Caxton Rhode, Surface Designers With Stories To Tell

by Becky Hoh in Bespoke stories

Surface Design company Caxton Rhode are so passionate about the custom-made ethos that underpins their work, they launched a whole new collection based on the past, present and future of East London’s Truman Brewery, simply because they were exhibiting at the venue with design show TENT last year.

They showcased their innovative use of vector graphics, to hand draw artworks more akin to those of traditional etchings, but using entirely digital means. In this case using the motifs of hops and grain, highlighting the building’s origins, but also Bangladeshi and fashion culture elements, to portray the surroundings the Brewery now sits in.

‘We are are bespoke practice,’ says Rob Bartlett, the company’s founding graphic designer. ‘For our Tent debut we wanted to show that it is our focus on the underlying story that makes our offering truly unique. For us, weaving in a meaningful story isn’t just a gimmicky add-on, it’s the foundation on to which everything we create is sewn.’

‘In much the same way as the great block printers, cabinetmakers and indeed textile designers of the past pushed the tools of their day, so too am I trying to do the same with mine.’


Established in 2010 by Bartlett, Caxton Rhode is a husband and wife partnership operating out of a modest loft studio based in Wimbledon, South West London.

Having worked as a graphic designer for the past seventeen years, Rob initially set out on a personal mission to challenge the conventions of vector design. Heavily influenced by both the Japanese world of Ukiyo-e and the British Arts & Crafts, his ambition is to set new benchmarks in decorative design.

Rob comments that they are ‘never happier than when they are tasked with creating something entirely new and unique for a client’ but they do also have five set collections, for fabric and wallpapers but they can apply them to most surfaces. The ranges have a strong floral, botanical, feel featuring tulips, daisies, roses and ferns. These English Heritage choice of motifs are given new life with a completely graphic and contemporary execution. Cool blocked colours come in unusual and modern shades, with stylised shading that could almost lend itself to tattoo art. It is a great mix, which is achieved through initially creating the designs combining hand crafted sketches with digital vector graphics, which means they are infinitely scalable and fully customisable and ‘alive’ as Bartlett describes.

The approach means that can adorn a huge variety of surfaces, which so far has included concrete and stained glass as well as more conventional walls and surfaces.

But for Bartlett the power of their custom attitude is two pronged so not just about versatility of the medium they use, but the emphasis they place on the story behind each design.

‘It is woven throughout every creation and tailored around every individual brief. For us this is the definition of bespoke,’ he asserts. ‘Working closely with our partners, through a series of one-to-ones and small workshops, we aim to uncover the emotional ambitions of a commission, which ultimately underpins everything else that follows. Once satisfied that we have everything we need, we then embark on a period of thorough research, scribbling ideas and developing sketches. This process continues until the strongest ideas emerge and most importantly, I feel a personal connection to the work myself. After all, that is the reason we are asked to engage.’

They are currently working on a series of figurative patterns for a really exciting commission, due for release in Spring 2014, unfortunately hush hush at the moment! They have also just been asked to supply a number of fabrics from their existing collections for use as clothing fabrics by a partner based in Kuwait.

The company is in its infancy and you can tell they are genuinely excited about where we might take our business, so this is a certainly a great opportunity to commission a piece from a truly up and coming, but also truly bespoke team, using traditional making ideals but with modern mediums.

‘I am just one designer on a mission to master my own craft,’ says Bartlett. ‘In much the same way as the great block printers, cabinetmakers and indeed textile designers of the past pushed the tools of their day, so too am I trying to do the same with mine.’

Caxton Rhode –

Recommended Editorials