Monday, July 28, 2014

Modern India: Style News from New Delhi

The hotel, books, cashmere, more books, tea, and a surprising visit.

I recently returned from a visit to New Delhi. I’ve been traveling there since I was a student. I 
 love India and travel there — always exploring new regions, new experiences, and meeting new people, rediscovering old favorites. I have new pictures and new places to introduce to you.

Come with me to the subcontinent to discover an architectural masterpiece, The Lodhi, my favorite hotel in Delhi.

We’ll visit the best bookshop in India. I’ll spill my secrets and tell you where to buy beautiful cashmere shawls and the best Indian tea. And I’ve updated my best India books list.

I’ve opened my photo album of a visit to the Presidential Palace (formerly the Viceroy’s Residence) designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and a great highlight of a visit to New Delhi

Books: this week I have two fantastic lists of books on India. One list was selected by Anuj Bahri Malhotra, the owner of the great book company, Bahrisons. The other is a list of my favorites, with new additions.

I propose: this post is long and full of detail, information and insider tips on India. Print it out and read it like a magazine, perhaps. Or treat yourself to some Assam tea (or PG Tips, which I often enjoy), in a hot teapot. Perhaps a sip of mango juice, or coconut juice might be very apt and refreshing. Enjoy it—and I hope you love all of this information. Let me know.

During my recent trip to New Delhi, I visited the Presidential Palace—a grand red sandstone structure designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. I discovered this fantastic elephant sculpture near a private entrance. This was Lutyens’ way of highlighting Indian architecture motifs into his classical plan for Imperial Delhi.

New Delhi Highlight: A Visit to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President’s Palace

Designed in 1912 and completed in 1929, Rashtrapali Bhavan is one of the most fascinating buildings in New Delhi (and hardly visited at all by travelers). On 320 acres, it includes Moghul gardens, parade grounds, the president’s quarters, government buildings, galleries, statuary. It embodies Raj India. I discovered the fascinating way Sir Edwin Lutyens deployed Indian indigenous materials (red sandstone), and adapted Indian imagery in his entirely classical structure.

Insider tip for architects and designers:  
Visiting Lutyens’ Delhi is a must. Lutyens’ greatest work was the majestic Vice-Regal Headquarters. Working with the finest Indian construction company and craftsmen he incorporated Indo-Saracenic motifs, as well as Indian stone basins on top of the building as very dramatic (and very Indian) water features. 

Lutyens’ Palladio-influenced and rather austere classical buildings were modified to include Moghul chattris on the roof. Throughout the gardens are dramatic statues of elephants and fountain sculptures of cobras on pedestals, as well as bas-reliefs around the base of the Jaipur Column.

A travel tip: For your next trip to India, I propose that you book online for a visit to the interior of the Rashtrapati Bhavan building. It’s open on a very limited timetable. Much of its original furnishings and interior architect designed by Lutyens is accessible. You can imagine the residents, Lord Louis and Lady Edwina Mountbatten and their attendants, entertaining and greeting officials and royalty.

I had a Sunday afternoon private tour—and found it so fascinating, I did it twice. Lutyens is hardly mentioned in guidebooks or ‘must see’ lists.

For designers, architects, and those obsessed with architectural heritage and Lutyens, it is a rewarding visit.

The New Modern India: Architecture and Design

Where to Stay Now in New Delhi—The Lodhi Hotel:  I like to stay at hotels where I can rely on management and staff to provide me with privacy and low-key service. In particular, in India, I appreciate The Lodhi because Joint General Manager Robyn Bickford is such an insider. She'd been involved with the diplomatic world for decades and knows all the best sources. She takes care of guests, smooths the way, and provides outstanding drivers and other staff that make life in Delhi rather comfortable and efficient.

I’ve written about The Lodhi before. The hotel was formerly an Aman property—and it maintains that high standard of style and care. I find it extremely congenial. It’s quiet.

An ethereal Meier-modern new hotel with a serene garden setting and elegantly delineated architecture is the new chic place to stay in Delhi. It’s The Lodhi, just four years old, and already a favorite of stylish young Delhi couples, worldly art collectors, and international travelers intent on getting to know the fast-changing and surprising new India.

It’s a favorite hotel for Silicon Valley talent like art collector Komal Shah, a former Yahoo exec who recently joined the Asian Art Museum board. Top interior designers like L.A.-based Michael S. Smith, and Jean-Louis Deniot, with headquarters in Paris, land there on business trips.

