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The Art Consultant Is In: Advice on Decorating Walls

Art consultant Allison Marvin at her home in Chevy Chase. The abstract works above the fireplace, both titled "Groove Box," are two in a series painted by her father, Gary Cohen, in the late 1960s. Marvin suggests visiting museums and galleries to develop your taste in art.
Art consultant Allison Marvin at her home in Chevy Chase. The abstract works above the fireplace, both titled "Groove Box," are two in a series painted by her father, Gary Cohen, in the late 1960s. Marvin suggests visiting museums and galleries to develop your taste in art. (By Evy Mages For The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

When it comes to decorating, one of the most challenging tasks is figuring out what to do with a bare wall.

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Allison Marvin has made a career out of helping people do just that. She is the founder of Sightline (http://www.sightline.biz), an art consulting business started in 2004. Marvin works with clients across the country, helping them navigate the art world and offering guidance on buying works for their homes and offices. She also leads tours of art spaces and introduces beginning and seasoned collectors to galleries and dealers.

Marvin is aware that not everyone is interested in being a serious art collector. Some folks simply want to fill their empty walls. For those with neither the time, budget nor inclination to start a collection, she still recommends buying something original, which, she says, isn't as difficult to find or as cost-prohibitive as you might think.

"Student work is going to be the least expensive," she advises. "Check with local universities to see if they have open studio days. You can get something original, and you're supporting a young artist, which is a nice thing."

Growing up around an artistic family (her mother was an art writer, her father a painter), Marvin, 37, says she always knew she wanted to work in the art world. After studying art in college, she attended law school and then practiced at a D.C. firm, gaining expertise in intellectual property, contracts and licensing. Four and a half years later, she left the firm to simultaneously start Sightline and her own law practice, focusing on art-related law. Today, she runs both businesses out of her Chevy Chase home, where she lives with her husband, a 1-year-old son and a growing collection of national and international paintings and photographs.

Marvin recently spoke to us from her home office about collecting, hanging and framing art, and where to go to find it in the first place.

What advice would you offer someone looking for art for their homes?

I would encourage people to take their time. If that means allowing the time to budget and save the money to put towards a piece, then do it.

I also suggest they resist purchasing several smaller, lower-value pieces and wait for one larger piece when they can afford it and when they find a piece that really sings to them. If a smaller piece is less expensive but it's not something that's grabbing you, exercise patience. Typically, you want to go with the big pieces that really stand out. It's hard to resist buying, but while you continue to look, you're learning about yourself and learning about what you like. Buying artwork shouldn't be about filling a certain space on a wall or about the price. When you find the right piece, it should provoke a guttural response.

How do you figure out your own personal taste in art?


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