California native Kendall Wilkinson has spent over two decades creating beautiful spaces for both residential and commercial clients. Her sensibility is rooted in classical design, often creating authentic period looks or mixing modern pieces with older gems. Wilkinson has become one of the most sought-after interior designers and her projects span the globe. Her collection for Fabricut, launched Spring 2016, features indoor/outdoor fabrics in a sophisticated mix of neutrals, bold colors, and innovative patterns.
In 2017, the San Francisco Fall Show invited Wilkinson to create a Designer Vignette for that year’s Flower Power theme. Each of the four designers that year was given a season on which to focus their vignette, and Wilkinson’s was Autumn. She dubbed it ‘The Secret Garden’ and it remains a favorite Show memory for her. “It was inspired by a Valentino dress and our amazing partners, de Gournay,” she shared. “They hand -painted and hand-beaded a floral motif onto an iridescent silk wallpaper in autumnal colors resulting in the most exquisite wall covering. We also incorporated wonderfully crusty stone garden elements from (Fall Show dealer) Finnegan Gallery in Chicago.” I chatted with Wilkinson about running her design firm from home, and how the lockdown has affected her business, her clients and her family life.
‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette by Kendall Wilkinson for the Flower Power theme at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show. Custom hand-painted wall paper by de Gournay. Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
When the lockdown started, Wilkinson and her sons stayed close to her office, in their home in the Sea Cliff neighbourhood of San Francisco. “The boys still had virtual school to attend”, she shared. “My senior team and I had to piece a plan together to organize my entire staff to work from home. Once school finished, and ‘work-from-home’ became our new normal, we relocated to Stinson Beach close to where I was born and raised. The light, patterns, and nature of this magical place served as inspiration for my fabric collections, and I have realized they continue to inspire my color choices to this day.”
Living Room in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
In Wilkinson’s view, memories make a home: “a house is a physical structure, a tangible edifice that is cold and empty.” She believes. “A home is when the house is filled with love, living life, and its inhabitants’ vitality. It’s the culmination of memories–photographs of trips taken, of children growing up, and trails of everyday life. Special pieces that pass on from generation to generation, gifts received, or the art and objects collected over time create a sense of home, belonging, and sentiment!” Her favourite piece is a photograph. “My dear friend Barbara Vaughn captured an exquisite reflection image in Sausalito, titled “Kyrtotis” and hung prominently in my living room, she says. ‘I often sit watching the fire, reading and catching a view of my absolute favourite piece in my home.”
Barbara Vaughn photograph, “Kyrtotis” in Kendall Wilkinson’s Living Room Photo by Bill Reitzel
While the lockdown has turned everyone’s lives on end, Wilkinson has found a silver lining. “I have enjoyed observing and interacting with my teenage sons during quarantine in a way that working in the office, going to events, and traveling for projects just didn’t allow me to see day-to-day. The constant companionship of my boys and seeing how they have grown in subtle and overt ways brings me endless joy.” But sharing a house with teenagers does have it’s hurdles “ When school was in session, my house was rotating musical chairs – some days, one of my boys would be at my desk in my “office” located in my upstairs library, and I was relegated to using my laptop on the dining room table. Other days we flipped and sometimes worked on our laptops at the kitchen counter. It all depended on the day! She laughs. “Funny enough, I was the one who had to be utterly nomadic about finding a work spot–sidebar”, she adds—”I have now found my dining room chairs to be terribly uncomfortable and will definitely be needing to find new ones soon- hopefully I’ll be able to purchase them when the antique show comes next year!”
With all the chaos of three people working and home schooling together, Wilkinson retreats to her private space. “not many people know”, she reveals, “but I have a home sanctuary filled with meditative elements, a Moroccan prayer rug, and incense. No one else, not even my beloved pup Biscuit is allowed here. It is the definition of calming and quiet!”
Kitchen in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
The isolation of the past several months has changed us all. For interior designers, it is an interesting time as clients are spending so much time at home, and many of us are looking at our homes in a new way, and thinking about how we use our homes and what’s important to us. Wilkinson concurs, “my clients are now far more involved with the details than they were in the past,” she shares. “The extra time has allowed them to be more curious and engaged in the actual business and logistics of design and why we make certain decisions. There is a more inquisitive approach. Hopefully, that means a greater appreciation for what we do and the service we provide.” Kendall Wilkinson Design has always prioritised comfort above form and for current clients she says “they are now fully experiencing their homes and what we designed and created for them. I think they are developing more appreciation for the details and the comfort.”
Library in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
Working from home has not slowed Wilkinson down, or opened up her schedule. “My days have been even more consumed than they were pre-COVID. I am on at least 6-8 hours a day of Zoom calls with my team, clients, and vendors before any actual “work” gets done,” she says.
Design is such a collaborative and hands on creative process and that has been the most difficult part of the quarantine for her: “I have missed my team’s interaction, being in the office with them, working with them, and the time spent in my office creating and designing. I also miss site visits and installations, sounds crazy, but even travel! And most of all, the broader design community and my industry friends.”
Kendall Wilkinson with Hannah Cecil Gurney of de Gournay posing in front of ‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
Hand painted Amazonia Chinoiserie wallpaper on Pink xuan paper. Photo by Mariam Medvedeva
Walking into a room lined with de Gournay paper is like walking into a painting. This is no mere wallpaper, but rather, exquisitely rendered, custom created scenes that draw you into another world. Claud Cecil Gurney founded de Gournay almost 40 years ago and today it is widely known as the world’s most beautiful hand-painted wallpapers. Every inch of de Gournay paper is painted by skilled artists and artisans, every project a work of art. Their collections cover a breathtaking range: the exotic and flamboyant, Chinoiserie, the stunning block-print-style panoramics of the Scenic Collection, the striking, delicate Japanese & Korean Collection, the graphic and floral patterns of the Eclectic Collection, and the abstract and ornate designs inspired by the decorative movements of 20th century art found in the Diaghilev Collection, among others.
‘Erdem’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Adam Grey dyed silk. Photo Sarah Piantadosi
I recently chatted with Claud’s daughters, Rachel Cecil Gurney and Hannah Cecil Gurney about the company, the creation and production process and what sets de Gournay apart.
Ariane: This is very much a family business, can you share how you all work together and what your roles are?
Hannah: My father started the company in 1982 with his nephew, my cousin, Dominic Evans-Freke, so I grew up surrounded by walls filled with designs and colour as the brand grew. My sister, Rachel started working with my father after university and I followed shortly after. My father remains involved in every aspect of the company, and Dominic too, who oversees our production. It’s lovely to be able to work so closely with my family despite the odd and inevitable disagreement!
Rachel: My father is the one with boundless energy even at 70 so funnily enough he is the one who constantly looks to develop new fields in the business and has recently set up our embroidery studio in India offering stunning hand embroidered fabrics. He is also the one opening new showrooms around the world, the latest one in Beirut, an exciting cultural melting pot of creativity. He loves travelling and meeting people. My cousin manages the production in our studio near Shanghai and helped my father set up the studio back in the 1980’s so he oversees all the detail and has a huge depth of knowledge in all the technical side of things. My sister handles PR & marketing and is always dreaming up a new collaboration or looking for inspiration for a new design. I manage worldwide sales so am constantly in touch with all our showrooms worldwide about their projects and trying to keep all our clients happy!
‘St. Laurent’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Edo painted xuan India Tea Paper Interior by Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Photo by James McDonald
For our Chinoiserie collection we look back to iconic 18th century rooms such as Yves Saint Laurent’s drawing room or Pauline de Rotshchilds’s bedroom and try to recreate the depth, beauty and aged feel of the original papers.
Detail of image above
Ariane: What is the process for developing a new wallpaper design? Where does the inspiration come from?
Hannah: We’re always looking for ways to develop our collections and create new designs. Inspiration can come from anywhere – the world around you, art, books, history, that’s the beauty of creating something from scratch – there are limitless sources to be inspired by. As well as creating new designs, some of our wallpapers are based on beautiful originals, which can be found in grand English houses or taken from ancient Chinese scrolls.