The first impression of The Lodhi is of massive walls of carved slabs of marble deployed with precision and superb restraint. An austere and highly refined architectural sensibility is at work here. Pared down and gracefully delineated, the walls of honed ivory-colored stone are reminiscent of the pale carved exterior walls of the Taj Mahal.

India is always celebratory and ornate, and many travelers arrive specifically to immerse themselves in the excitement of hallucinogenic hues, and the jangle of music and crowds.

For me, The Lodhi is very much in the Moghul tradition of generous hospitality—but it’s India with a modern style sensibility, one that is truly Indian and poetic, without the razzle-dazzle. .

The hotel architect and designer is Australian Kerry Hill, based in Singapore and Western Australia. He is a master of his craft. The Lodhi feels India modern, but chic and 21st-century. Delhi without a trace of nostalgia.

The Lodhi hotel property includes a large sheltered swimming pool, tennis courts, and outdoor spots for quiet reflection. Guests often use the pool in the cool of evening for refreshing laps.

Hill noted that he referenced India’s great history of palaces and temples and past building traditions through suggestion and association rather than replication, and through the reinterpretation of indigenous building forms as opposed to mimicry.

“We prefer to build upon what is there and to contemporize our understanding of what it can be,” said Hill. “I think of our design for The Lodhi as being current, but filtered through a sieve of traditional values.”

At the light-filled limestone entrance a large carved black stone water basin is filled with brilliant orange marigolds. 

The Lodhi lobby is a contemporary design statement with modern Indian paintings and vivid jolts of orange on club chairs. An over-water restaurant and a terrace beside the pool offer calm respite from vibrant Delhi.

A butler silently guides guests along an enfilade of silent hallways. In the suite, a graceful bedroom has an efficient series of adjacent wardrobes, luggage stands and dressing tables. Everything in the right place. The scent of fresh tuberoses wafts into the air.

The hotel is expertly and gracefully co-managed by New Zealand-born former diplomat Robyn Bickford, and her husband, Manav Garewal. They pamper guests, opening up their Black Book for special sources for cashmere shawls, finding rare tickets for an event, taking care of all details.

In each suite, through a tall shuttered door is a wide sheltered stone terrace. Each suite has a heated plunge pool and on a terrace that’s open to the fresh air.

Privacy is perhaps the most precious travel luxury. The Lodhi feels like a personal residence. There are no obtrusive signs, and staff greets guests by name.

The hotel is set on 6 acres, has two wings, nine floors, thirty-nine rooms and twenty-eight suites, and there’s a panoply of restaurants, a hair salon, a lap pool, plunge pools, all sheltered by jaali screens to modulate light and intense outdoor heat. 

Suites at The Lodhi have a private terrace with a panoramic view with the historic dome of Humayan’s Tomb in the sunstruck distance. The heated plunge pool is large enough for brief laps followed by repose on the cantilevered chaise longue.

The décor throughout has a very light and airy sensibility of modern Anglo-Indian, with dark exotic wood wall cabinets, bronze bowls filled with pomegranates, stone bowls with fresh tuberose blossoms, everything cohesively modern Indian. All furniture was locally crafted. 

The Lodhi, a favorite for international auction houses, art dealers from London and New York, and museum types and art collectors from San Francisco, recently partnered with the Apparao Galleries of Chennai to showcase contemporary Indian art and sculpture around the hotel. Sharan Apparao, founder and owner of the Apparao Galleries, curates a revolving collection. The contemporary art adds graphic interest and vivid color to the stone interiors.

The Lodhi is a dramatic property, and a haven in fast-paced Delhi.

I can’t wait to return.

Best Books on India

On my recent visit to New Delhi, I spent hours at Bahrisons, founded in 1953, the best bookshops (there are three) in India. My favorite Bahrisons shop is located at the entrance to Khan Market, a vibrant cavalcade of style shops and restaurants. Bahrisons is crammed to the rafters with books—mostly literary, many best sellers, and books on Indian culture, history and politics. It’s very popular with the expats, with the diplomatic crowd, with students, and with politicians and lawyers from nearby offices.

I linger among the stacks at Bahrisons for hours—looking through books on design, architecture, biography, and finding dozens of books to send back to California. Staff does an extremely efficient job of shipping. My recently purchased books arrived home before I did. The bookshop is so popular that they re-stock three times a day. Careful…they close for lunch from 1-2pm.

I checked with Anuj Bahri Malhotra and he suggested the following list of books on India.


