It started with re­claimed tiles and has grown to en­com­pass a whole de­sign em­pire that’s still ex­pand­ing – here’s the low­down on this bril­liant Bri­tish brand

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Style Design -

It took a year of plan­ning and an­other of build­ing work be­fore Casa la Si­esta

( be­low right), the bou­tique ho­tel be­long­ing to Bert & May founder Lee Thorn­ley ( left), was com­plete. The prop­erty, which sits among the rolling hills of the beau­ti­ful Cádiz coun­try­side in Spain, was built in 2008, al­though the abun­dance of lo­cal re­claimed ma­te­ri­als used in its con­struc­tion make it ap­pear cen­turies older.

It was thanks to the dis­cov­ery of those ma­te­ri­als that Thorn­ley’s sal­vage busi­ness was born. A trained bar­ris­ter, he re­lo­cated in 2004 to learn Span­ish, end­ing up in the sleepy town of Ve­jer, where he bought the land to do up an apart­ment. ‘I thought I’d be in Spain for four weeks,’ says Thorn­ley. ‘But I didn’t go back to London for six years.’

De­spite Thorn­ley hav­ing no for­mal train­ing, the project was a huge suc­cess, so he launched an on­line recla­ma­tion com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in or­nate tiles. ‘Once the ho­tel was built, it be­came ap­par­ent that there was a de­mand for that aes­thetic,’ he says. ‘The great thing about tiles is that you can send out sam­ples.’

Dur­ing that time, the owner of a lo­cal tile fac­tory, Juan Me­na­cho, ap­proached Thorn­ley with a view to selling old stock. It didn’t fit Thorn­ley’s style, but as he was strug­gling to meet de­mand from clients with only sal­vaged ex­am­ples, the pair de­cided to work to­gether re­pro­duc­ing de­signs us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods. At Me­na­cho’s re­cently ex­panded fac­tory, liq­uid ce­ment coloured with nat­u­ral pig­ment is poured into metal moulds, then com­pacted us­ing hand-op­er­ated presses. Due to the skilled na­ture of the job each craftsper­son makes three-to-five square me­tres of tiles per day, or as lit­tle as one square me­tre for more com­plex de­signs.

In 2013, Thorn­ley re­branded his com­pany as Bert & May and moved back to the UK, where he opened his London show­room in 2014. Since then it has grown into a life­style brand, of­fer­ing not only its sig­na­ture tiles but also wood floor­ing, bath­rooms, kitchens ( left and top) and paints. On a larger scale, Bert & May has built a se­ries of pre-fab­ri­cated cab­ins and a modern house­boat.

New for au­tumn 2016 are fab­rics and tiles de­signed with London la­bel Dark­room (far left). Fea­tur­ing the lat­ter’s sig­na­ture geo­met­ric pat­terns and mono­chrome pal­ette with a flash of blue, the bold tiles can be laid in a struc­tured pat­tern or more ran­dom ar­range­ments. ‘I’m very keen to col­lab­o­rate more with other de­sign­ers,’ says Thorn­ley. A range of rugs, a life­style shop and more re­claimed pieces are also in the pipe­line. ‘Ul­ti­mately I’d like any­one to be able to come in and buy some­thing from Bert & May,’ he says, ‘ be that a bronze kitchen is­land for £20,000 or a pair of taps for £100’ ( bertand­; casalasi­

Read more about Bert & May at elledec­o­ra­

For­mer bar­ris­ter Lee Thorn­ley founded his sal­vage busi­ness spe­cial­is­ing in or­nate Span­ish tiles eight years ago. Now it has grown into a life­style brand

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