Rachel: Our more traditional wallpapers tend to be reproductions of original designs. For our Chinoiserie collection we look back to iconic 18th century rooms such as Yves Saint Laurent’s drawing room or Pauline de Rotshchilds’s bedroom and try to recreate the depth, beauty and aged feel of the original papers. Our Papiers Peints Panoramiques collection refers back to 19th century hand block printed wallpaper but we hand paint in this style giving much more flexibility for the client to customize colours and tailor the design to fit the space. Our Japanese & Korean collection is inspired by works of art from the Edo period such as kimonos and screens. Some designs are developed as a result of a collaboration such as our whimsical English garden re-interpretation of a Chinoiserie with Erdem, our tropical Chinoiserie design with monkeys and toucans inspired by the Amazon developed with Aquazurra or our Anemones in Light wallpaper inspired by Kate Moss’s favourite flower and reflecting her more modern aesthetic.
‘Fishes’ hand painted wallpaper with hand embroidered beaded embellishment on Tarnished Silver gilded silk
Ariane: What materials are used in your wallpaper design? What sets it apart from other wallpapers?
Hannah: Our range of finishes and grounds are what makes de Gournay wallpapers special. We’ve spent a great deal of time developing these over the years by studying various techniques and materials used around the world, particularly from China, which is renowned for producing the most stunning hand painted porcelain & murals. Our wallpaper grounds play a large role in the overall effect of the wallpaper. For example, ‘Williamsburg’ is a finish with an antique feel to it, whereas Metallic silk is a far more contemporary finish which plays with the light. We also have finishes such as pearlescent antiquing, beading and embroidery which, as a final flourish, has the ability to turn the wallpaper into something mesmerizing.
Rachel: The wallpaper is usually made of painted Xuan “rice” paper or a paper-backed silk onto which the design is painted. The background is typically painted in gouache, and then the design is meticulously painted on using watercolour. Every detail and element of the design is first outlined in pencil — so if you look very closely at any of de Gournay’s wallpaper, you’ll see the pencil marks, which is obviously a sign that it’s handmade.
‘Houghton’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper in Rose design colours on Williamsburg
Ariane: How long does it take from idea to completed product?
Hannah: The time varies relative to the complexity of the design, the size of the project and the client. We work very closely with our clients from start to finish to ensure they are truly satisfied with their finished product but of course, minds can change! Once the order has been confirmed then the time frame for production starts at around 3 months.
Rachel: There’s always a team of artists — generally about six to ten people — working on one order. An average panel is about 90cm wide and about 2.5 metres high. It takes around 150 hours for six artists to produce one panel. Most of our designs are about 20 panels, so a full order can take anywhere from three to six months — longer if there are bespoke elements. I think a lot of people, when they see the wallpaper, think, “Oh, it’s printed.” They don’t realise that it’s all painted by hand.
‘Wisteria’ design hand embroidered upon Almost Mauve dyed silk
Ariane: Where is your wallpaper produced? And has production slowed or changed during the pandemic?
Hannah: We have a team of incredibly skilled artists based in a studio just outside Shanghai where all of our wallpapers are hand painted. As well as the painting studio, we also have a team of designers based in our London showroom, who play a vital role in the development of new designs and ongoing client projects. Our painting studio in Shanghai went into lockdown before the UK and was back up and running whilst we were still in the thick of lockdown so I’m please to say we have been able to keep orders in production despite the expected slight lull in the middle. In spite of this, lockdown provided a good opportunity for our designers to work on a lot of in house projects so we’ve certainly stayed busy.
Rachel: There are still artisans on the mainland using the original wallpaper-making techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. My father’s idea when he set up de Gournay was to bring these chinoiserie wallpapers back into European homes, and to produce them in the same way as they were originally made. Our production ironically enough was not affected by the pandemic as we are based in China and they recovered the most quickly from the pandemic so we were only closed for a few weeks. Unlike many other suppliers clients did not have to experience any significant delays to their orders.
