Viewed from the ancient pavers on Calle Recreo, one of San Miguel de Allende’s best-preserved streets, the facade of Casa Acanto is plain and unassuming. But when Jeffry Weisman flings open the double doors, he reveals a patio and courtyard of heart-stopping beauty. Towering over us, just beyond the outdoor living room’s invitingly arranged seating, are three 125-year-old jacaranda trees. With winter approaching, their foliage is chartreuse, but in the spring, their blossoms are so brilliantly lavender that visitors think they’re fake.
Weisman and his partner in work and life, Andrew Fisher, have run a luxury interior design practice since 2000. They might never have come to San Miguel if an unsolicited offer hadn’t arrived one day for their weekend house in Sonoma. The price, says Weisman, “was fantastic.” Within weeks, the house was sold, and the pair were ready for their next adventure.
Both loved Mexico, but neither was drawn to the beach resort lifestyle. Weisman’s younger sister, who had just visited San Miguel, told them she was confident they were going to live there. “So we planned a vacation,” says Weisman, “and on the first day, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s buy a house. Let’s just do something totally crazy, out of the box and completely different.’ ” They took the leap and now spend half the year living and working south of the border.
Weisman received both an undergraduate degree in art and design and an MBA from Stanford. He designed corporate interiors at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and also worked at Gensler. “Upon graduation, I started a design consultancy called First Design, whose purpose was to develop and license product design with Charles Pfister, under his name,” Weisman says. Fisher studied sculpture, metal smithing and jewelry design at California College of the Arts and for many years worked alongside stage and interior designer Tony Duquette and his partner Hutton Wilkinson. Later, he worked with interior designer John Hallock.
In 1997, when Fisher joined Weisman in his Nob Hill flat (which the two still own), Fisher was steeped in Duquette’s “more is more” ethos. Like Duquette, he enjoyed gilding and bejeweling and faux-ing everything in sight, creating shell-encrusted table bases and chandeliers and sculpting trompe l’oeil draperies out of Plaster of Paris. Weisman, a committed modernist, had decorated the Nob Hill apartment’s living room entirely in white. It was a problem. “We had to come up with a new language,” Weisman says. “We couldn’t imagine what it would be or even where to start to get there. It took a lot of time and a lot of talking and thinking and ideating, and in the end, it’s what’s formed such a strong basis for our business.”
Very pointedly, the two refer to themselves not as “designers” but as “decorators.” “I believe there has always been a very small sliver of the market that is interested in the kinds of things we do,” says Weisman, “and by that, I mean highly custom, highly individual and finely made interiors.” Pfister believed in creating what Weisman calls “opulence without waste,” a philosophy that Fisher and Weisman carry forward with the help of their recently appointed partner, Bryn Brugioni. Their rooms are always luxurious and always tasteful. But they are never stodgy.
Casa Acanto is a case in point. The dining room — furnished with a Cipresso table that has a hand-carved mahogany base evoking the forest primeval and is surrounded by Irish hall chairs — harbors a massive diamond-shaped, shell-encrusted chandelier that would not be out of place in an undersea palace.
It’s Fisher’s work — his business card reads Chief Fantasist — produced in his nearby studio, where he puts in a seven-day week and never stops for lunch. Capitalizing on his background as a sculptor and a jewelry maker, he designs original pieces for the firm’s clients and also masterminds the creative development of the Fisher Weisman Collection of furniture, accessories and, now, lighting (which debuts this week at Paris Déco Off). In his studio art practice, Fisher is just as prolific, creating complex hand-sewn gold-leaf tapestries that bring the warmth of the sun to the walls of Casa Acanto and are also collected by the firm’s clients.
What he and Fisher bought on that first trip to Mexico, Weisman explains, was not actually a house. It was a converted tannery, built in the 1700s along the top and side of a sloping walled-in garden. Renovating was a massive undertaking, but it acquainted them with the many talented artisans of San Miguel, who produced hand-hewn pine ceiling beams for the house, along with stunning terracotta-tile floors hand-tinted with a gasoline and tar mixture to look as if they’d been there forever. Fisher and Weisman added plaster details and huge stone fireplaces — even entire rooms and patios, which they appointed with custom-carved cabinetry that Fisher designed. The construction project took a remarkably short seven months.
