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In discussion with Charlotte Raffo


Design Guild Mark - January 14, 2022 - 0 comments

Charlotte Raffo founded Leeds studio The Monkey Puzzle Tree in 2017 with the hope of establishing a new way to harness creative ideas to produce one-of-a-kind designs

She collaborates with carefully selected Yorkshire artists to create unique textiles and wallcoverings. As part of the mission to celebrate the best of the North of England’s creativity, eccentricity and innovation, all designs by The Monkey Puzzle Tree are manufactured within 100 miles of the studio, supporting traditional industries and maintaining high environmental standards.

Last year Charlotte and musical artist Drew Millward received recognition for their wallpaper ‘Hit the North’. Hit the North is a unique wall covering that features a modernist inspired industrial landscape printed onto real cork.

Printed in England onto sustainably sourced cork backed with FSC certified paper, the large scale creates impact in both residential and commercial spaces.

The inspired design was rightfully recognised by our 2D Design judges and awarded a Design Guild Mark  in 2021.

We sat down with Charlotte to find out more about her.

Who is your design hero?

The Timorous Beasties are my design heroes. I remember reading about them and their Glasgow Toile in the early noughties. I loved the subversiveness of their design in contrast with the traditional style of a toile, and how you had to look closely to see that there was something out of the ordinary in the design.

When did you first decide you were going to be a designer?

I’ve always been fascinated by design and interiors. When I was a child I would create three dimensional friezes on my bedroom walls that I would change with each season.

But coming from a family of engineers and scientists meant that I was encouraged to take that route and actually did my degree in Colour and Polymer Chemistry. Eventually though my passion won out and I managed to work in design.

What was your first big break in the industry?

My first job was working in a tannery which manufactured leather for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Camper shoes. It was the perfect role for me, combining science, design and practical skills. I created unique finishes for leather, combining different effects, designing gravure prints and embosses, and innovating new techniques. I was given the freedom to be creative and it was fantastic to play a part in creating beautiful products.

What was the first product you ever designed?

When I worked in the tannery I created a leather that was printed with a pattern created from a scan of my messy hair. Part of the job was to upgrade lower quality, marked leather by disguising or making a feature of the faults. I layered up different coloured metallics using the gravure print I’d designed. Then the leather was purposely scratched using a very course sandpaper, and then milled to soften the effect. The leather was bought by Camper and used to make shoes with pink rubber heart shaped heels.

What do you enjoy about being a designer?

For me, the purpose of design is to push the boundaries and do something new. I’m always looking for innovative methods, or new ways of using traditional techniques. I’m not really too interested in looking at trends within my industry but would rather find inspiration from outside and unusual places.

What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?

Running your own business means learning how to do everything, so actually the design part becomes a tiny part of the day-to-day work. The most important part to the survival of a business is making sales and I find that quite hard as I’m not a natural salesperson, I’d like to make fantastic designs and for people to buy them but sadly it’s not that simple! I’m getting there but it’s a steep learning curve.

Which design are you most proud of?

It’s a bit of a cliché but the designs for The Monkey Puzzle Tree really are like my children and I find it impossible to choose a favourite.

The designs I’m most personally proud of are those that were the biggest technical challenge – ‘Metamorphosis’ linen union fabric designed with Kirsty Greenwood was a real combination of lots of different screen-printing techniques and was a real leap of faith as we didn’t know what it was going to look like until the day we printed it. Obviously Hit the North has won awards and been immensely popular so I’m very proud of that too though I think that’s mainly down to Drew’s talent.

Behind the design: Hit the North

What is your creative process? 

If I need to be creative, I like to block out time when I’m not going to be disturbed and listen to some loud music. I find that often I have the best ideas whilst procrastinating so I try not to be too hard on myself if I’m having a day that doesn’t seem to be too productive. Sometimes inspiration comes whilst driving a long distance, or doing some gardening, when my mind isn’t fully engaged and has the space to wander off on a tangent.

What influences you?

I’m not particularly interested in current trends, but I’ve always loved interior design and its history. I’m fascinated by the changes in domestic design and how something can be fashionable one year and completely unthinkable sometime later. There’s a tendency to think that the past is boring, but when I stripped off the Anaglypta from my first house I found a scarlet star studded ceiling and vibrant pink wallpaper with roses left from the 1950’s, and that was just the toilet.

Is there a product you wish you’d designed?

No, I believe that the purpose of design is to bring joy into people’s lives, and it doesn’t really matter who designed the product. It’s a privilege and incredibly satisfying and enjoyable to be involved in that process though.

 

For more information about Charlotte Raffo, go to https://themonkeypuzzletree.com

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