture & Design, and Moore, owner and creative director of Marcia Moore Design, help clients create their ideal interiors, and selecting and displaying art are important parts of the process.

“Before we begin the design process, we always take existing art into account to make sure it has the proper location that fits within the flow of design,” Dolan says. “This way, everything comes together and doesn’t feel like an afterthought.”

While assessing existing pieces, Dolan keeps in mind that taste is completely subjective. She typically provides some preliminary pieces that work well with the overall design aesthetic and provide inspiration for the client. “[Providing those pieces] establishes guidelines so the client can look while on travels, or they have the option to purchase those preliminary pieces where they can feel confident that it goes with the design,” she says.

Moore takes a similar approach by gathering a selection of art, presenting it to clients along with information about the specific properties of each piece, and ensuring they understand what pieces work with their design and why. “Once we narrow down the choices, I will draft an elevation of the room with the art sized for the wall it will be on, so my client can visualize the space,” she says. Choosing frames is the final step.

In her years of helping people make artistic choices, Moore found that people might regret purchasing trendy items or art that they don’t really love, even if it fits a space or color scheme.

Art, she says, should be “timeless, and you absolutely need to love it.”

Dolan agrees. “Buy art that is meaningful to you,” she says.

“It will be a part of your daily life and should invoke a feeling, whether that be a fond memory or the cohesiveness of the overall palette. It doesn’t just have to be a particular color or style.” Also, she notes that art doesn’t always have to be a drawing or a painting – it could be a collection of pieces displayed in an artistic way.

Dolan adds that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to selecting pieces for a large, blank wall. She emphasizes the importance of proper spacing and “breathing room” – not simply choosing something that will cover the space. “Sometimes, when there is too much art within a room, it can take away from a special vignette or moment,” Dolan says. “Not every wall needs a piece. Negative space is just as important as the art being displayed.”

Moore points out that art is so personal, rules don’t really apply. She does recommend learning about the different genres of art and researching the type of art that is most appealing in order to understand what separates quality art from lesser pieces.

“So many different pieces will work in one space – one large piece, a grouping, contemporary, traditional, real art or prints – the sky’s the limit,” Moore says. “My two hard-and-fast rules are you need to love it, and framing is critical. The perfect frame will make an inexpensive print look like a masterpiece, or the wrong frame can make a masterpiece look like a cheap print. Framing makes the art sing!”

The bottom line, both designers agree, is that each piece of art in your collection should make you feel good when you see it each day – and only you can be the judge of that.

Marcia Moore Design, 7404 Bland Drive, St. Louis, 314-395-1114,

Mitchell Wall Architecture & Design, 2 The Pines Court, Chesterfield, 314-576-5888,

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Connie, a native of St. Charles and graduate of the MU School of Journalism, is a freelance writer and editor who contributes to print and online publications for clients throughout the region. She enjoys travel, hiking, kayaking and drinking good coffee

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