Build an expressive art collection with decorator Stan Topol’s 7 tips

“You have to go see art in person. Don’t just look at it on your phone.”
Stan Topol
Topol with lithographs by Larry Rivers (on floor) and Willem de Kooning

Photograph by Erica George Dines

From his days as an art student, when actress Joan Crawford presented him with a National Watercolor Show award, to his time spent working for New York design legend Billy Baldwin, who once entrusted his young protégé with hanging a client’s priceless Francisco Goya, Atlanta decorator Stan Topol has spent his life steeped in art.

His personal favorites include midcentury abstract expressionists like Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Theodoros Stamos. “Art makes me feel at peace with myself,” says Topol, who credits his artistic training with honing his skills as a decorator. It’s a duality that has earned him a well-heeled and loyal clientele, who seek his expertise in both the art of fine living and living with fine art. Here, the decorator shares his tips on building and displaying a collection.

Where to begin
If you’re a novice collector, start by doing your homework, advises Topol. “When you’re educated,” says the decorator, “your eye tells you things.” A former art history teacher, he recommends reading related magazines and books such as History of Art by H.W. Janson. He also suggests visiting galleries and museums. “You have to go see art in person,” he stresses. “Don’t just look at it on your phone.”

Think quality, not quantity
“Buy two or three good pieces, no matter what,” urges the decorator. Remember, these acquisitions can be smart investments.

Consider multiples
If your budget is restrictive, Topol suggests purchasing artists’ multiples, such as limited edition prints. Typically more affordable than one-offs, these tend to hold their value, too. “They’ll certainly be worth more than that sofa from Rooms to Go,” he adds.

Plan ahead
If you’re decorating a room where art will be displayed, provide for future purchases by sketching the room and determining where art will be hung. You can fill in the blanks as budget allows.

Let it breathe
A grouping that is hung en masse needs enough negative, or blank, space between pieces to be visually interesting. Topol recommends giving each work some breathing room, but not so much that elements appear isolated. Remember that a gallery wall is a composition in itself.

Simple is best
When it comes to framing modern or contemporary art, Topol believes less is more. Simple frames are always a safe choice, as are neutral or white mats, preferably cut with a bevel edge. And if the piece is small, don’t exaggerate the size of the mat unless the piece is important enough to warrant extra attention.

Don’t forget lighting
Like people, art needs proper lighting to look its best. Topol recommends a combination of recessed and picture lights, both of which focus their beams directly onto works of art. The decorator is particularly fond of using picture lights above art in powder rooms, where they cast a more flattering glow than overhead lighting, which can be harsh in small spaces.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2017 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.