INSIDE STORY BERT & MAY
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
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’ ( bertandmay.com; casalasiesta.com).
Read more about Bert & May at elledecoration.co.uk
Former barrister Lee Thornley founded his salvage business specialising in ornate Spanish tiles eight years ago. Now it has grown into a lifestyle brand