HOME FROM HOME
lee transformed a dreadfully decorated cottage into a gorgeous, fabulously functional family space
Clever colours, tactile surfaces and a lot of hard graft were all it took for Lee to turn a poorly decorated and unloved property into a super-stylish yet functional family abode
The owner Lee Thornley, founder of lifestyle brand Bert & May, and his daughters Lyla, seven, and Iris, four. Plus rabbits Lizzie and Twitchy.
The Property A Victorian mill owner’s cottage in North yorkshire. on the ground floor is a living room, dining room, kitchen, garden room and cloakroom, while upstairs are four bedrooms, a bathroom and shower room.
A dull Eighties extension was transformed with cladding. ‘It was really boring architecturally, so this was a great success,’ says Lee.
Get the look This is Bert & May’s White Crackle cladding. The woodwork is painted in Deadly Night and the floor in Agian oil eggshells by Bert & May. The wall light is from Heal’s.
‘I’mactually quite tight,’ says a smiling Lee Thornley, when asked what it took to completely reinvent the quaint Victorian mill house that he and his daughters Lyla and Iris live in. ‘I like to find a solution that isn’t just throwing cash at a problem and I’m not a fan of wasting money. This house definitely proves that if you spend just a few quid on a concrete worktop or some cool wooden cladding, for example, it can really make a difference.’ And what a difference those things have made to the once dated and unloved property, which he has since transformed into a characterful and cosy family home.
Lee, who is the founder of lifestyle brand Bert & May (originally best known for its cement tiles and salvaged pieces and now a great source for paint, flooring, kitchens and bathrooms), is no stranger to an ambitious build. Having renovated a property in Spain, he then constructed Casa La Siesta, a popular boutique hotel in Cadiz, entirely from reclaimed materials. Back in England, he commissioned the build of a contemporary barge, which is now moored on the canal outside Bert & May’s east London showroom, again kitted out using the brand’s materials. Lee splits his time between the barge – his home for four days a week – and this Yorkshire cottage. ‘It’s a great alternative way of living,’ he says. ‘When I first started the business, I needed to be in London, but rents are so expensive, so when I saw the canal I thought, “What an opportunity”. I’m a bit of a country bumpkin at heart – I love waking up on the water in the morning.’
It is, he says, a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle. ‘When I’m on the barge, I have drinks there, but I never cook and I’m always eating out,’ he says. ‘It’s very different to when I’m in Yorkshire, where I can relax, play with the girls and take them to school.’ Lee was drawn to this house because it had lots of space for him and the girls, plus a huge garden. ‘We do entertain, but really informally and the most important thing is that it’s a place for us to chill out and for me to disconnect from the city a little,’ he says. ‘My aim was to create a really family-oriented environment.’
Previously, Lee had done major refurbishments, but with the cottage, he wasn’t interested in knocking down or relocating walls. Instead, he describes the work as ‘serious cosmetic rather than structural’, with the majority done on a budget and within the relatively short time frame of only a year. ‘What I loved about this place when I found it was that although it was dreadful from a decorative point of view – really old-fashioned, with pink carpets and vinyl wallpaper – it had lots of character and tons of great features, such as beautiful cornicing, good sash windows and original plasterwork that could just be stripped back and left,’ Lee explains. ‘In the end, I ripped the interior to bits.’
Floorboards and woodwork were sanded and repainted throughout and the living-room hearth and the bathroom completely retiled. Lee also added new tiles in the kitchen, where simple painted MDF cupboards are topped with concrete. Plasterwork in the living room was left exposed, but waxed to enhance its surface pattern and the Eighties extension was revamped with textured reclaimed cladding. ‘I wanted the house to have the Bert & May DNA, but at the same time, I didn’t want to use our stuff everywhere,’ he says. ‘There are lots of things, such as the artwork and the Danish leather sofa that I really love, but we wouldn’t ever have them in the showroom.’ Instead, the interior is a clever combination of tactile surfaces, contemporary pattern and well-chosen pre-loved pieces that together give a gentle nod to his burgeoning London business.
‘With Bert & May, I have to produce an aesthetic that’s consistent, but in my own house, I can mix up all my favourite items, which is nice,’ says Lee. ‘They’re quite random, but they do help to make it a very happy space.’
‘I love spending time in here,’ says Lee.
‘It’s the oldest part of the house.’
Get the look The armchair was found at The Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair and the vintage Danish sideboard is an ebay buy. Above it hangs a print of a Bert & May x Darkroom textile. The coffee table was built by Lee, who topped it with a vintage Danish gym mat. The fireplace is tiled with Majadas tiles by Bert & May. The sofa, opposite, is from Béton Brut.
The rug and cushions are by Larussi. The ladder shelving unit is from French Connection Home. The central light fitting and the wall lamps are fitted with Tala light bulbs from Heal’s.
The curtains are made in Bert & May’s Lily and Amaryllis.