Everything written by William Dalrymple. (

“He knows India, he is a superb historian, and his writing is vivid and authoritative—and witty. Highly recommend,” said Anuj Bahri.

The witty detective novels of Tarquin Hall, featuring detective Vish Puri.

“Tarquin shows his love of India and Delhi in this amusing series. He knows Delhi today and it shows,” said Mr. Bahri.

Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler by Raza Rumi (Harper Collins). An intimate anecdotal travelogue introducing readers to the buildings, but also people, characters. Inspiring. Said Anuj Bahri Malhotra: “It’s like a guided walk, with vivid narration.”

Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building by Lucy Peck (Roli Books) A highly detailed insight into Delhi’s architecture heritage. Well illustrated.

Delhi: A Novel by Kushwant Singh (Penguin). “It’s irreverent and inventive, it’s magical realism. A bestseller,” said Mr. Bahri.

Perpetual City, A Short biography of Delhi, by Malvika Singh (Aleph). Singh, a noted Delhi journalist, is also the author of a recent reference book on Lutyens Delhi. This is her love letter, very insider and full of lively anecdotes. Opinionated. Excellent.

Delhi: Fourteen Historic Walks by Swapna Liddle. Heritage discoveries, secret walks and classic sites like the Red Fort, Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb (I’ve written about it here).

Trickster City Writings from the Belly of the Metropolis by Shveta Sarda (editor). “These young writers are fresh, they know Delhi, and they chronicle emotion, experience, events, some rather documentary,” said Anuj Bahri.

Let’s say you’ve never been to India, and you’re excited and very curious and scared and nervous…and want to know more.

Check through all of these lists and Mr. Bahri’s list. And start collecting the ones that appeal to you. Read non-stop. The information and knowledge—and sense of India—you gather and harvest will enrich your trip and explorations.

I have a lifetime of books on India. I read biographies (the Maharani of Jaipur, Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi), history (all of William Dalrymple’s volumes), memoirs (Pamela Hicks), and many Indian fiction writers and dynasties of literary families (the Desai family) and many books on histories of the maharajahs and Indian life, films (Satyajit Ray) culture, music, architecture and textiles.

I recently read The Guide by R. K . Narayan (Penguin) about small-town Indian life. Enchanting. I also found Chowringee by Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) (Penguin). It’s set in Calcutta, and it immediately immerses the reader in its hullabaloo.

I love the books of writers like V.S.Naipaul, as well as Amitav Ghosh, and Jhumpa Lahiri (writing about Indian expatriates in books like ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’)…her writing is exquisite. I also love Kiran Desai (“The Inheritance of Loss) and books by her mother, Anita Desai. 

Books I favor and have enjoyed are background, in-depth learning, rich detail, research, factual information always written with grace, charm, wit.

‘City of Djinns’ by William Dalrymple (2003) is a vivid account of his first year living in New Delhi. He’s now become a favorite historian of the region’s great stories. Dalrymple’s nature is contrarian, and often dyspeptic, but he has a lovely admiration and intense interest/passion for Indian people and history.

‘The Last Moghul’ also by Dalrymple, offers the panorama of one of the last significant rulers and dynasties.

‘Passage to India’ by E.M. Forster (1924) paints a sympathetic and textured account of British/India encounters during the colonial period. 

‘At the Court of the Fish-Eyed Goddess, Travels in the Indian Subcontinent’ by William Dalrymple (1998) is a wide-ranging series of essays on Indian life, culture, politics.
A Princess Remembers The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur’ by Gayatri Devi (1996) sketches a romantic view of her childhood, subsequent marriage to the Maharajah of Jaipur, and jetset life. She founded schools for girls and a grade school in Jaipur, and was instrumental in protecting and fostering traditional fine crafts and arts of the region.

‘The Raj Quartet’ by Paul Scott. These are the books on which ‘Jewel in the Crown’, the hit PBS show, was based.) Scott’s writing is wonderfully accomplished and richly sympathetic to all of his characters. British, insider, revealing.

‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Collins and LaPierre. Blockbuster, full of detail, research. A closeup view, with private and upclose knowledge of Gandhi's life and death. Must read.

‘Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten’ by Pamela Hicks (2011) offers insight into the last days of the Raj—and she was in the center of it all.

‘Indian Summer The Secret History of the End of Empire’ by Alex von Tunzelman (2009). I read this on the way to India, when it first came out. Her research is impressive, and it’s another slice of insight into this complex time of history.

‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater (1998). Witty English writer sets off to follow the monsoon, one summer. Romantic and charming.

And Robyn Bickford recommends the following India books, for different perspectives:

Quilts of India-Timeless Textiles by Patrick J Finn published by Niyogi Books. It is such a pleasure to learn more about crafts and decorative arts of India. This is is a great record with very clear photos of another dying art.

Sam Miller, a young English writer, has written two books, Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity and A Strange Kind of Paradise: India through Foreign Eyes which are witty and fresh, and both eminently readable.

I know you’ll want to read them all. And tell me your favorites. I love discovering new books.

Happy reading!

Favorite Shopping

New Delhi is alive with fantastic shopping. I must say that for me shopping is not a major focus, though dear friends spend days finding Gem Palace jewelry, bangles, sandals, saris, Anokhi tunics, and handwoven fabrics, and beautiful adornments. Delhi has emporiums and stalls and shops and centers…and that is not how I want to spend much time in India. I want ‘only in India’ adventures, not a lot of shopping. An exception: cashmere shawls and tea (see below. And…Khan Market, which is near The Lodhi, and is bustling and colorful, with shops like Anokhi (block print shawls and dresses), as well as Bahrisons books.

The Great Find:  Kashmir Loom
Kashmir Loom shawls and scarves are available at Barney’s New York stores around the US, and at many international stores and boutiques. But I prefer to go to the source—where every style is available.

Robyn Bickford at The Lodhi suggested that I would enjoy meeting Jenny Housego, the co-owner of Kashmir Loom. I made an appointment to see the company's selection of fine cashmere, silk, wool and cotton textiles made for the Indian and international markets. Many cashmere connoisseurs consider the company's shawls and blankets to be the finest available.

Kashmir Loom was created by Jenny Housego and her Kashmiri partners, brothers Hamid, Zahid, and Asaf Ali, and their family in Srinagar, Kashmir.

Jenny, who is English and lives in New Delhi was formerly a textile historian, and worked at the Textile Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

I arrived at the Kashmir Loom showroom. The company makes the most exquisite traditional shawls and scarves in handspun and hand-loomed cashmere.

Newest designs include the pioneering use of shimmering metallic threads in hand-woven shawls. Gold, silver and rose gold shawls are very beautiful. The quality of the textiles is the best I’ve seen in India. I love embroidered shawls in very fine natural undyed handspun cashmere (think taupe cashmere with exquisite borders of contrasting silks)—but they also weave rainbow-bright shocking pink, turquoise, magenta, and indigo shades to brighten a winter day.

Prices from $150 for a natural cashmere scarf.

By appointment only: Retail

C-65, Basement, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 10013 India
Phone: +91.11.2431.8947, 4058.8650

Indian Te

I drink tea most afternoons around 4pm. My family is English—and in the late afternoon every day, I put the kettle on, warm up a classic white porcelain teapot, and add Assam loose-leaf tea to the pot.

I love Fortnum & Mason’s Assam Superb, packaged in an elegant pale celadon canister.

But in India, I always taste and buy special teas…that are only available in India.

My favorite source is the company that supplies tea leaves to The Lodhi hotel— Mittal Stores.

The selection of loose-leaf teas includes many Assam types and Darjeeling, Nilgiri and Sikkim, as well as Chinese. Very authentic and traditional. Inexpensive and light to pack in luggage. And so enjoyable at home.

12, Sunder Nagar Market, New Delhi is my favorite of their locations.


The Lodhi
Lodhi Road, New Delhi, phone from US 800-477-9180. Rates from $550. Information:

Joint General Managers: Robyn Bickford and Manav Garewal

Note that The Lodhi has very close ties with the Aman hotel/ resort group, and travelers who are addicted to Aman resorts find The Lodhi very compatible and comparable. Like Aman resorts, The Lodhi is low-key luxury and ultra-private and discreet. Just as Aman avoids glitz, so The Lodhi has perfected comfort, elegant simplicity, and friendly unpretentious service and attention to guest comforts.

Art Gallery:
APPARAO GALLERIES, Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore.

Photo credits:

Hotel images courtesy of The Lodhi, New Delhi, used with permission.

Images: Elephant statue photos by Diane Dorrans Saeks (and my driver).

Images of Kashmir Loom, courtesy Kashmir Loom.

