Maker Monday: An ASPIRE Exclusive Interview With Naomi Neilson

This week’s #MakerMonday is Naomi Neilson, CEO of Native Trails. Her world-traveling mindset and oneness with nature have a clear influence on the material genius of Native Trails’ earthy bathroom products. In this interview with Andrew Joseph, she talks about the sea, the sky, sustainability, and spices.

The stone used for this Native Trails sink conjures peaceful images of bathing in a waterfall.

Andrew Joseph: You’re the newest Crayola color. What color are you and why?
Naomi Neilson: Turquoise with a thread of gold. It makes me think of the sea, the sky…wanderlust and happiness.

Andrew: If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?
Naomi: Dolphin. They know how to have fun and always seem to be smiling, yet they’re tough – they take on sharks, the most feared predator in the sea.

Andrew: What is something you hope to see trending in design in the future?
Naomi: I’d like to see social sustainability become a stronger influence on design choices.

Andrew: What’s a guilty pleasure you have?
Naomi: S’mores…I may love them more than my kids do.

Andrew: What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?
Naomi: I spent the weekend in NYC with my man, celebrating his birthday.

Andrew: What are three words to describe where you live?
Naomi: Beachy, friendly, and peaceful – that’s my neighborhood. My house is inviting, relaxed (that’s a positive spin on “a little messy”), and artful.

This pearl sink and tub installation by Native Trails truly rocks. Photograph by Amy Neunsinger.

Andrew: What’s the weirdest thing a client has ever asked you?
Naomi: To make a pig-shaped sink.

Andrew: What are you most proud of?
Naomi: I guess I’m pretty proud of turning a crazy idea into a solid, impactful company that people are also proud to be a part of.

Andrew: What’s one ingredient you put in everything?
Naomi: Cayenne…or any kind of hot chile…spice makes life way more fun!

Andrew: What’s inspiring you in life (in the industry) right now?
Naomi: Mixing metals and earthy finishes to create wonderfully appealing contradictions.

Andrew: Best advice you’d give your teenage self?
Naomi: Be nicer to your mom!

Andrew: What would you like to be remembered for?
Naomi: Helping people find fulfillment and using business to create positive change.

Andrew: How do you define beauty?
Naomi: Beauty is personal, defined by our experiences and biases – it’s whatever makes you feel “ahhhh.”

About The Maker | The Native Trails story is in large part the story of its chief visionary, Naomi Neilson. Naomi founded Native Trails in 1996 and is best known for introducing the company’s iconic copper basins to the world – effectively helping to establish hand-hammered copper as a mainstay material for luxury kitchens and baths. Naomi’s entrepreneurial spirit, along with her pursuit of innovative designs, artistry, and sustainable practices, propelled Native Trails while she attended college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where the company is also headquartered.

Enamored by the talent of artisans she met during her early travels to Mexico and Morocco, Naomi enjoyed bringing home art from exotic locales so others could also experience it. She researched and traveled extensively, visiting remote villages where artisans practiced ancient craft traditions. As an advocate for indigenous peoples and fair practices, Naomi began providing craftspeople with design and operational guidance, helping initiate a reliable revenue stream for their local economies also introducing the artisans’ handiwork into homes throughout the world. Today, Native Trails’ artisans construct their products in facilities located in Vietnam, Mexico, and the United States using fair and sustainable practices. Native Trails ships its award-winning products to more than 1,300 showrooms across the U.S. and Canada, while its website,, offers sales beyond North America.

Naomi is one of the few female leaders in the sustainable kitchen & bath industry; an industry that is heavily reliant on female consumers. Her leadership has been recognized by Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA), naming Naomi Manufacturing Professional of the Year in 2005. She has also been featured in San Luis Obispo’s 2009 “Top 20 under 40” list.. Having built a multinational business now in its 20thyear, Naomi still finds inspiration in the people, culture, art, and traditions in villages around the world – including her own backyard where Native Trails employs artisans from California’s Central Coast. She continues to seek out new materials and designs, as well as artisanal and sustainable practices for Native Trails.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here

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ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME is seeker and storyteller of the sublime in living. It is a global guide to in-depth and varied views of beauty and shelter that stirs imagination; that delights and inspires homeowners as well as art and design doyens. Collaborating with emergent and eminent architects, artisans, designers, developers and tastemakers, ASPIRE creates captivating content that savors the subjects and transports with stunning imagery and clever, thought-provoking writing. Through lush and unique visuals and a fresh editorial lens, ASPIRE explores what is new and undiscovered in art, interiors, design, culture, real estate, travel and more. ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME is an international narrative and resource for all seeking the sublime.