‘Anemones in Light’ hand painted wallpaper in Dusk design colours on painted xuan paper. Designed with Kate Moss. Photo by Simon Brown
Ariane: How does wallpaper change a room?
Hannah: I love how wallpaper holds the ability to be able to transport oneself. I have our Flamingo’s design in my bathroom and I always look forward to the evening when I can slip into the bath and be carried to a watery land full of gossiping pink birds! There’s something special about a wallpaper which draws you in so you can’t resist the temptation to be lured in to inspect the finer details.
Rachel: It transforms a room bringing life and colour to it and lifting your mood. It is a window onto another world, stepping into a fantastical ‘Narnia’ like landscape.
‘Flamingos’ hand painted scenic wallpaper on Sterling Silver gilded xuan paper with Yellow ombré effect. Photo by Douglas Friedman
Ariane: You’ve been collaborating with the Fall Show for 5 years. What are some good memories, your favourite show theme?
Hannah: The theme which stayed with me was ‘Animalia’ in 2016, it was so playful! The show is truly special to me as it brings together the most amazing group of antiques dealers all under one roof, each with a perfectly curated exhibit of products to pour over. I love that every exhibitor goes the extra mile to make their stand a masterpiece, decorated beautifully and full of inspiring vignettes.
Rachel: We love the show and look forward to it every year. There is always such a buzz around it and everyone gets dressed up which I know is unusual for San Francisco! My father is an avid collector of antiques and is always on the lookout for new pieces for our showroom. I loved the year where the theme was ‘Flower Power’ as each designer had a different season so there was a very different feel to each vignette. Last year there was an incredible Mexican red lacquer cabinet which stood out amongst the other pieces.
Designer Vignettes at the San Francisco Fall Show Custom wallpapers by de Gournay in collaboration with the designers Clockwise from top left by: Faux Bois hand embroidered Moire by Alessandra Branca (2019, Wanderlust), Zodiac hand painted wallpaper with embroidery by Ken Fulk (2018, The Sun, the Moon & The Stars), Ferns hand painted wallpaper by Veere Grenney (2019, Wanderlust), Dancing Arucaria hand painted wallpaper by Geoffrey De Sousa (2015, Time After Time) Photos by Drew Altizer Photography
Ariane: Let’s get practical. What should one think about before adding wallpaper to a room?
Hannah: It’s certainly important to take into account the practical aspects of a room – like light and purpose, but don’t let this make you feel like you can’t be adventurous. As I mentioned, my house is covered in de Gournay wallpaper, so I believe each wall should receive attention, no matter where it is. That’s no means to say you should have an bold and colourful design in every room and corridor, even if it’s just a beautiful silk wallpaper in a soft hue, this still makes a difference as it adds texture and interest.
‘African Savannah’ hand painted scenic wallpaper in monochromatic design colours Photo by Douglas Friedman
Ariane: What are important considerations when selecting a wallpaper design?
Hannah: I think it’s important to gather your feelings about what you want to experience from a finished space. Perhaps you want to walk in and feel instantly calm, or maybe you want to be transported to a far land filled with beautiful birds and verdant vistas. Once you have established this, you will be able to guide your mind towards the right design. Although I must admit, there is so much to choose from so this can often be very tricky. My house is covered head to toe in de Gournay wallpapers, it’s mad! But I’m delighted with how it all works together, and this is because I trusted in the process, there’s my tip!
Rachel: The design needs to suit the aesthetic of the house so for example in a Georgian property interior, I would recommend one of our historic Chinoiserie designs, garden scenes of Chinese birds and flowers, hand painted onto an aged handmade rice ‘Xuan’ paper, which are the most faithful reproductions of originals, unaltered in scale or design to suit modern interiors. Our Japanese & Korean collection lends itself well to a more modern interior with its bold imagery and more free flowing brushwork. We can paint these onto our metallic grounds gilded with precious and non-precious metals, in addition to more subtle pearlescent grounds, for an even more contemporary feel.
