As we launch our exclusive collection of Bert & May tiles, we visited founder Lee Thornley's Yorkshire home, which is a lesson in understated style, full of repurposed finds, design classics and, naturally, beautiful tiles. Lee explained his approach to design (in short: keep it simple) and shared some of the history behind his brand and the longstanding relationship with Soho House.

'I was originally a barrister, then I moved to Spain and created this boutique hotel, Casa la Siesta, which I still own in Andalusia. It's all about bare plaster walls and a very simple aesthetic and that’s where Bert & May was born. A lot of our finds come from that area.'

'I’m not interested at all in trying to follow what’s in vogue or what’s on trend because I just think it’s a recipe for disaster. We’re true to the brand and the aesthetic - it’s raw and it’s simple. A muted colour palette and natural pigments are key and anything that goes into that box works, it’s part of who we are. I don’t go "this year’s colour is maroon, let’s go to the factory and do a maroon week."

‘I’ve been in this house for two years. I spend three days a week in East London and four days in Yorkshire. When designing a space, I tend to strip it back to the absolute bones, the core and then work from there back again. For example, with my ceiling, I stripped it all back and it looked great so it was just left as it was. Find out what the space really is by taking away any kind of detail or decoration that isn’t original, then see what you’ve got, determine how you want to live in that space, how you want to use it. I go with functionality first, so if you want to have a nice light space to read in, then you’re going to design it in a way which is suited to that use.

Mix and Match

'I’m very keen on sticking with the architecture of the building and retaining its original features and heritage, but when it comes to the decorative side I’m happy to mix and match lots of different things within it. For example, if you like eclectic furniture, then the fact that you use it throughout and you don’t have a 'Danish room' and a 'traditional English' room makes a lot more sense and while it’s weird and wonderfully different you can see that the same person had a hand in it. If you are into a certain era or type of look, that should flow through your home naturally without thinking too much about it.'

Style and Substance

'It’s disingenuous to say I have just one or two favourite objects in my home, but there are things that I have got like an old Danish gym mat which I made into a coffee table by making a wooden base for it. I’ve got a beautiful dining table which is made of old shutters and some old Hans Wegner chairs. For me it’s the contrast of having pieces that I found that say ‘oh I remember that, I remember that journey' or 'I remember why I got that piece' and design classics. You don’t have to be afraid of being a bit predictable. Like, if there is a Wegner chair that you love, like I do, then that is important.'

Go With What You Love

'It’s all about picking something you genuinely love, not seeing something in a magazine and thinking "oh I’m going to copy someone’s life". If you love something the chances are you’re going to continue to love it. My view is to keep it very simple and while pattern is great and we sell lots of patterned tiles, I personally think pattern for most of us is secondary to a core material and therefore I tend to pick a very simple tile, simple colour and then accent it with pattern. Keep it simple, keep it very easy to live with. But if you’re the kind of person who loves wearing crazy patterns, go for it!'

Keep It Simple

'My tastes are very simple and I think they’ve become increasingly proud of being simple. When you start designing things when you’re a bit younger you almost think you have to design more, to think about things in a bit too much detail – 'can I use that pattern with this colour?', 'does that really work, is it that white or this white?' Now I tend to just keep one material and one colour in a space and really be proud of that. My sitting room has got the same coloured hearth and floor and that’s it, it’s just one material. For me it always looks far more classic and distinctive.'

The relationship with Soho House came about because they found me and thought ‘oh that’s really interesting, he’s selling lots of antiques’. The vintage tiles are our most premium product. Soho House loved that and we obviously didn’t have enough to do a large space, but immediately I could see that we had similar tastes. From there it’s been an evolving relationship whereby I think it’s fair to say initially we were a supplier and now we’re more of a partner. Recently they wanted a marbled look which we then did in different colours; it’s really interesting trying to create those designs.

We’ve taken three iconic pattern tiles that were originally created just for Soho House to be used in the Houses – Berlin and 76 Dean Street. We matched them with three complimentary plain tiles which I think are beautiful – there’s one in my house, it’s a plain 'leather' colour. We’re going to show people that you can either be very brave and do a Soho House Berlin crazy geometric super strong look or you can go plain and it will still be really effective and you can still tell that you’ve bought a quality product. I don’t want people to think that if you get Bert & May you’ve got to buy into a crazy design, it’s actually about colour, pigment and patina.

Babington House

Look for Bert & May's tiles in the rooms at Babington House, our country estate in the heart of Somerset.