7 / 7
“I’ve been torturing my clients for 30 years with renovations,” says Paul Wiseman of The Wiseman Group with a laugh, “so now I finally tortured myself!” Although being on the receiving end of his own handiwork should have been a breeze, Wiseman says he ended up falling into many of the traps that so often trip up his clients while restoring his century-old home. Here, his insights on how to bring an old house into the 21st-century, charm intact.
1. Expect the unexpected
“You never know what you’re going to get,” says Wiseman ruefully. In his case, a termite infestation meant taking the house down to the studs. Then, their “foundation” turned out to be stucco-coated mud. “We couldn’t touch one thing without touching everything.” (Wiseman also recommends making big decisions at the start whenever possible. “Wherever there’s a mystery, the price gets tripled. And I knew this ahead of time, but you’ll find yourself thinking, oh, I’m in a hurry, I just want to get it done.”)
2. Choose where to invest in advance
Wiseman encourages clients to pick and choose carefully. “Whenever you cheap out on something, you end up going back and fixing it,” he explains. The most important (and costly) decision-making revolves around quality. “I think you have to look at it in context—is it something you touch all the time?” In his own home, Wiseman ordered customized bronze handles, pulls and knobs. “They give me pleasure every day,” he explains. “Versus the insulation in the walls—do I really care and appreciate it? Not that much.”
3. Connect with nature
“An intimacy with nature is grounding,” says Wiseman. “The human soul is not so happy when separated from nature.” To that end, he created indoor/outdoor spaces throughout the house—porches, patios, and window seats all bring the outdoors in. One of his favorites, just beyond the dining room, is an outdoor seating area overlooking Angel Island State Park that’s perfect for breakfast—and feels like a natural extension of the house’s interior.
4. Lean back and relax
Wiseman’s home is one of the oldest in a community of historic summer homes. He wanted to ensure that the house was suited for year-round living, but maintained that loose, informal summerhouse sensibility. “People make their rooms too stiff,” says Wiseman. “It’s nice to have places to sit upright, but it is just as important to have places to lean back with a book or take a nap.” Wiseman’s guests often remark on the soothing quality of the house. “There’s nothing very jarring in the house, and there are daybeds everywhere,” he says as an explanation. “The deep psyche seizes that ability to lounge and relaxes.”
5. Green doesn’t have to be ugly
It’s as good as new, but Wiseman plans to let his home age gracefully: “I’m letting things patina,” he says. “The bronze windows will all be blue-gray. The zinc roof will turn a dark grey, like lead. The stone is a soft limestone, so it is already wearing, which I like. In ten years? Hopefully, the house will not look like it was renovated at all. That’s what I want.”
This article originally appeared on veranda.com. Article by Kaitlin Petersen. Photography by Laura Rensen.