Ten minutes more with Lee Thornley from Bert & May

We visit Bert & May founder Lee Thornley at home in Yorkshire to learn more about his newest renovation project.

Ten minutes more with Lee Thornley from Bert & May
By day, Lee Thornley heads up reclaimed and handmade tile company Bert & May. By night (or in his spare time, at least), he’s somewhat of a renovation enthusiast. And an experienced one at that.

Last year saw Lee, partner Phil, their children and the family’s two dogs move from their modernised fifties ‘blank canvas’ house (you can read all about that project here) to one a stone’s throw down the road in the same village of Poppleton, York.

‘It’s a house that was beyond our budget when we first moved to the village, but it’s one we continued to keep an eye on,’ Lee begins. ‘It’s charming and characterful from the outside, but it’s the location that’s so special; right on the river and with uninterrupted views of the countryside.’
The property is, in fact, two Georgian cottages knocked together, with a newer extension on the back.

‘Although the cottages had already been joined and extended, it was a house of two halves, complete with two staircases and a warren of small rooms.

‘All the character had been concealed; false ceilings hid the original beams, and fireplaces and stained glass windows we didn’t even know about had been boxed in.

‘We wanted to expose (what we hoped was) the beauty beneath. So, that’s what we did, removing everything we possibly could without the house falling down around us,’ Lee says, chuckling.

With the house taken back to its bare bones, a large sitting room, office and oversized hallway were formed downstairs in the oldest section of the house, as well as a generous landing and four-bed, four-bath layout upstairs.

‘The focus then turned to the 15-year-old extension to the rear – something that had no real architectural merit,’ Lee continues.

‘It’s the “garden room”, so we wanted to bring the outside in. The look and feel we went for was Mediterranean-Californian; very minimal and muted.’
Throughout the home, the décor blends old and new materials with complete coherence.

‘The aesthetic is driven by reclaiming and restoration. I’m a true believer that if we can reuse and recycle, we absolutely should. We don’t really have a choice anymore; it’s too important. Older materials are often far better quality and more attractive too.

‘I also feel that we should be making lasting choices wherever we do buy new, rather than following trends or short-lived fads. It's a bit like picking a leather jacket: you want to invest in something that you’re always going to want to wear.’

Reflecting on the project, Lee says that not rushing the finishing touches was key.

‘Once your floors, tiles, cabinetry and the like are in place, it’s important to take the time to consider the details – because that’s what makes all the difference.’
As with the last renovation, Lee has used Corston switches and sockets throughout.

‘Having details so tactile and beautiful, yet also very simple – as Corston products are – enhances your enjoyment of a space no end. And things like switches and sockets are very visible very quickly. You’ll notice the quality as soon as you interact with them.’

While Bronze was the perfect finish for the previous, much more modern project, on this occasion, Antique Brass was the clear winner.

‘I love the way it ages. And while the same can be said of the Bronze finish, with Antique Brass the ageing is even more visible, which works so well with the reclaimed timber and reclaimed tiles,’ he explains.

And though Lee says it was the enduring quality of the designs that drew him to Corston again, the coordination of the products was a real plus.

‘The extension space is so different, architecturally, to the older part, and you might worry that using the same products in the same finish in both areas may not work, but that absolutely wasn’t the case. It’s produced a harmonious overall look.’

Quick-fire round
The project in three words?
‘Ambitious, challenging and fun.’

Favourite room?
‘Our bedroom with its views over the garden and river.’

Favourite Corston product?
‘The toggle switch: it’s a classic.’

Photography: Beth Davis beth-davis.co.uk