Portfolio: Paul Wiseman

  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    A home in Hawaii that Wiseman worked on with the architect Mark de Reus Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    A home in Hawaii that Wiseman worked on with the architect Mark de Reus Photo by Matthew Millman
  • A late-1990s collaboration in Hawaii between the designer and the late architect Ricardo Legorreta
  • A ranch near Sacramento, Calif., that Wiseman decorated for his childhood best friend
  • A ranch near Sacramento, Calif., that Wiseman decorated for his childhood best friend
  • The clubhouse at the Nanea Golf Club
  • The clubhouse at the Nanea Golf Club
  • The clubhouse at the Nanea Golf Club
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    A Napa Valley retreat’s living room Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    A closet—with 1920s metalwork, custom hardware, and mother-of-pearl and silver-cast glass-mirrored walls—that Wiseman designed with Linda London for a Tudor-style home in California Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    A library in the same Tudor-style property, which is inspired by a traditional Syrie Maugham–decorated English manor house Photo by Matthew Millman
  • The dining room (with antique Indonesian pendant lamps) of a Wiseman-designed Hawaii home
  • The dining room (with antique Indonesian pendant lamps) of a Wiseman-designed Hawaii home
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    The living room of a 1,000-square-foot, Moroccan-influenced pied-à-terre in San Francisco Photo by Matthew Millman
  • A client’s car collection, which occupies the bottom floor of a traditional Victorian home in San Francisco
  • The same San Francisco home’s upstairs library, which mixes a modern Ellsworth Kelly painting and antiques from Europe and Asia
  • The same San Francisco home’s upstairs library, which mixes a modern Ellsworth Kelly painting and antiques from Europe and Asia
  • The dining room, with red-lacquered walls, of a 1930s Atherton, Calif., home, for a client who Wiseman says likes “hot colors”
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    Wiseman at the late designer Russel Wright’s former country house, which is now a museum, in Garrison, N.Y. Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Amanjiwo
  • Photo by Ben Diep
    Ty Warner Penthouse at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Photo by Ben Diep
  • Clothing by Ermenegildo Zegna
  • Vintage Home
  • Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot
    A set from Star Trek Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot
  • Photo by David Dewhurst
    Tesla Model S Photo by David Dewhurst
  • Domaine Drouhin
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
    Wiseman’s mineral collection Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Cartier’s Tank Française
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
  • Photo by Ben Diep
  • Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot
  • Photo by David Dewhurst
  • Photo by Matthew Millman
<< Back to Home & Style, September 2013
  • Samantha Brooks

During his more than 30 years as an interior designer, Paul Wiseman has witnessed shifts in the economy, in styles, and, most of all, in the way the design world functions. “When I first started out, at the age of 27, interior design was mostly a housewife-decorator world,” says Wiseman. “So much has changed today. Everything is more professional, and the amount [of information] that people have direct access to now makes clients so much more excited to get involved, which is important to me. I love the process as much as I love the finished product.” While he works largely in the San Francisco Bay Area—his firm, the Wiseman Group, is located in the city—Wiseman’s projects also draw him afield. In Hawaii he has completed 25 homes, and his accomplishments elsewhere show that he is as adept at adorning Fifth Avenue penthouses as he is at decorating Montana ranch houses. Ultimately, his collaborations with top architects create bespoke works of art. Robb Report Home & Style recently sat down with Wiseman and asked him, among other questions, how he has continued to prosper year after year. [Samantha Brooks]

To what do you attribute your ongoing success?
Having a clear contract is key. A lot of designers go out of business because of details. Most of my clients are on the Fortune 500 list—they’re smart—and my contracts are 18 pages. Once we get the business part out of the way, we can focus on the creative process, which is the fun part, instead of worrying about vague verbal agreements.

What is unique about working in the Bay Area?
There’s a lot of young tech money. I see a lot of people in their 20s who buy a McMansion and want it decorated in five days, then they wonder why it doesn’t look good. They’re smart, but they don’t know what style is yet, so you end up working a bit harder to figure out their tastes.

Where do your design influences come from?
After high school, I traveled Europe. In college, I studied in Australia for a year and then did Asia. After college, I moved to Paris and worked in the antiques business. Those experiences have given me a lot of visual exposure, but I also made the effort to learn the history behind the furnishings and art I saw. It’s helped me know how to adapt and blend styles to create looks that are specific to the client.

You focus mostly on residences, rather than, say, a furniture line or commercial work. Why?
I’m more interested in my relationship with the client than I am in branding myself or building an empire. I don’t like when the bottom line is the money instead of the look. I love quality and uniqueness—commercial work isn’t really about that.

Peace by Piece
For Wiseman, enjoyment comes from creating his own furnishings for a project, then retiring the designs and never using them again. “A typical project features about 50 percent custom pieces,” he says. “I also like working with people like designers Rose Tarlow and Holly Hunt, to custom-tailor their pieces specifically for the client, and using antiques whenever I can.”

Life’s a Beach
“A vacation home should be totally different from a main home—much more enjoyable—since your time there is limited,” says Wiseman. “I love to push my clients to take risks in a vacation property, whether it’s a beach house in Hawaii or a city escape in San Francisco.”

Home Grown
The clubhouse at the Nanea Golf Club on the Big Island was not a typical job for Wiseman. “Technically, it’s a commercial project—my only one, really—but it’s owned by two of my residential clients, so it felt like I was doing a private home,” he says. For a Napa Valley retreat’s living room, he chose contemporary furnishings, a Dale Chihuly chandelier, and 1,500-year-old Tang vases.

Something Old, Something New
Wiseman describes most of his work in the Bay Area as a mix of contemporary and historically referenced styles. “People here tend to be conservative in style, although they’re quite liberal in other ways,” he says. “Most of my clients are very international and don’t want a formal or overly fancy home they can’t be comfortable in. My work has a kind of sophisticated simplicity to it.”

PAUL WISEMAN’S TOP 10
Resort: I love all of the Aman properties, but Amanjiwo, which translates to “peaceful soul,” overlooks Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist sanctuary, in the rural heartland of Central Java. This one is like a religious experience, especially when you ride an elephant back from watching the sunrise at Borobodur. ❖ Car: I drive a Prius, but there are so many eco-friendly cars right now. I’m longing for the four-door Tesla. ❖ Clothes: My shirts are by Turnbull & Asser; almost everything else is Zegna. ❖ Set Design: My dear friend Scott Chambliss created the last two Star Trek sets, and I love them. He’s updated the franchise in the right way. ❖ Hotel for Business: The Four Seasons Hotel New York. ❖ Wine: Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Shopping: Vintage Home in St. Helena, California, followed by dinner at Don Giovanni makes for a perfect shopping day. ❖ Watch: Cartier—as simple as possible. I wear the Tank Française. ❖ Souvenirs from Abroad: Minerals. I collect them, and it’s great to buy a specimen piece wherever I go. ❖ Neighborhood Restaurants: I live in San Francisco, and Cotogna is a great dinner house in Jackson Square. For breakfast and lunch, Out the Door—at the intersection of Bush and Fillmore—is my go-to place.
The Wiseman Group, 415.282.2880, www.wisemangroup.com [S.B.]

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