Catching the Art Bug

Words by Sheri Baer

Photos by Annie Barnett and Andy Freeberg

Words by Sheri Baer

It’s not a necessity. It’s a luxury. It’s not a need to have. It’s a want to have. That being said, Stephanie Breitbard and Evie Simon work toward one goal: connecting clients with art that they will love and want to live with for a lifetime.

“Everyone works hard and what are you going to spend your hard-earned income on? Is it vacations with your kids? Is it beautifying your home?” questions Stephanie. From the perspective of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, immeasurable satisfaction can be found in finding pieces of art that speak to you.

“I tell clients that it’s your personality on the wall and each piece can describe a different aspect of who you are,” Stephanie explains. “It all works sort of synergistically to create this dialogue and environment within the home that affects your daily mood—it’s happy vibes coming at you or intriguing vibes or conversational vibes or whatever you want it to be.”

After growing up in Marin and attending college and business school on the East Coast, Stephanie ventured into finance, marketing and fashion apparel retailing. She caught the art bug from her husband, who comes from a family of collectors, and together they embraced the building of their own collection, mostly works by local SF Bay Area artists. Stephanie’s eye for visual aesthetics drew notice—and she began to dabble in art consulting. “Friends would come into our home and enjoy the art that we had, and so it started organically, just helping friends acquire art for their own homes,” she says. The tipping point came in 2007. “I finally made the decision to switch into the fine arts as a full-blown career.”

Meanwhile, Evie started out on the East Coast and looks back on herself as an English major who should have been an art history major. Sharing her family’s passion for museums, she studied abroad in Italy, and throughout non-profit, sales and illustration work, she always maintained touchpoints—whether it was the Art Institute of Chicago or the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—with art.

Three children each. Both living in Marin. Stephanie starts to build her art consulting business, and the two connect through their kids. “When I met Stephanie, she said, ‘You have a passion, I can see that. If you want to try this, let’s see what we can do together,’” recounts Evie. “It was a very untraditional way to enter into this career. Because we didn’t have a lot of rules around how we were going to operate, we were able to get really creative.”

Stephanie nods in agreement. “We still don’t!” she adds. “I think that’s reflective of our business, which is very atypical—very much a disrupter in the art category. We just continue to invent and reinvent our own unique service model to art acquisition in the home.”

Initially operating out of Stephanie’s home in Mill Valley—with walls and two added-on gallery spaces displaying artwork on consignment—Stephanie and Evie took the next leap in 2015, partnering to open their first retail gallery space in San Francisco. Calling it Simon Breitbard Fine Arts (SBFA), they honed in on a target market they felt wasn’t being adequately served.

“This area is very unique in that it has a lot of people who are new to the income levels that they’re enjoying through tech and finance and may have lovely new homes and not a lot of experience or knowledge in the art world,” observes Stephanie. “Our gallery space is always reflective of this need for clients to explore and really discover their own tastes and even what kind of art they like.”

While a traditional gallery might rotate through a series of four- to six-week solo or two-artist shows, SBFA exclusively represents over 100 artists—specializing in contemporary fine art from emerging to mid-career—spanning photography, painting, mixed media, sculpture and works on paper. Stephanie and Evie are always scouting new talent, whether they’re attending Art Basel in Miami or responding to an email introduction or referral. “Are they good at what they do? Are they unique? What is exciting and new and different from other art that we’ve seen?” is how Evie summarizes the evaluation process.

“We like to have a diverse collection because you don’t want your home to be curated with a single note or single style or genre or medium.”

A typical engagement starts with a visit to a client’s home to take photos and measurements, followed by an SBFA gallery visit to spark the process of discovery. “People will come in with every wall empty in their big homes and they are just sort of paralyzed,” relates Stephanie. “We always say, ‘What do you like? What are you drawn to? Let’s just look. Let’s see what you fall in love with and start from there.’”

Next comes Photoshop mock-ups blending favorite pieces with different options for placement, leading to actual works being brought in for in-home viewing—with delivery and installation all included. “We want to make sure they love it, see it at night, in different lights,” says Evie. “The only way to feel confident in your choices is if it comes from you—if it’s your own reaction.”

That need to foster a personal connection is what prompted Stephanie and Evie to further expand. Recognizing that half of their clients live on the Peninsula, they opened up a Menlo Park gallery in 2019. “Our clients don’t have a lot of time to see art or come up to our gallery in San Francisco,” comments Stephanie. “Our success in finding out what our clients like goes up dramatically if we get them into the gallery, so we realized that we needed to have a location down here.”

SBFA’s two galleries both convey the feel of a well-decorated home with eclectic furniture, vibrant colors and wallpaper. And while artists may not get the resume-builder of a solo exhibit, they enjoy the benefit of steady exposure—which Stephanie says maps to a dual goal: “Making clients happy in these beautiful home environments and making artists happy by allowing them to make a living at what they love to do.”

Stephanie and Evie say clients typically spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for quality, original works of art, 4’x4’ or bigger. And they emphasize that the most difficult hurdle is making that first selection. “Once they get over that hump with all this pressure on the first piece, they start relaxing into it and enjoying the process of discovering the artists and buying artwork,” Stephanie says.

Evie advises to look at art collecting as an evolving process: “To me, as your collection grows, it shows the diversity of what you’re caring about and sort of an arc of your taste. Art is this amazing way of reflecting your own visual aesthetics—it’s a timeline of the history of your family and your life.

After capturing museums, galleries and art fairs, art world photographer Andy Freeberg turned his focus to art in the home—as seen through the lens of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts. Photographing Stephanie and Evie in action over the past four years, Freeberg will wrap up the project in 2020. “The series has become a documentary of the acquisition of art in this part of the world, especially Silicon Valley, and all that is happening in the homes around us as we come in to hang art,” notes Stephanie. View more images at