Today, the house’s rooms and patios are a visual feast, decked out in custom hand-painted tile and Spanish antiques as dark as Mexican chocolate. The terracotta-tile floors are softened with rugs from Morocco and Turkey. And every room abounds in comfort zones, with well-stuffed sofas, armchairs, slipper chairs and ottomans. It’s all luxe and lively, dressed in printed silk velvets and crisp linen upholstery. Everywhere, the eye is drawn to an eclectic assortment of objects and artwork, collected in the pair’s travels around the world.
Fisher and Weisman have succeeded in making Casa Acanto and San Miguel so enticing that several friends and clients have bought places of their own there. Currently, the pair is working with with an art-collecting couple on what Weisman calls “a complete gut” of a 12,000-square-foot house that will be outfitted with such showstopping pieces as a classic Vladimir Kagan curved sofa and Patricia Urquiola’s massive Tufty-Time modular seating system. “We’ve selected a wild color scheme,” Weisman says, “with cream marble floors, all white walls, big open steel and glass doors to the garden and, of course, their very intense modern art.”
For longtime friends, Fisher Weisman remodeled and decorated a vast historic property just a few blocks from Casa Acanto. It’s a stunning place, built around a massive stone courtyard. “We were so relieved when they bought it,” Weisman says, “because for years, it stood empty, and we couldn’t stop re-designing every square inch in our minds.” Bold modern art, collected by the owners over decades, works perfectly with a combination of contemporary pieces and charismatic antiques. Despite the house’s size, the rooms are cozy and intimate.
The couple also have many U.S. projects that keep them busy back there, too. One of these is a patrician Carmel, California, residence built by architect Heidi Hansen in which they created a velvet-walled living room, furnishing it with four marvelous chairs — two upholstered in lavender, one in deepest pink and the fourth in sumptuous “animal” — that gather around a Laverne cocktail table discovered on 1stdibs. Nearby is another 1stdibs find: a Louis XVI settee. “The clients are passionate people who love color, particularly in textiles,” says Weisman. “Carmel has a lot of foggy days, and the house is nestled into an oak forest, so it was essential that the interior had a lot of warmth.”
This home’s kitchen is not one of those for-staff-only showplaces. On the contrary, the clients, who have young grandchildren and love to cook, wanted to create something highly serviceable for weekend visits without diminishing the feeling of dining in the forest. “We upholstered the banquette in a satiny, shimmering vinyl that we love because it’s chic and not sticky,” Weisman says. “And then, we took the base of a vintage Saarinen table, which we also found on 1stdibs, to an auto shop and sprayed it with a metallic silver-blue auto finish.” To stay with the “steeped in nature” theme, Weisman nixed the standard island, substituting a bold mahogany table topped in stone that’s figured like the bottom of a riverbed.
For the stair hall of a young family’s recently completed Piedmont, California, residence, Fisher designed a spectacular cabinet embodying his singular “fantasy” style, made of carved, gilded and mirrored walnut and with lights inside. In the dining room, which could easily accommodate a banquet-size rectangular table, the designers opted instead for two round ones, which better suit the owners’ preferred entertaining style. (When hosting a large group, each takes one table, and between courses, they switch places.) Hanging above are two six-foot-long Midas Grand Tier chandeliers, designed by Fisher and made by artisans in San Miguel, iterations of which are now among the best-selling products in the Fisher Weisman Collection.
San Miguel is serving as an ideal proving ground for the collection. The Casa Blanca 7 restaurant and hotel comprised two tumble-down historic houses when Fisher and Weisman took on the extensive remodel. Now, the place oozes charm, with Fisher Weisman lighting throughout.
“The inspiration for our line is Andrew’s studio art,” says Weisman. “But it would never have happened if we hadn’t come here and encountered the extraordinary artisans in San Miguel, which is a historical center of art and craft in Mexico. We’re working with Mexican materials, employing mostly women who have no other source of income to make the lamp parts in their homes. We’re giving them some financial independence, and we’re bringing designs to the market that are all about craft and have a sense of the hand in every piece. It’s a very special thing.”