Taking the Plunge

Original art makes the house look great—but it’s oh so easy to get hooked along the way
Taking the Plunge
The Beren family (L-R: Karleigh, Margo, and Randall), who live in a Terra Linda Eichler, are seen here surrounded by their collection of brilliant red Marimekko fabrics that they've turned into wall art.

It can start as a whim, even a foolish whim—your first purchase of art, the start of a new life as an art collector.

That's how it was for Gary Sanders and her husband Bill. Driving past a warehouse in San Francisco's South of Market, the couple noticed an open door alongside several large landscapes, "like how they sell black velvet paintings today," says Gary, who lives in an Eichler in Palo Alto.

"You could get, quote, 'oil paintings,'" Gary says. "But they were really silk screens that they splattered paint on." The Sanders snapped up a picture of Liverpool. "It's schlock," Gary says, "but we've always liked it."

Hilary Somers, an art lover for years, made the plunge after coming into "a little bit of money" when her employer, Google, dispersed cash during its initial public offering. "I was feeling like I had this free money," Somers recalls. "It was exciting."

"I never thought I could buy art," she adds.

Stepping into Gallery House in Palo Alto, she spied a painting in blue by Sydell Lewis, a Sunnyvale artist who lives and paints in an Eichler. "I love it," Somers thought. "I'm going to buy it."

But it took a bit to get past sticker shock. She brought her husband to take a look. "He said, 'Yeah, okay, let's buy it.'"

Taking the Plunge
Taking the Plunge
Steve and Judy Lipson have filled their beautiful East Bay home with 20th century American prints, paintings, and sculpture.

Traveling is often what it takes to turn a normal person into an art collector. Judy Lipson was a natural-born collector, influenced positively by her mother, who collected limited-edition prints back in the 1950s.

But her husband Steve, influenced negatively by his dad, an obsessive stamp collector, says he thought of collections as "just a lot of stuff." Then, in Santa Fe, the Lipsons fell in love with a Native American pot. That was it.

Steve and Judy Lipson quickly turned their focus to 20th century American prints, paintings, and sculpture. They have given into their collection so much that, when they moved from the Chicago area to Berkeley, they had architect Regan Bice design a house specifically for artwork, with niches, indirect sky-lighting, and storage.

Collecting art can range from a light-hearted venture, bringing some color into the home, to an endeavor that takes over your life.

Uniting true collectors, however, is a personal relation to the art itself—not to the name of the artist, nor to the dollar value of the art, and certainly not to any anticipated growth in that value.

"It has to speak to me," Somers says of the art she buys. "I have to look at it every day and feel that I love it."

"All these works on paper," Judy Lipson says, "they draw us into them. Once we put the art up, it's not like it's there and I walk by it. I'm always walking up to something and looking at it. We look at them all the time."

Collectors also say that modern homes, overabundance of glass notwithstanding, make ideal art galleries, thanks to their good light, clean lines, and roominess.