Images of Bahrisons, courtesy Bahrisons.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Designer I Love: Paul Wiseman

With a handsome new book on the horizon, clients clamoring for his designs, and a roster of past and present clients that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the financial, art, and philanthropic worlds, San Francisco interior designer Paul Wiseman is at the top of his professional career.

Now Paul Wiseman’s dramatic new book, INNER SPACES, will be published by Gibbs Smith this fall. If you’re in San Francisco or London or New York or Paris you’ll most likely receive an invitation to a book signing. Lucky!

‘Inner Spaces, Paul Vincent Wiseman The Wiseman Group’ by Brian D. Coleman, with photography by Matthew Millman, includes nineteen residences around the world. This beautiful book—the culmination of Paul’s three decades as an interior designer—includes superb close-up images showing exquisite custom designs and breath-taking old-world craftsmanship. It’s a must for designers who are obsessed with custom design, and an education for everyone who admires polish, perfection and beauty in architecture and design.

This week, I’ve written a vivid in-depth profile of Paul Wiseman for your pleasure and inspiration. Come with me to meet a highly admired designer—a designers’ designer—who launched his firm in 1980, and now runs a firm with twenty-five designers and architects. 

This new exclusive feature, outlines two of Paul’s most personal projects, and his passion for authentic archiecture and fine craftsmanship, .

I take you for a private visit to his newly renovated house in Belvedere. We examine Paul’s lifelong focus on learning about design and the history of architecture. I’ll tell you about his study tours to the greatest examples of authentic architecture. And I have Paul’s list of great houses to visit.This is full-on—and includes ‘’Inside the Design Mind of Paul Wiseman’ following a chat I had with Paul recently—in which he offers great insider wisdom and tips.

His firm is known to a very private group of families who like their privacy. He’s created many houses for them and they’ve never been published (some are in his book).

Paul works with great intensity to please his clients, and along the way he’s crafted a very chic private life, first in a Nob Hill apartment near Grace Cathedral, and now in a hilltop villa in Belvedere, overlooking San Francisco Bay His private purpose: to provide a quiet retreat, to offer a respite and inspiration. Come with me for a visit.

This is a highly detailed post, offering lots of insight and ideas. Take a break. I invite you to pour a very nice glass of Chardonnay to enjoy with lightly salted Marcona almonds. Or make a lovely pot of Assam Superb tea by Fortnum & Mason, to accompany toasted homemade bread with unsalted butter, June Taylor’s Yuzu preserves, and a slice of English cheddar. 

At Home with Paul Wiseman: Belvedere House

For the past thirty-five years, the Wiseman Group has been considered the paradigm of discreet residential design firms in San Francisco. Obsessed with detail, the company’s designers polish and perfect rooms of lasting beauty.

After a day or a week of creating opulence and beauty, Paul Wiseman retreats to an historic turn-of-the-century Belvedere cottage hidden among allées of white and purple acanthus, pristine white agapanthus and orderly parterres sheltered by lichen-patched native oaks.

“I like the pure escapism of this place,” said Wiseman, walking onto his wisteria-draped loggia. Far below, a scoop of Belvedere Cove and the whitewater of Raccoon Straits, are visible through a veil of old oak trees.

“When it’s dense with billowing fog in the city it’s warm and sunny here,” said Wiseman . “We’re sheltered from the high winds that scream through the Golden Gate. It feels like nineteenth-century Lake Bellagio or Lake Garda here. I can watch the regattas, take breakfast on the portico, potter about the garden, listen to the wind in the trees, watch the birds.“

Wiseman’s one-bedroom stucco superbly detailed house, which also affords vertiginous views of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island, was originally built in 1912 as a weekend cottage for Dr Florence Nightingale Ward, one of the first female surgeons in the United States. According to Belvedere library records, she would take the ferry to Tiburon from the city every Saturday morning.

“Dr Ward was a close friend of Julia Morgan, and the house definitely shows Morgan’s cosmopolitan sensibility and Italian-influenced eye,” noted Wiseman. It’s never been formally established if the house is by Julia Morgan (one of the greats of California architecture of the twentieth century). The perfect siting, and the elegantly proportioned loggia, with its finely tapered Doric columns, and a vine-entwined belvedere, hints at Morgan’s hand in the initial planning of the house. The grace and understatement also suggest Morgan. Well, traces of Morgan’s ideas float around, even if she did not.

The house today looks much the same as it did when it was first built--one of its great draws to Wiseman and his partner, Richard Snyder, an attorney. 

