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.”
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.]