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Where did Bert and May Come From?

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2022 is the ninth anniversary of the beginning of Bert & May, but our roots stretch to a bit more… In celebration of the launch the News page we’d like introduce the story behind our brand, and review the treasures we found in the woods that inspired the whole thing.

Although we’re proudly located in York but it’s not the only place to be. Bert & May history began at Spain in 2004 when the company’s founder Lee Thornley relocated from London to Andalusia and bought a field, and started the long and tedious process of developing a hotel with a unique design on the field.

In the course of building in the early stages, he began to source and working with recycled components for the first times and instantly fell in love: “I explored and hunted and eventually made friends with people who worked at the salvage yards, and that’s where I discovered my passion,” he says.

Lee began creating unique pieces using his found objects doors that were once used as table tops and headboards and terracotta tiles, which were previously 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 subtle faded colour and relaxing, calming style – were an important turning point. they were the way the Bert & May design story began: “The patina and colours were absolutely stunning,” says Lee. “They featured a stunning faded look that can completely change the look of a room.”

The idea of sharing the style with a wider audience Lee established an online store and began selling the tiles on the internet. The process of creating the tiles was a labor of love is an understatement “Starting with 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 onto a site and selling them, and lastly, cleaning them up in the Yorkshire sun before removing the tiles was a long distance.”

The effort brought results, with his reclaimed treasures attracting attention right from the beginning. “We never had websites,, but the business was started by me and a colleague selling tiles at antiques shows,” Lee explains Lee. “On my very first trip to Battersea Antiques Fair, I saw Jemima Khan and a different 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 this.”

At this point, the demand was growing and increasing, which resulted in the growing business taking on a fresh beginning in the year 2010 when Lee was introduced to Juanma who was the proprietor of a family-run Andalusian tile maker that been a specialist in producing handmade encaustic tiles made employing traditional techniques of hand-made. Together , they decided that to make the business was in creating their own designs inspired by vintage and the family-owned factory was reopened and production was launched.

Lee and Juanma developed and designed an assortment of encaustic tiles with antique designs employing techniques handed through generations of the family of Juanma, and the company relaunched as Bert & May in September 2013.

The tiles became an instant sensation, and subsequent collections stores, projects, and collections followed, along with several partnerships and collaborations with the most inspiring design firms.

One of the very first was in partnership with Soho House, and it’s an ongoing relationship that we’re happy about. “I have always been impressed by the work Soho House does and it is truly a joy seeing our tiles in all their properties,” 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 requested 170m2 of an old tile. I only had 23 original tiles and it really motivated me to start 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 fundamental values and the authentic look are at the center of what we do. We continue to find finding rare, gorgeous, antique tiles just as exciting as they have ever been.

Every single one of them has a unique story to be told because of the imperfections and marks created by the passage of time and a distinct character that can’t be duplicated. 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 and values, but because we truly are in love with them.

We’ve also remained rooted in the northern part of England and that’s an significant aspect of what we’re about. “I am awestruck that we’re a top design firm and located in York,” says Lee. “We have a beautiful Chelsea studio, but the heart of the design company is Yorkshire.

“I am very straight and straightforward as my team – we are known as spades. We don’t want to forget our roots and having fun creating fresh designs for our customers to enjoy is what we’re about. The fact that it is possible even in northern Europe makes me content.”