“I love the fact that it has never been “modernized” or fancied up,” said Wiseman. “No-one had ruined it. I glazed the walls a rich, warm ochre color but originally I did not do any renovation or restoration. I like the old terra cotta tiled floors, the original doors and windows. I didn’t want it to be a big design statement.”

His three rules of good design, he said, are ‘appropriateness, appropriateness, appropriateness.’ Furnishings should be right for the location, the architectural style, the purpose, and the people and their lives.

Eventually, Wiseman and Snyder undertook a rather serious renovation, as it became apparent that the house was clearly built as a summer cottage, somewhat insubstantial. Now, there’s a guest suite overlooking the garden, new bathrooms were added, subtle enhancements were made to be invisible. The house is weatherproofed and stable. A storm will not move it from its verdant perch.

“This is a weekend cottage, so the most appropriate furnishings here are comfortable and show the soft patina of time and use,” Wiseman said. “I love “old-shoe” furniture and antiques that have elegant lines but are not too formal. We’ve brought some favorites from a previous residence, dragged out prints and paintings and bronzes that had been in storage. Colors are soft; fabrics are smooth to the touch. I come here to live a low-key life."

About Paul Wiseman

I talked to Paul Wiseman about his design philosophy, his interiors, and his favorite things.

“I didn’t start off with a burning ambition to be an interior designer,” said Paul Wiseman, founder in 1980 of The Wiseman Group. The San Francisco firm today has a staff of twenty five, including interior designers, architects, a CEO, and a CFO.

“I was always interested in designing floor plans, in building tree houses when I was growing up on a pear farm in the Northern California Delta,” said Wiseman, “But at that time I could not have imagined design or architecture as my life’s work.”

The designer, who was recently placed among the top firms in the U.S., along with Peter Marino and Thierry Despont, studied political science in a college in Tasmania.

“After college, I worked at antiques galleries in Jackson Square, and two clients approached me to design their house,” said Wiseman.

“I was open to designing all styles from the very beginning, and my firm grew fast,” said the designer.

Inside the Brain of Paul Wiseman

I recently spoke to Paul Wiseman about ‘what he knows thus far’ and which elements of design are essential.

Come and discover his ideas.

“Interior designers and architects should study garden design. After all, gardens surround the house and are visible through windows and terraces. The interiors should be in relation to the garden. Garden designers are changing my aesthetics. I recently saw a beautiful garden in Melbourne, and have since incorporated textures, colors, silhouettes and a sense of transparency into interiors.”

“I love Fortuny. It’s gone through three decades with me. I like the graphic designs taken from early civilizations—the Peruvian, the Aztec, the African motifs—but I also love the classical baroque styles. In the eighties I sold more Fortuny than anyone in the world. I got their attention. I still love the effect. And the new owners, Mickey and Maury Riad are maintaining the quality. It’s so beautiful.”

“I’m always striving for quality with modern simplicity in my life. I like the honesty of natural linen, natural silk, not ornamented. That is always a great starting point. The ornamentation and elaboration can come later, if at all.”

“When you see a rare and beautifully executed object—a painting, a handmade piece, an antique textile, a hand-woven fabric, a quirky antique—and you love it, and it has personal meaning, you should buy it. The deep psyche in us is always seeking the one of a kind, the hand-crafted, the true expression of the soul.”

“No matter the aesthetic, a room and everything in it must offer comfort. I think carefully about table heights, comfortable sofas, individually designed chairs, where to put a drink on a table. Then you think about style.”

Lighting should be functional, practical and flattering. It should always be adjustable. There should be beautiful ambient light, pools of light, different sources of light. Today we are doing more pre-sets, computerized lighting. I work closely with Bob Truax of Truax Lighting. We can create many settings for rooms. I like custom bedside lighting that is adjustable and serves it purpose. I like translucent shades which offer a warm glow. I also love candlelight. Magical. And firelight. It’s very primeval.”

Nob Hill Living Room

Today The Wiseman Group is housed in an historic building on Potrero Hill overlooking San Francisco Bay.

The firm focuses solely on residential architecture and interior design, works on large projects around the world. Recently completed are a series of important houses in Hawaii, as well as residences in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

“Working closely with the clients, and with my staff, is my greatest pleasure,” said Wiseman. “I’m the conductor of this orchestra. Everyone shines; everyone can produce his or her best work. When we all work together and we all listen to the client, the outcome is best.”

