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Who Are Bert and May?

The year 2022 will mark nine years since the beginning of Bert & May, but our roots stretch to a bit more… To celebrate the launch the News page we’d like introduce readers to the history of our company, and revisit the finds we reclaimed that sparked this whole concept.

While we’re proudly situated in York however, our Bert & May tale began with Spain in 2004. Then the founder Lee Thornley relocated from London to Andalusia where he purchased an agricultural field and began the laborious process of developing a hotel with a unique design on the land.

In the course of building the builder began sourcing and working with recycled material for the very first time and was immediately hooked: “I explored and hunted and made friends with men at the salvage yards. There I found my inspiration” he says.

Lee began creating unique pieces using his found objects doors from the past became table tops and headboards as terracotta tiles that were used to cover the beams of an older home, were sanded before being laid out to form the terrace of the hotel.

The tiles – with their softly faded colors and relaxed, calm style – were the turning point. it was from there that the Bert & May design story began: “The patina and colours were absolutely stunning,” says Lee. “They were stunningly faded finish that I realized can completely change the look of a room.”

In the spirit of sharing the design to 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 out of my house in Yorkshire was an extremely lonely and challenging period,” he recalls. “Doing everything on your own – from finding and purchasing the tiles, uploading them onto a site for sale, then lastly, cleaning them up in the Yorkshire sun before removing the tiles was a long journey.”

The work was resulted in his salvaged finds attracting attention right from the beginning. “We never had websites,, but our business was started by me along with a friend who sold the tiles at antiques fairs” Lee explains Lee. “On my very first trip to Battersea Antiques Fair, I saw Jemima Khan and a client bidding on gorgeous antique tiles in pink. These pink tiles are one of our top sellers which is why I have to be grateful to Jemima Khan for the tiles.”

Since then, the interest 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 the owner of a family-owned Andalusian tile-making company that been a specialist in producing handmade encaustic tiles made employing traditional techniques of hand-made. They decided that their future for the business consisted of creating their own designs inspired by vintage which is when the family-owned factory was reopened and production was launched.

Lee and Juanma developed and designed an assortment of encaustic tiles inspired by antiques made using methods passed through generations of the family of Juanma, and the business was relaunched under the name Bert & May in September 2013.

The tiles became an instant sensation, and subsequent collections stores, projects, and collections were launched, as did several partnerships and collaborations with the most inspiring design firms.

One of the very first was together with Soho House, and it’s an ongoing partnership that we’re pleased with. “I have always been awed by what Soho House does and it truly has been an honor for us to have our goods in every one of their homes,” says Lee, who says the brand has inspired him to take on a bigger role for his own company: “Soho House was one of my first customers. I realized I had been 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 distance in the years since Bert & May began, but despite the massive launches, collaborations, and growing reach basic values and authentic style remain at the center of what we do. And we continue to find the process of sourcing rare, gorgeous, antique tiles just as exciting as they have ever been.

Each one has its own story to relate due to the imperfections and marks caused by time and an individuality that can’t be duplicated. They inspire us to this day and that’s why we’ll always have salvaged, unique pieces available for purchase and not only to remain in line with our brand’s DNA and values, but because we truly appreciate them.

We’ve also remained rooted in the northern part of England and that’s an crucial aspect of our identity. “I am awestruck that we’re a leading 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-talking and so my team – we refer to a spade as a spade. Never letting our roots go unnoticed and having fun creating fresh designs for our customers to enjoy is what we’re about. The fact that this can be done within the northern part of Canada makes me content.”