‘Coco Coromandel’ hand painted Chinoserie wallpaper on Burnt Umber xuan paper Photo by Douglas Friedman
Tips for Adding Wallpaper to a Room:
HOW TO PREP A ROOM: Hannah: Prepping a room for wallpaper, especially de Gournay, is an extremely important part of the process. If the joinery and walls aren’t ready for the paper, it will show and can end up being a time consuming mistake to correct. We recommend using lining paper before all of our installs, this is to ensure a smooth finish and act as a barrier between the raw wall and our paper. It also means that the wallpaper can be removed at some point down the line, re-backed, then re-installed somewhere else! So my tip is to pay attention to all the small details in a room to ensure it’s completely ready for the wallpaper, it’s much easier to notice and tweak details before the paper is up then have to deal with correcting them after install!
Rachel: Old uneven walls would need to be re-plastered before applying de Gournay wallpaper to ensure a smooth even finish and good design join from panel to panel. All walls need to be lined prior to applying the wallpaper to avoid moisture coming through to the surface of the panels and to get a more professional finish.
Pay attention to all the small details in a room to ensure it’s completely ready for the wallpaper.
‘Early Views of India’ hand painted scenic wallpaper. Interior by Miles Redd. Photo by Simon Upton
PROPER WALL SURFACES: Hannah: There are spaces which lend themselves to paper, with tall, straight and smooth walls, and some which don’t. For example, my son’s room has strange angles and sloping walls and naturally the paper I chose for the room was one of our more complicated designs with animals and foliage (oops!). We used a preferred installer and he did a fantastic job, so it is important to research your installer before. I think you have to be realistic with a room and wallpaper – if it’s a very intricate design and you have an awkward space with no straight lines and sloping walls, it could end up being a very tricky project.
Rachel: Before adding wallpaper to a room you should think about whether the scale of the design suits the room and whether a lighter or more dense design would work better in the space. You also need to think about which construction type is most suitable for the space for example a silk with a lustre, a gilded reflective ground or an aged matt painted ground. It is also very important to see the sample options in the space to see how the light affects the colour. For taller rooms it may be nice to install a chair rail to start the design higher up whereas for a shorter room it would look better to have the design run the whole height of the wall and even be cut off at the top to give an illusion of height. If your room has lots of light it is best not to go for a silk but to go for a ground which will not fade such as our dyed paper, metallic or scenic paper grounds. For a bathroom we would always suggesting adding a glaze to the wallpaper in case of splashes. We can help guide you as to what wallpaper would best suit your purpose.Most clients choosing a de Gournay wallpaper will start with that as their focal point then work the other elements around it, sometimes to contrast against the colours in the wallpaper and sometimes to incorporate or tone with the colours in their wallpaper. Providing the colours do not clash, I think it is important not to be afraid of layering rich colours and patterns within a room; Colour and pattern are what brings a room to life. A lot of colours from our papers and fabrics refer back to colours used frequently in classic Georgian interiors-soft greys, dusky pinks, sage greens, blue greys and burgundy’s-and I think Georgian colours are timeless and elegant and work as well today as they did then.
‘Amazonia’ hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper on Pink xuan paper
San Francisco designer extraordinaire Ken Fulk will dream up the fourth vignette at the upcoming Fall Art & Antiques Show. Ken is a designer of experiences big and small. He is renowned for his exuberant interiors, high-concept brand identities and over-the-top parties. The Virginia-born designer has spent the last 25 years developing a business by elevating the daily lives of his clients, not only designing their homes, jets, restaurants and hotels but also directing their birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and family getaways.
Leading a team of 70 architects, designers, artisans, branding and event specialists in both San Francisco and New York, Fulk has expanded his impact around the globe. In addition to current residential work from Mexico to Miami and Provence to Provincetown, Ken Fulk has made his mark in New York over the past year with three new restaurants including the renowned Legacy Records restaurant, the highly decorative Felix Roasting Co., and Noda, an exquisite omakase jewel box. And now, with the long-awaited launch of Saint Joseph’s Arts Society in San Francisco, Fulk is able to offer his rarefied experiences to the community at large.
