Paul Wiseman’s iconic design firm, The Wiseman Group was founded in 1980, just two years before the founding of The San Francisco Fall Show. And he has been an avid supporter throughout the show’s 38-year history. His whole team arrives to preview the show each year and I have watched Paul take them on his own personal guided tour, chatting with dealers and locating treasures. So it was an honor to have The Wiseman Group create a Designer Vignette for the Grand Entry of 2018 Show. Wiseman chose “Stars” as the focus for the vignette, from that year’s theme, The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars. Not surprisingly, the celestial imagery incorporated into the display, through a combination of surrealist works by American artist and filmmaker Joseph Cornell and custom wallpaper designed in collaboration with de Gournay, offered a sparkling deep blue night sky with an otherworldly aura.
I chatted by phone with Wiseman from his home in Belvedere, CA, and asked about how he brings design into his own home and what turns a house into a retreat. “When people of all walks of life can be comfortable in your home, when the owner of the home has things that are very personal—things that make you real,” he says. Wiseman has an affinity for unique objects, antiques, and art “pieces that have soul-even if you don’t know what you are looking at.” But he doesn’t have a favourite piece. “Each piece is from a different realm of beauty,” he says. “I view all my objects as some aspect of myself. They caught my eye and gave me pleasure. My home is my sacred temple.” When pressed, however, he was able to name four pieces that bring him joy:
A William Kentridge wall sculpture. “It is so much about shadow and dark and light, it’s made of black steel, is 5’ tall x 4’ wide and looks like a calligraphy stroke,” says Wiseman.
“A period Ming lacquered scholar’s desk that I use as a coffee table in my living room” and a Han Dynasty 3-footed vessel. “It looks quite contemporary” he shares, “but it is 2-3,000 years old.” If it looks familiar, you may have seen it on the cover of Wiseman’s design book Inner Spaces (Gibbs Smith 2014)
An opalized ammonite. “It’s the second largest in the world,” he shares (The Smithsonian has the largest). “It is 80 million years old and changes colors when you pass by it: green to red to orange.”
Wiseman has been working on his home in Belvedere for 20 years. “I’ve created a summer house environment. The staff is surly,” he jokes, “Spa Belvedere.” But he has created an oasis. “I have a 100-year old arbor, I’ve created an herb garden and a Bali Bed with pillows and cushions. I love going down there. I have a pair of 2nd-century Roman busts and they sit there between the columns, looking down on the bed. It’s heaven, it is its own world. I sit and watch the water and the boats.”
Color is important to Wiseman. “I was born and raised in California. The greens and golds of our landscape have always resonated with me. I appreciate so many other colors—nature shows you colors that you never thought could work together. I collect Wedgwood, I love the color. I bought three pieces from Bill Blass’s collection and sent them to Peru with Sandra Jordan (of Sandra Jordan Prima Alpaca) and she made me an Alpaca textile in that color.”
During this time of quarantine, I asked Wiseman how he is creating a space to separate work from personal life. “My home and garden is my workspace,” he says. “Even at my office, I don’t have a desk, I have a chaise.” And what is the thing he is indulging in during the pandemic that he normally doesn’t allow himself? “Baking! I’ve done three bread puddings with bourbon, raisins, brown sugar, pecans, and vanilla. I have leftovers for breakfast. Yesterday I baked Martha Stewart’s Meyer Lemon Upside Down cake. Instead of flour, you use ground almonds.”
I’d call that Home SWEET home.
By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat