Biophilic Storytelling Through Interior Design

04 May 2024

Conservation Biologist Susan Paisley on bringing the outside in through unique fabrics and wallpaper designs 

By Madison Bailey

Dr. Susy Paisley, a visionary artist and biologist with a profound connection to the natural world, brings a unique blend of biology and design to the forefront of interior design. Through her biophilic designs, she seamlessly merges her background with her love for textiles, crafting intricate works that not only captivate the eye but also tell compelling stories of biodiversity.

Nature’s profound influence on human well-being is undeniable. We are hard-wired to respond positively to it – from the crackling sound of fire to the smell of fresh rain on soil, the healing characteristics of plants and the color green. The thought of relaxation and rejuvenation almost instantly projects images of natural surroundings in one’s mind, be it the majestic sea, mountains, or forests. For Newton Paisley’s, those feelings manifest through the intricate ecosystems, vibrant flora, and diverse fauna of the world's most biodiverse regions. 

Although based in Kent in the United Kingdom, Dr. Paisley, the founder and creative force behind Newton Paisley, began her journey merging science with artistry after a transformative experience during her time at Guilford College in North Carolina. Trained initially as a biologist, Dr. Paisley found herself drawn to the aesthetic allure of the natural world, a passion she initially struggled to reconcile with her scientific pursuits. 

“I started as a field biologist as a specialist researching a type of Andes bear in Ecuador, spent a few years in Bolivia, and ultimately got my PhD,” she says. “But there was always something artistic in me – something calling out my love for the natural world.”  

Under the guidance of a professor, she gained the confidence to embrace both her scientific and artistic inclinations with Newton Paisley. “It always felt fitting in a way,” she affirms. “I’ve always had a love for textiles, and I started to realize that I could tell real stories about real-world nature, because the natural world desperately needs our love and attention.”

As the website reads, the company is “all about bridging the outside in.” A perfect fit for a biologist with a passion for aesthetics. Dr. Paisley's creative process involves meticulous research into the diverse species inhabiting specific ecosystems, such as the captivating cacao flower, the delightful, dotted reed frog, and the majestic red cracker butterfly. These species come to life in her project, Theobroma Tree of Life, which intricately portrays the rich tapestry of life surrounding the cacao tree. In collaboration with Williams Sonoma, this design pays homage to the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, championing agroforestry, environmental stewardship, and the preservation of forests – from the delicate pink Theobroma cacao pods to the detailed midge-inspired flowers and the elegant leaf-footed coreid bugs that adorn the chocolate-lovers design. 

The Theobroma Tree of Life design is available as wallpaper, printed linen and velvet worldwide. The design complements Williams Sonoma's delicious drinking chocolate, cookies, and truffles, offering a sensory experience that celebrates nature's diversity while supporting initiatives for a more sustainable future.

Dr. Paisley's true passion lies in the interconnectedness depicted within the artwork. 

“I’ve always enjoyed the glory of nature,” she says, “especially teasing out the stories that are interesting or complementary to each other, and then composing an interactive design. What I love most is drawing people in and making them want to learn and engage.”

The company’s commitment to preserving critical wild habitat is exemplified through its longstanding partnership with the World Land Trust. For every meter of fabric and roll of wallpaper sold, Newton Paisley ensures the preservation of 100 square meters of critical wild habitat. Since 2016, this collaboration has safeguarded threatened habitats and wildlife in various regions worldwide, including Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, Colombia, and South Africa. Through the collective efforts of Newton Paisley and its customers, approximately 70 acres of habitat have been preserved, totaling around 300,000 square feet. “It's a lovely link to think of the inside of people's homes, my customer's homes having representations of wildlife that is also going to support the reality for wildlife in the field,” she affirms.

Dr. Paisley also actively participates in World Land Trust board meetings and annual gatherings, where she meets scientists and conservationists dedicated to preserving wildlife habitats globally. 

Newton Paisley’s latest creation, Ochroma Wild Things, is a vibrant multi-panel design commissioned by the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour in Germany. Transporting viewers to Panama's Barro Colorado Island, the design showcases the fascinating nocturnal world of mammals amid lush Ochroma flowers. From playful kinkajous to curious capuchin monkeys, the design captures the island's rich biodiversity in four captivating color schemes. 

Meanwhile, the Beatrice Edit features a delightful collaboration between Dr. Paisley and her daughter Beatrice, an aspiring minimalist designer. Inspired by their playful banter about design preferences, they reimagined Newton Paisley's iconic patterns for those who appreciate simplicity. 

“I love to think of my illustrations of wild species existing beyond the confines of frames on walls, or the pages in books. I like them to be touched and felt and thought about,” she enthuses. “I hope to help people feel connected to nature in how they live in their home.”

Dr. Paisley’s own part-time home in Wilmington is deeply intertwined with her love for nature and her family's connection to the land. One of her cherished activities is exploring the serene beauty of Masonboro Sound, where her father—who was involved in its preservation—owns property. 

“I’ve had this red Coleman canoe for about 50 years, and I can’t wait to take it out,” she says. “It’s perfect at moonlight or dawn. That area is definitely a happy place for me.”

No matter your aesthetic preferences, Newton Paisley invites you to discover unique ways to bring the outside in. On Friday, May 3, Dr. Paisley will grace the stage at Design NC in Wilmington as one of the esteemed speakers. Amidst the vibrant atmosphere of this two-day event celebrating the finest in interior design, architecture, and creativity, Dr. Paisley will share her profound insights into design, drawing from her rich experiences and deep-rooted connections to nature. 

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