The art of the matter

Charlotte Raffo at workCharlotte Raffo at work
Charlotte Raffo at work
Charlotte Raffo is putting artists' work on to fabric and wallpaper. Sharon Dale reports.

Charlotte Raffo is a self-confessed interiors geek and her interest in homes began when she was very young. “It’s a lifelong obsession. When I was a child and visited the houses of my parents’ friends, I’d always ask to go to the toilet just so that I could have a look at more of their home. I bought my first property at 22, partly because I was so desperate to have somewhere I could decorate and experiment with,” she says.

A career in the interiors industry was clearly a must and she gained valuable experience as a textile buyer for Huddersfield-based Mamas and Papas. As part of the job, she helped organise collaborations with Liberty and Donna Wilson, and commissioned local mills to print original designs on to cloth. She also learned a lot about colour chemistry.

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Her new solo venture uses all her experience and is aimed at transferring artists’ work on to fabric and wallpaper. “Many friends and acquaintances of mine are artists,” says Leeds-based Charlotte. “I was saddened by the fact that despite producing beautiful work and despite being very high profile, some of them were struggling to make ends meet.”

Rita does Jazz fabric by artist Sarah ThorntonRita does Jazz fabric by artist Sarah Thornton
Rita does Jazz fabric by artist Sarah Thornton

After wondering how she could help, artist Sarah Thornton gave her the prompt she needed. “She said her dream was to turn her artwork into fabric but she didn’t know how to do it. I thought, ‘Well, I could definitely do that,’” says Charlotte.

Making it a viable business was a different matter until she came up with the idea of creating an interior products company run on the basis of an independent record label. Now her online store The Monkey Puzzle Tree is trading with its first set of original and diverse designs with more to come next year.

“I knew the best British manufacturers available and had enough savings to fund the first few products and it went from there. I chose the artists I wanted to work with and I paid them a royalty plus a percentage of the sales on products.

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“The idea is to ensure that artists keep their own identity and creative freedom, while I help them develop repeat designs that work on textiles and wallpapers. It is very important that we are not too restricted by commerciality so we can push the boundaries both in terms of the art and techniques we use,” she says.

How the leopard changed his spots fabric by Alexis SnellHow the leopard changed his spots fabric by Alexis Snell
How the leopard changed his spots fabric by Alexis Snell

The Monkey Puzzle Tree now has fabric printed with designs by Joel Weaver, a graphite miniature artist who has worked with Damien Hirst and Ryan Gander; Sarah Thornton; Alexis Snell, who specialises in fairy-tale gothic lino prints, and Sarah Jane Palmer. A range of wallpapers will be released later this year.

Fabrics retail from £65/m

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