Ten minutes with Lee Thornley from Bert & May

The creative director and founder of Bert & May shares his renovation story.

Lee Thornley’s no stranger to restoring houses.

In the past, he’s tackled period properties where the focus has primarily been preserving original features. 

This time, however, it was the location rather than the house itself that won over Lee and partner Phil. 

‘It’s based in a village in Yorkshire that we adore. The house is 1950s, without any real period or architectural features. Instead, it was a blank canvas – something everyone raves about – but, as we discovered, it’s actually a much harder starting point.’ 
Using ‘the most beautiful’ individual components possible, they decided to turn the ordinary into something truly special. 

‘Most of our design decisions were guided by materials; namely oak, brass, bronze, Crittall and, of course, Bert & May’s encaustic tiles.

‘A pared back, textural aesthetic has always appealed to me. 

‘Going more minimalist was hard though, especially when it came to bringing in the cosiness needed to make it a liveable family home.

‘The paint colours helped, especially Little Greene’s Purple Brown in the snug, but we also used lots of velvets and other textiles to soften the rooms.’
And how important were the architectural details?

‘In any successful interior, it’s the switches, sockets, handles – the touchpoints – that matter. 

‘Yes, you can absolutely have an amazingly decorated room with stunning wallpaper or paint finishes, but it’s the architectural details that’ll really elevate it. 

‘Light switches are especially important because they’re at eye-level, and you touch them every single day. Why wouldn’t you take the time to choose beautiful switches?

‘Corston products are really simple, and really beautiful. 

‘And the designs don’t try too hard; some switches and sockets can be too over the top. I don’t want to show off, but I do enjoy good quality, good looking designs.

‘For a period property I would go for the Antique Brass finish, but here, we needed a more modern look and Bronze is perfect.

‘It isn’t pretending to be old, but it still has character, and it’ll very gradually age with use, just like the other materials we’ve chosen.’ 
It’s also no surprise that environmental considerations were just as intrinsic to the project. 

‘Everything we’ve done, in this house, but also at Bert & May generally, has been about products that are designed and built to last. 

‘We checked out the environment credentials of all our suppliers, including Corston, and only bought from companies that share this ethos. 

‘We started Bert & May selling recycled tiles, and I still believe passionately that reusing is the best way to protect the environment. But if you do buy newly manufactured products, like switches and sockets, taking the time to search out designs with longevity and durability can also make a big difference.’