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lee trans­formed a dread­fully dec­o­rated cot­tage into a gor­geous, fab­u­lously func­tional fam­ily space

Living Etc - - CONTENTS / ETC - Photography ⁄ Paul Massey * Pro­duc­tion ⁄ Mary Weaver * Words ⁄ Claudia Bail­lie

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

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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.

gar­den 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.’

Liv­ing room

‘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.

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