The Wiseman Group has worked for a coterie of California clients and now he is working with their families, their adult children. Wiseman himself has designed as many as thirteen consecutive city houses, airplane interiors, country houses, island retreats and apartments for individual clients.

Wiseman’s design firm is known in the industry for its fanatical obsession with the finest details of décor, and for its custom work, as well as its ability to work to create the big picture. The firm’s versatility has been an advantage.

“We’ve had a reputation for producing design that’s traditional in inspiration,” noted Wiseman. “We do love to create classical interiors, but recently our work has also taken a modern direction as well, and several houses recently completed in Hawaii were dramatically modern.”

Over the last twenty years, Wiseman has gathered and worked with a vast network of artists and craftspeople around the world to create extraordinarily beautiful custom furnishings and furniture.

Among his roster fine embroiderers, carvers, gilders, decorative painters, metal workers, carpet weavers, glass blowers, tile-makers, framers, painters and plasterers who work on all aspects of an interior, to create interiors of lasting beauty.

Many of his clients are art collectors and philanthropists.

Nob Hill Dining Room

“We work with the finest antiques dealers and art galleries,” said Wiseman. “My clients have the highest standards. They are worldly, and they travel a lot, and they are deeply involved in the arts. They expect unique interiors that express their point of view and their life.”

Design industry insiders say that it’s The Wiseman Group’s total and constant focus on the client that sets the company apart and has led to its success. Wiseman himself never drops names of his clients,

“My clients are accomplished people who value their privacy, so most of our interior design is not published,” said the designer. “Our greatest pleasure is when our work is completed, and our clients say, “This is perfect. It’s exactly what we’ve always wanted. You’ve brought out the best in our house, and enhanced our lives.”

Nob Hill Bedroom

Travels with Paul Wiseman: Lifelong Design Studies and a Life of Learning

DDS: You've been a world traveler since you were nineteen. You studied in Tasmania. What effect did this travel have on your design?

It changed my career path. I have been traveling since the day I graduated from high school. I went to Europe for 3 months when you could actually do it for $5 a day. When I finished my year at the University of Tasmania I spent six months coming home through Asia and the South Pacific so that by the age of 21 I had seen numerous cultures and architectural wonders. It was on that trip that my dearest friend, said, “why are you studying Political Science when all you do is talk about art, history and architecture? Why don’t you get a job connected to that?” The rest is history. I had actually been to 35 countries before I ever saw New York City.

DDS: What was the first major travel you undertook as a designer?

In the early eighties I specified many yards of Fortuny fabric and was given an introduction to Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi the owner of Fortuny in Venice. I took the Orient Express from London to Venice, stayed at the Gritti, was picked up by the countess’s boat and given a grand tour of the Palazzo and her closets filled with Fortuny dresses. It’s an amazing life when you get to call that business travel.

DDS: You have joined and supported several international museum and heritage groups that offer outstanding tours focusing on visits and study of historic houses and villas throughout Europe. Please tell us about these organizations and why you support them.

I have been a member of the Royal Oak (National Trust of England) since the mid seventies after my first visit to Sissinghurst in Kent, and now I am involved with the Sir John Soane's Museum Foundation. Also, the World Monuments Fund which has a more global focus. I support the National Trust and the Institute of Classical Architecture. All of these groups foster the study and preservation of architecture and the decorative arts, which are very important to me. Without these organizations many of the great architectural and garden wonders of the world would disappear. The dues and special study trips help to keep them going.

Belvedere gardens

DDS: Where have you traveled with these design study groups?

I am very fortunate to have clients that are also passionate about the same things I am. Last Spring we were on a private tour of Spain, studying the influence of the Moors on western gardens for a project here in California, and then all joined the Soane Museum tour of Derbyshire. We met the Duke of Devonshire for a private tour of Chatsworth and enjoyed lunch with the Sitwells at Renishaw. It's formal study; it's total immersion in design history and architecture. Sometimes I call these ‘down on your knees tours’ as we touch the furniture and see the attics and basements. Imagine getting into the attic of Hardwick Hall? I am hoping to go on the Sicily trip next year. I recently went with ICA to Chicago to tour David Adler’s work. It is the lecturers we are guided by--the scholars, historians, preservationists, museums and owners with passion that make it possible.

DDS: What has surprised you?

I have done a couple of tours of Sweden…when you get to crawl around on the floor and explore the underside of furniture, see the backrooms and attics…you get to understand how everything was made and how it functioned. So when I do an “interpretation” of the Haga Pavilion in Stockholm, the depth of my understanding of its architecture and materials makes my new interpretation more than just a pretty room. I’m working on one right now…the Haga Pavilion as a family room.

