On the sofa with
photo by Dvora @Fashionistable for That’s Not My Age
Luxury homeware designer Charlene Mullen creates unique ceramics, prints, stationery, and embroidered textiles, mixing traditional techniques with her love of the drawn line.
As well as selling her many collections from her boutique in trendy Shoreditch, Charlene runs decorating workshops, and takes commissions from private clients and major brands including Royal Doulton, Margaret Howell, The Conran Shop and Dualit.
In 2016, Friends & Co approached her to design bespoke products for the Makers for Selfridges homeware collection which proved hugely popular over last year’s festive season.
Q: Your illustrated china teapot, tea cups and mugs for Makers for Selfridges are still selling like hot-cakes. Are high-profile commissions and brand collaborations like this a good vehicle for raising your profile and reaching new audiences? Did you get more website traffic, increased footfall and more sales of the Christmas period as a result?
A: Good to know they are selling well and it really was great to be able to work on something new. We are so busy, it seems to take a commission to tear oneself away from the day-to-day running of a business and actually draw something. Collaborations with companies as high profile as Selfridges with the other designer/makers involved can only be a good thing. I’m sure it does bring people to the store and website but it’s hard to know how much by. It also shows people the variety of work we can do.
Q: How did you get your distinctive illustrative style to work with the Selfridges brand and grab the attention of the department store’s typical shopper?
A: I knew from working on a previous project for Selfridges that Harry Selfridge had sold Pug dogs and that made me think about people taking their dogs shopping and how often dogs and their owners resemble one another. I also liked the idea of how you instantly know from that ‘yellow’ that it screams ‘Selfridges’. I wanted it to tell a story and be light-hearted, feel like something special and have a hand-drawn quality. I think some of its appeal is that it nods to the golden years of illustration from the Fifties.
Q: You have the most extraordinary range of products from tiles and cushions to lampshades and doorstops. What have you got in the pipeline for 2017? Any more high-profile collaborations?
A: We are always thinking ‘what’s next…?’ King & McGaw who have framed art pieces of my work have opened a concession in Heals and I will be making new things for that alongside what they already have. I’m working with Case Furniture on an accessory for their furniture range and we are doing some more rugs and wallpaper.
Q: Your hand-knotted, bespoke rugs are made in Nepal by GoodWeave, an organisation that aims to stop child labour in the carpet industry. Do you always try to use ethical suppliers and craftspeople for your products?
A: I work with various workshops but they are all members of GoodWeave and a percentage of the rug price goes towards GoodWeave’s work and school etc. I have visited all the places that make for me so I know that the conditions are fair and people receive a reasonable wage for their work. I have always worked on small volume so it’s done in small workshops by highly skilled craftsmen who are in demand, so you are lucky to have them, and of course they expect good wages for their work.
For Makes for Selfridges, I loved that we could work with English Bone China that’s handmade in Stoke by a family-run company. The company can work on small orders, quickly and to a really high standard and it’s on our doorstep so easy to talk through any glitches and get it right.
Q: London’s architecture features on your cushions, blinds, stationery, and even toasters. What’s your favourite building in the city?
A: I know it’s not everyone’s choice, but I love the Royal Festival Hall. It’s beautiful, sitting there opposite the river – now it’s used properly with amazing events, and is full of people just hanging out. The fact that it looks this good after all this time shows how great we are at design.