How did you first become interested in antiques? Growing up in Virginia I was absolutely enthralled by the many historic homes and the wonderful antiques that often filled them. Are there any specific historic periods that you are drawn to? I have a fondness for early primitive American pieces and folk art. I also have a mild obsession with Biedermeier furniture.
In your interior design work, what is your approach to incorporating art and antiques? Buy what you love. Every project needs tension. A modern painting never looked better than when it’s sitting above an 18th century chest. What was your most favorite/memorable art/antique find? Or alternatively, can you tell us about “the one that got away”? Many years ago, on a buying trip to London, I happened upon a series of antique haberdashery cabinets that had been removed from a famed Savile Row storefront. They were so beautifully crafted that I snapped them up hoping that someday I’d find a home for them. Thankfully, they worked perfectly when it came time to outfit my San Francisco dressing room. Each morning I get the pleasure of “shopping” for that day’s wardrobe. What most excites you about coming to the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show? It’s such a celebratory occasion. Everyone truly seems excited to be there; dealers and patrons alike.
Our third vignette designer for the 2018 show is Madeline Stuart, a leading member of the Los Angeles design community whose projects reflect a collaborative relationship between architecture and furniture, function and form, client and designer. Over the past 25 years, the work of Madeline Stuart & Associates has been featured in numerous publications including Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Veranda, Town & Country, House & Garden and House Beautiful. The firm has been distinguished by its inclusion on the AD100, Architectural Digest‘s prestigious list of the top 100 design & architecture firms. Since 2010 Elle Décor has included Madeline on their A-List as one of the top designers in the country as well.
Madeline lives in the Hollywood Hills and Santa Barbara with her husband, writer Steve Oney, and Beatrice & Mr. Peabody, professional Jack Russell terriers. Here are her thoughts on decorating with art and antiques – and why the lamb chops at the opening night gala of the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show are not to be missed:
How did you first become interested in antiques? I’ve been interested in antiques for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a house filled with beautiful antique furniture and objects and every piece told a story of a period and a place. Contemporary furniture represents a snapshot of the moment—antiques represent history. They possess a patina that can only be achieved through time. My mother would go to London when you could still find exceptional things for a pittance. I remember being fascinated by an antique brass scale with all the little brass weights.
Are there any specific historic periods that you are drawn to? I’d prefer to answer a slightly different question. Namely, please identify what specific historic periods you’re NOT drawn to! That would have to be the Victorian period, specifically in this country. I have a love—or at least an appreciation—for so many different periods and so many different countries. I wouldn’t know how to narrow it down.
In your interior design work, what is your approach to incorporating art and antiques? It’s the difference between couture and prêt-à-porter. I’d much rather find something unique than something that’s been mass produced. How thrilling it is to locate the perfect antique chandelier or an exceptional piece of artwork! I love the idea that you can suss out a piece that’s capable of transforming an interior from one that’s merely good to one that’s truly extraordinary. Antiques are one-of-a-kind and their uniqueness is what brings life and soul to a room.
What was your most favorite/memorable art/antique find? Or alternatively, can you tell us about “the one that got away”? I have a friend who was in a junk shop and discovered a painting by Charles Sheeler, an artist whose paintings I adore. Sadly I don’t have such a dramatic tale to tell… I recently found a stunning little Jean Dunand vase for a terrific price. I felt like I’d stumbled upon a rare gem in a field of rocks—there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. At last year’s antique show I was so determined not to “let one get away” that I bought a Portuguese cabinet just because I didn’t want anyone else to have it! It’s sitting in storage because it doesn’t fit in either my LA or Santa Barbara house, but I fell so deeply in love with it, I bought it anyway!
What most excites you about coming to the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show? The lamb chops! (seriously—my record is 13!) And the people watching! I have such respect for the dealers and am fascinated by their unbridled passion for whatever it is they believe in, whether that be Asian antiquities or American folk art. I’m awestruck by the incredible range of beautiful things. And I love the enthusiasm of the people who attend—these are folks who truly enjoy a good party. And of course I’m compelled to torture myself by looking at all the exquisite jewelry that I can’t possibly afford to buy. I’m also excited to wear what I bought just for the show—so fabulous!
