I first met Charlotte earlier this year at a No House Rules event. Instantly drawn to her daring use of colour and pattern, I knew I wanted her to be a part of this new blog series. Her work has authenticity and integrity and always uses art as the starting point. Her design studio, The Monkey Puzzle Tree works with artists to create beautiful, innovative fabrics and wall coverings. Only a relatively new business (Charlotte’s been going just over a year now), it’s wonderful to see such a successful early venture. Receiving a lot of interest at Decorex this year, Charlotte is definitely “one to watch”! Read on to hear all about her studio, her inspiration and the drivers behind her work.

What was the main driver behind setting up your design studio? 

I’ve always loved colour and pattern and as a child I designed elaborate colour schemes and friezes for my bedroom. In the mid 90’s I read an article about the Timorous Beasties’ subversive textile designs and as a teenager felt very inspired, but never actually thought I’d be able to create something myself. Later, after studying colour chemistry and working on patterns from Camper to Louis Vuitton I began to think about working for myself.  

I met lots of talented artists throughout my career and thought it was such a waste that they were struggling to make a living from their work. It was the artist Sarah Thornton, who really gave me the idea for The Monkey Puzzle Tree in 2016. She said that she’d love to make her art into fabric but had no idea how to do it, and I thought ‘I could do that’.

What do you love most about your work?  

I really love the variety. The best bit is finding a new artist and then coming up with a new design, imagining what technique and fabric or wallpaper will work best. An unexpected benefit has been the interesting and amazing people I’ve met, from new artists and craftspeople, to the interior designers and others setting up their own small business.

Where do you find your inspiration?  

The inspiration always comes from the art. A traditional design house might set a brief, and the designer would work towards that. The way we work is by visiting the artists, looking at their work and finding something that really sparks our imagination, then finding a way to turn it into a beautiful product. 

For example, in the case of ‘Rita does Jazz’ by Sarah Thornton, the original was a very small watercolour painting, loosely sketched out onto a piece of hotel notepaper. We worked together to enlarge this and create the repeat using a colour photocopier, scissors, sellotape and a ruler. It’s important to us that the original piece of artwork isn’t designed digitally – but that’s not to say we’re luddites, we do use technology where necessary. But I think that replicating that original craft as closely as possible gives the final designs an authentic feel. 

Describe your work and style in 3 words?

Unique, beautiful, authentic

Where’s your favourite place to work? 

I love working in my studio at Unity Business Centre in Leeds. It’s not the most glamorous location or building, but it’s a big space with enough room to have room sets, a cutting and design table and my lovely vintage desk, as well as our considerable stock of wallpapers, fabrics and cushions. There’s a lovely feeling of community with the other businesses; sometimes we meet for lunch or talk over problems while doing the washing up.

Do you ever suffer from a “creative block” and, if so, how do you deal with it? 

I’m very lucky in that the way The Monkey Puzzle Tree works means that I have a never-ending supply of inspiration from the different artists I work with. In future we’d also like to be able to take on more artists (there’s a couple I have my eyes on), so we have the opposite problem – so many designs waiting to be realised, and not enough time to use them all!

What do you think are going to be the next trends in your field? 

We try to avoid being too trend led. For me it’s important that in the same way that a piece of good art is timeless, your interior should also be something that you love and that continues to inspire you for years to come. Vivienne Westwood words “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last” resonate with me.

What are you the most proud of? 

When you have your head down working, it can be hard to realise what you’ve achieved because you’re busy trying to fix the things that aren’t right yet. But if I think about it I’m so proud of our designs, they’re like my children, I love them all as much as each other but each in completely different ways!

What’s next for your studio? 

We were incredibly excited to have been accepted to show at Decorex this year, as part of London Design Festival. We launched a new super-wide wallpaper design by Sarah Thornton, and Joel Weaver and Sarah Jane Palmer joined us to talk about their work, and inspiration too. We’ve also got some exciting collaborations in the pipeline that we’re not allowed to talk about yet. Watch this space!

See more of Charlotte’s work at http://www.themonkeypuzzletree.com and be sure to follow her on Instragram @themonkeypuzzletree