Design Icon Paul Vincent Wiseman Celebrates a Life in Design and the Debut of His First Book, Inner Spaces
“When a room tells our life story and reflects who we are, it gives us license to open up to our true self,” says interior designer Paul Wiseman, by way of explaining the philosophy behind Inner Spaces (Gibbs Smith, 2014), the first monograph of his stellar 35-year career. Embodying Wiseman’s own encyclopedic design knowledge, the homes in the book brim with historical references and rich, customized detail. “Whenever there’s a confluence of the décor, the architecture and the landscape, a project sings; it becomes a psychological experience,” he says.
A case in point is the serene Belvedere weekend cottage he shares with his partner, Richard Snyder. “Spa Belvedere,” as Wiseman likes to call it, showcases his personal preference for rooms clad in shades of white. “A neutral environment calms me. It enables me to work with color all day,” he says. Built more than a century ago, the home’s rumored architect, Julia Morgan, would surely approve of Wiseman’s recent renovation. Nestled into the crest of a hill on its original footprint, the house now features bronze casement windows, a zinc roof and a limestone façade that will eventually acquire their own weathered patinas until all signs of intervention are undetectable. Wiseman’s “Bosphorous influence” accounts for a proliferation of daybeds, sofas and window seats. “Conscious lounging is a respected pastime in every culture I’m drawn to,” he says, “and a characteristic of any good host is the desire to make everyone who enters feel supremely relaxed.”
The property’s terraced garden also registers as an extension of the home’s restorative nature. Wiseman maintained its original plan, but winnowed spaces for contemplative pauses and added perches for taking in the stunning, unobstructed vistas: Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge are to the west; Angel Island and the Bay Bridge to the south. A long path meanders through tiered beds of aloes, multi-headed succulents and clumping, fan-shaped palms to Wiseman’s herb garden, where he picks sorrel, fraises des bois and other delights for the leisurely Sunday afternoon lunches he often prepares for friends and clients.
Wiseman has a deep connection to the Northern California landscape, having grown up on a pear farm located between Sacramento and San Francisco, never imagining his name would someday appear on lists of the world’s top decorators. (For a dinner celebrating the launch of his book, Wiseman prepared a pear pie from his mother’s recipe, made with fruit gathered from his family’s orchards the day before.) But Wiseman soon broadened his horizons, and travel at an impressionable age widened his stylistic appreciation. In the preface to Inner Spaces, he recalls turning 18 in Athens, 21 in Tasmania and 25 in Paris. Part of his ability to create aesthetically cohesive interiors stems from his unique distillation of several international inspirations, including the Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa’s seamless marriage of indigenous crafts and modernism; Renzo Mongiardino’s layered, stylized interiors; and architect Ricardo Legorreta’s use of structural color to reduce space to its essence.
The sense of authenticity and appropriateness in Wiseman’s work stems, too, from his sensitivity to the stories embedded in spaces and objects. “If I handle a ceramic Chinese pot that is thousands of years old, I see my short existence in a much broader reality, and I feel more fully human.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 2014 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: An Interior Journey.
BROWSE MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS FEATURE IN THE FULL GALLERY BELOW