How do you walk the show? What are you looking for? Any tips for shopping the show? I realize that everyone has a different technique when attending an antique show and I’m not sure my method has any merit. I have to go “round and round” – there’s no way I can see everything on the first pass. I find myself discovering objects toward the end of an evening, even though I may have spent time in a particular booth early on… Let’s face it, there’s a lot to see and a lot of lamb chops to eat in a very short period of time!
(Room photos, from top, by Victoria Pearson, Simon Upton, Dominique Vorillion, Trevor Tondro, Simon Upton)
Paul Vincent Wiseman, one of the four vignette designers of the 2018 San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show, was born in the rich delta country of California’s Sacramento Valley. His formative years in an agricultural community have made him both sensible and grounded, but he has always marched to the beat of his own drum. After studying at the University of California- Berkeley, his zest for travel took him all over Europe and the Far East. By his mid-twenties, he had lived for extended periods in both France and Australia. It was during these youthful travels that he realized his passion for design. His eponymous interior design studio, The Wiseman Group, was founded in 1980. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, arguably one of the most dynamic and creative regions in the country, The Wiseman Group benefits from the cross-pollination of ideas and aesthetics in this high-energy locale. Influenced by both the city’s rich history and traditions and its proximity to Silicon Valley, the cutting edge of modern technology, the firm buzzes with vibrancy.
Direct, thoughtful exposure to the disparate cultures of the world has allowed Paul to be truthful to what is authentic. He has been influenced by the classic European motifs of Italy, France, England, and Spain, but is equally inspired by Asia and Africa. His is a global perspective on design—eclectic in the best sense of the word. Paul has a deep appreciation for history, culture, art, and architecture. This love, paired with exposure to fine decorative arts through travel, has inspired his patronage of superb craftspeople. Artisan studios from Paris to the Far East provide the custom design elements that have become a signature of TWG projects.
In anticipation of his vignette at the entrance of the 2018 San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show, we asked Paul about his approach to collecting and decorating with art and antiques:
How did you first become interested in antiques? I am a history buff and I was fascinated how history is often manifested through objects. For example, the neoclassicism of the late 18th century was directly connected with the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are many other examples such as the Napoleonic campaign furniture. Once I became an interior designer, I loved using antiques to give people a more in-depth reflection of time and space.
Are there any specific historic periods that you are drawn to? There are many. For me personally, Japanese and Chinese Asian antiquities from the Han and Ming periods and the 20th Century Japanese Art Deco period are particular favorites. I have a 500-year-old Ming table in my living room and on it a Three-legged Han Vessel from a tomb and behind that is a 1920’s Japanese Screen of gold and silver leaf. Each one of these pieces drew my eyes as they were not heavily ornamented.
In your interior design work, what is your approach to incorporating art and antiques? I love the tension of combining contemporary art with antiques. I think that it reminds us that we are just not of one time or place. Our homes are a great reflection of this dynamic.
What was your most favorite/memorable art/antique find? Or alternatively, can you tell us about “the one that got away”? I think my favorite find was a console table that I spotted at a Sotheby’s auction in London. My clients got it for a very good price. We found later that it had royal inventory markings that Sotheby’s had missed.
What most excites you about coming to the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show? Of course the Opening Night Gala is the best party in town, but that is a known fact! I like the way the show is evolving which includes more diverse periods including contemporary art.
How do you walk the show? What are you looking for? Any tips for shopping the show? I always pre-tour the show with my staff to scout out objects that will fit our various clients’ needs. During this tour, everyone gathers images and vendor information. We then follow-up the next morning with a breakfast meeting at our office to review and share all our wonderful finds. We engage clients before the show to gain their approval on prized pieces so we can purchase on their behalf as soon as the show opens. What we look for varies each year and depends on the phases of our projects. Educating one’s eye is key to a successful show. Due to my experience I can recognize an unusual, unique find in order to educate my designers and clients.
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