DDS: Which country houses in England would you recommend other designers should visit for inspiration? 

Kedleston Hall- Derbyshire

Knole - Somerset

Chatsworth - Derbyshire

Hardwick Hall - Derbyshire

Syon House - Middlesex

Haddon Hall - Derbyshire

Sissinghurst - Kent

DDS: Which Venetian palazzo should designers visit as part of on-going design education?

Palazzo Fortuny Museum

Ca Rezzonico

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Labia

Palazzo Grassi (now an art museum)

Prada Foundation Museum (arte povera) to study the ancient building.

DDS: In Paris, where do you go for design inspiration? 


The newly reopened Musee des Arts Decoratifs
107, rue de Rivoli, 01-44-55-57-50

Musée Carnavalet
23, rue de sevigne

Musée Nissim de Camondo
63 rue de Monceau
Excellent collection of 18th century furniture

Musée Jacquemart-Andre
158-Blvd Haussmann
Have lunch in the dining room

Favorite Antique Dealers

Jean-Marie Rossi- Galerie Aveline
94, rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore

77 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, France and

DDS: In London, what interiors do you recommend that architects and designers should visit?

Sir John Soane’s Museum
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields 020-7405-2107

Spencer House
27 St. James Place 020-7514-1964
Open Sundays

The Wallace Collection
Manchester Square 020-7563-9500

On my next trip I want to see the Leighton House Museum home of Frederic, lord Leighton the painter. The Arab Hall has over 1000 Islamic tiles he brought back from Syria.

Leighton House Museum
12 Holland Park Road

DDS: Favorite design museum (international)? 

I have two—one for traditional The Sir John Soane’s Museum and one for modern Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str.1, Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. 49-76-21-702-3200. Design by Frank Gehry.

DDS: Favorite hotel for design? 

Amanjiwo-Java which overlooks the worlds largest Buddhist Sanctuary–Borobudur. You can also explore temples in the surrounding hills and visit the royal city of Yogyakarta.

DDS: Favorite design restaurant? 
Jean Georges
One Central Park West

DDS: Favorite new design book? 

Axel Vervoordt: Timeless Interiors
Flammarion, 2007

DDS: What is the secret of traveling well?

Do your research, lots of planning and have reservations.

DDS: If you were going to live and work somewhere other than San Francisco, where would it be?


DDS: The best design is informed by the history of design. Which design era 
do you most admire and why?

The 1920’s and 1930’s because modern design was a true departure from anything done before.

DDS: You always looking for new sources when you travel. What fabric or 
furniture or antiques sources have you discovered lately?

Claremont Fabrics
Art and Design Building
1059 Third Ave
New York, NY 10021

DDS: Favorite vacation place to get away? 

Any Aman resort the ultimate in luxury and comfort and they provide what is for me the ultimate luxury-a place to relax.

DDS: Where are you traveling next for design studies?

I am going with the Institute of Classical Architecture to study Palladian Architecture in Virginia. 2008 was the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great architect Andrea Palladio so this was my way of honoring him.

DDS: What is your dream travel destination—to study design, art or architecture? What do you want specifically to see or do there?

The desert of Nambia to see the color and the animals.

In November 2014, I’m going to Mazatlan to attend the opening night of a friend’s new opera. I can’t wait.

The Wiseman Group

About The Wiseman Group

Paul Vincent Wiseman opened his San Francisco firm, The Wiseman Group, in 1980.

Paul has assembled a talented team of designers, including principals James Hunter, Brenda Mickel, and Mauricio Munoz. With its deep field of talent, The Wiseman Group is equally comfortable creating beautiful, traditional rooms as well as contemporary spaces.

Each project is a unique and personal process and the firm's goal is to create a residence that reflects each client's needs, life experiences, and aspirations.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most dynamic and creative regions in the world, The Wiseman Group benefits from the cross-pollination of ideas and aesthetics in this high-energy locale. It’s a lively environment, where ideas that will influence and enrich people around the world are brought to life.

The firm is Influenced by the city’s rich history and traditions and its proximity to Silicon Valley, the cutting edge of modern technology.


To learn more about The Wiseman Group, staff biographies and projects are on the website.


All photography published here with express permission of Paul Vincent Wiseman and The Wiseman Group.

Belvedere house and gardens photographed by Matthew Millman.