Skip to content

The Bert & May Story

2022 is the ninth anniversary of the inception of Bert & May, but our roots stretch more than that… In celebration of the launch the News page we’d like introduce readers to the history of our company, and revisit the treasures we found in the woods that inspired the whole thing.

While we’re proudly situated in York but it’s not the only place to be. Bert & May tale began with Spain in 2004. Then the founder Lee Thornley relocated from London to Andalusia and bought a field, and started the long and tedious process of creating a boutique hotel around the field.

While building the house in the early stages, he began to source and working with recycled material for the very first time and was immediately hooked: “I explored and hunted and made friends with people who worked at the salvage yards. There I discovered my passion,” the architect says.

Lee began creating unique pieces from his objects doors from the past became tables and headboards, as terracotta tiles that were employed between the beams in an old home, were sanded before being laid out to form the terrace of the hotel.

The tiles – with their softly faded colors and relaxing, calming design – proved to be the turning point. it was from there that the Bert & May design story began: “The patina and colours are absolutely amazing,” says Lee. “They featured a stunning faded look that could completely transform an area.”

In the spirit of sharing the design with a wider audience Lee established an online store and began selling the tiles on the internet. To say that the process was a love-in-the-making is an understatement “Starting out of the garage of my home in Yorkshire was an uneasy and lonely period,” he recalls. “Doing everything on your own – starting with finding and buying the tiles, uploading them to a website for sale, then the most difficult part, cleaning them up in the Yorkshire “sun” before shipping the tiles was a long distance.”

The work was brought results, with his salvaged finds attracting attention since the beginning. “We have always maintained a web presence, but our business was started by me along with a friend who sold the tiles at antiques shows,” Lee explains Lee. “On my very first trip to Battersea Antiques Fair, I saw Jemima Khan and a client bidding on gorgeous antique pink tiles. The tiles in pink are one of our top sellers and I must be grateful to Jemima Khan for the tiles.”

At this point, the demand increased and increased, resulting in the growing company taking on a brand new beginning in the year 2010 when Lee came across Juanma who was the proprietor of a family-run Andalusian tile-making company that been a specialist in producing handmade encaustic tiles made employing traditional techniques of hand-made. Together , they decided that their future for the business consisted of creating their own unique designs inspired by the past which is when the family’s factory reopened, and production started.

Lee and Juanma developed and designed an array of encaustic tiles with antique designs made using methods passed through generations of the family of Juanma, and the company relaunched as Bert & May in September 2013.

The tiles were a huge sensation, and subsequent collections as well as stores and projects followed, along with several partnerships and collaborations with the most inspiring design firms.

One of the first was in partnership with Soho House, and it’s an ongoing partnership that we’re happy about. “I have always been impressed by the work Soho House does and it is truly a joy for us to have our goods in every one of their homes,” says Lee, who says the brand has inspired him to go big for his own company: “Soho House was one of my first customers. it was clear that I was on to something when they asked me to purchase 170m2 of an old tile. I had only 23 real tiles and it really inspired me to begin the manufacturing facility,” he says.

We’ve certainly come quite a ways from the time Bert & May began, but despite the massive launches, collaborations and growing reach basic values and authentic style remain the core of everything we do. We continue to find finding exquisite, rare, and beautiful tiles to be as exciting as ever.

Each one has its own story to be told because of the imperfections and marks created by the passage of time and an individuality which is impossible to duplicate. They will continue to inspire us and that’s why we’ll always have reclaimed rare finds to purchase in order to stay faithful to our brand’s heritage however, we truly are in love with them.

We’ve also remained rooted in the northern part of England which is an crucial aspect of our identity. “I enjoy the fact that we’re a top design firm and located in York,” says Lee. “We have a stunning Chelsea studio, but the heart of the design company is Yorkshire.

“I am very straight-talking and so is my team – they are known as spades. We don’t want to forget our roots and having fun creating fresh designs for our lovely customers is what we’re about. The fact that this is possible within the northern part of Canada makes me satisfied.”