Paul Wiseman

Paul Wiseman

"The internet generation thinks that quality and appropriateness come with the push of a button. What we do is a process, not a product."

Entering the home of The Wiseman Group along the northern slope of Potrero Hill is to be transported into a world of serene order and beauty punctuated by the ever warm greeting from the bespectacled master of ceremonies himself, Paul Wiseman. Before we sat down in the firm's project clad conference room, Wiseman indulged us in a tour of the firm's extensive design studios. During the past 30 years, Paul has become one of the most successful and respected interior designers in America. Architectural Digest’s special edition, “100 years of Design,” mentions Paul as one of the top designers. He has been widely published and over a 16 year period has been listed on the A.D. Best Designers list. Our look behind the TWG curtain tells a story of unrelenting precision and passion where the alchemy of Paul Wiseman and his creations live.

CaenLucier: What do you consider "good" design?

Paul Wiseman: Anything that is appropriate for its location, climate and use. Attention to detail and well considered options result in design decisions of the highest caliber.

CL: How has your constant curiosity as a person kept your work evolving and fresh?

PW: I am always curious and there are only two guarantees in life – death and change, so I might as well be curious about change.

CL: How do you see your client’s process today in relation to the way clients and the process worked as you came to prominence years ago?

PW: I think the internet has been a great benefit and also a great hindrance to our industry. The internet generation thinks that quality and appropriateness come with the push of a button. What we do is a process, not a product.





CL: You are currently working with Richard Beard on a Joseph Esherick home in Hillsborough. How has your experience working with Richard on past projects and this current project been unique, surprising and professionally enhancing?

 PW: Working with Richard has been professionally enhancing due to the fact that we are both well-traveled, with our focus based upon the love of architectural history and cultural references. This also enriches our relationship with clients by offering our special and unique talents within the design process. Working with a great client and a talented architect like Richard reinforces my belief in the collective creative process.  It’s a wonderful synergy! We also share a wicked sense humor.

Pacific Heights Collaboration: Paul Wiseman and Richard Beard Architects

Please view the before and after photograph slide show below!

CL: How have your travels trained your eye?

PW: I was very fortunate to have lived abroad twice in Australia and France and have the opportunity to have extended travels around the world before cultures became more homogenized. Combined with my general curiosity, it allowed me to have a very deep dictionary of cultural cross references.

CL: Have you ever traveled with a client for collective inspiration for a project?

PW: I have numerous times over the years.  In one instance even before the house was built, I went on a buying trip to London with our client. We really bonded around discovering four 18th century chimney pieces that set the tone for the entire design of the home. The soft limestone-not marble-suggested a relaxed palette for the décor.  We were so lucky to find them; I have never seen that quality since.

CL: Working with a variety of clients’ personal aesthetics and different property locations, is there a Wiseman touch that is a common thread throughout these homes.

PW: Every client is different. What I hope to achieve with every project is to get the client to connect to the architecture and location based upon their own personal preferences. Good taste comes in many forms and it is my job to be the guide.

Hillsborough Living Room

CL: You lived in a very formal residence on Nob Hill prior to your current residence on Belvedere Island. How have each of these residences been a reflection of the same person?

PW: The city apartment formally provided a great backdrop for that part of my life that was much more social. In order to maintain my creativity, the older I get the more I must have sacred space to rejuvenate that creativity. Belvedere provides a perfect venue – I can garden and cook and still entertain, but at a much more relaxed pace.

CL: What is your favorite color and why?

 PW: Most shades of yellow and green, because they remind me of nature.

"We have had clients that became serious students of the architectural styles and design motifs we chose for their home.  Armed with the knowledge and possessing great creativity, they put their stamp on the project and made it their own."

CL: How would you describe your "dream client?"

PW: Intelligent, curious, kind and respectful. We have had clients that became serious students of the architectural styles and design motifs we chose for their home.  Armed with the knowledge and possessing great creativity, they put their stamp on the project and made it their own.

CL: What is your favorite project that your firm is working on at the moment?

PW: All of my projects are favorites, but the most unusual is the Frank Gehry house that we are currently working on. It is Frank’s first residence in 25 years and his first residence in Northern California. 

CaenLucier would like to thank Paul Wiseman for all his time and amazing energy! We would also like to thank Layne Varholdt and Kevin Peters of TWG for their organization in helping us produce this feature!


For over three decades Ryan Associates have built exceptional homes in San Francisco, the Napa Valley and beyond.  Having had the pleasure of representing a number of these properties for sale, CaenLucier reconnects with Eric Friedman of the San Francisco based firm to discuss highlights of past and current residential projects, a look behind the scenes at the art of fine building and the ins and outs of working with architects, designers and his noteworthy clientele. 

CaenLucier: You have worked with Ryan Associates for over two decades.  How has the profession of high end renovations grown/changed over the years?

Eric Friedman: I don’t think we’re able to print houses yet, but there’s plenty of amazing modeling software out there that really helps to communicate design intent as well as solve the possibility of certain construction problems. We commonly use software to program the CNC router that make perfect parts every time, but for the most part we still make things by hand.

CL: What sets Ryan apart from other builders in the Bay Area?

EF: I think if you talk to our subcontractors they will tell you that there are many fine builders in our community, but Ryan is a league apart.  They’ll tell you that we do all of the things required to help them be successful enabling them to do their best work.  We’ve worked really hard to forge these mutually beneficial subcontractor relationships, but ultimately our design partners and clients are the winners.

CL: What are the most common mistakes clients make when interviewing a general construction firm to build their home?

EF: The danger clients face is not understanding the consequences of hiring their team piecemeal.  They have to understand their motives and goals for the project and then need as much coaching as possible in unifying those interests in building their team. The traditional point of view of the owner is that you hire the architect first. The traditional approach works just fine if the architect believes, as we believe, that collaboration is a fundamental part of a successful project. One of the keys to our success has been our ability to team build on the client’s behalf.  It’s really a question of drawing out from the client what their top priorities are, what their design instincts are, and then start to match the correct design partners and resources.

CL: San Francisco has many talented designers and architects.  Who are a few of your favorites to work with?

EF: Our interest is in working with architects and designers who are invested in the collaborative process and who value the services we provide. We’re not attached to working with starchitects.

CL: How would you describe the perfect Ryan Associates client?

EF: The perfect Ryan client is clear around their goals, is invested in everybody being successful and wants to have fun along the way. It helps if they don’t think of themselves as a builder, designer or tradesperson.  Clients who understand they’re in a rarefied territory and rely on our expertise really get the best performance from us. 

CL: What is the most fun part of your job?

EF: I get to work with a range of incredibly talented and gifted people who inspire me on a daily basis.  Architects, engineers, all the makers and builders, but especially my co-workers for whom I have unlimited respect. It’s a really good feeling that comes when putting in an honest day working with our crew.

CL: Tell us something we don’t know about Ryan.

EF: We’re known for doing the big house on the hill, but our core business is the $1m to $5m remodel.  We are in the service business and are set up to do small projects and service work.  We want to take care of our clients’ homes forever regardless of the need.

CL: What is your most favorite project that you are working on right now?

We’re doing a modest but lovely 2,500 square foot bridge-to-bridge apartment on Russian Hill in a somewhat disintegrating 90 year old building.  The clients are so happy and excited that the good feeling has permeated the dozens of people that have contributed to the effort. It may or may not get published, however we’re very proud of what we’ve built.