Lee Thornley’s Yorkshire home
Nov 8, 2023
Stylish, homely and with the wow-factor... Using reclaimed materials for a remodelled family forever home...
When Bert & May’s founder, Lee Thornely, bought a 19th-century property just outside York, it provided the perfect opportunity to not just create the perfect base for him and his family, but also to embrace his passion for using the kinds of reclaimed materials that first inspired him to start the business. The result is a thoughtful and beautiful space built with day-to-day life in mind - a home that ticks the practicality boxes but also holds real meaning. Here, Lee explains how he did it…
Tell us about your home…
The property is located around three miles from York city centre. It was built circa 1820 and was formerly two cottages which were made into one family home.
What was it like when you bought it and what was your vision?
The house had the footprint of the two former cottages with two staircases, two kitchens and many small rooms both upstairs and down - it wasn’t practical for our youngish family.
Despite being over 3,000 square feet, it felt pokey and like a warren of small spaces. We knew it had the potential for so much more, but we felt it needed to be entirely remodelled to create more open spaces.
Many of its original features were hidden beneath several generations of renovation. The aim was to celebrate all the character behind the false ceilings and plaster walls. We wanted to create a beautiful family home - a forever home for ourselves and our two girls who are 11 and 13.
Where did you start?
Our priority was to uncover the architectural bones of the house and assess how they could be incorporated into the design. We removed all ceilings upstairs, exposing the vaulted ceiling and original beams. While some people felt the high ceilings would create a cavernous vibe, we chose to embrace this.
We also removed all internal walls and started remodelling the upstairs into four en-suite bedrooms. The master bedroom was formerly the sitting room, but we elected to turn this into a master suite overlooking the garden
I asked the Bert & May’s design team to design each of the bathrooms based on our moodboards. Each of the children (and us) created a moodboard of how we wanted our space to look and feel.
How did you ensure the space both reflected your personality and fulfilled the practical requirements of day-to-day life?
It’s critical that for any space to work, it must be practical, so we kept this in mind when making all our design decisions.
All families with teenage children need storage and therefore not underestimating this was important. One of the girls’ bedrooms has a generous dressing room, and the other has a zoned wardrobed area.
We also created an oversized utility room, big enough to accommodate endless washing and two dogs by night. Creating a snug just off the kitchen so the kids were able to have some downtime while also being in the same space as us while we were cooking was an important aim as well.
How did you weave your love of reclaimed materials into the project?
If used well, it’s impossible to over-use reclaimed materials, so I simply used them wherever I could. We elected to use handmade terracotta on the floor in the kitchen, reclaimed elm boards throughout the downstairs space and a reclaimed oak floor upstairs. We also used reclaimed tiles in the kitchen around a main feature fireplace and this really feels like a piece of art. The tiles are of no practical use, simply a statement of beauty.
Your garden is very much an extension of the indoor living space - how did you achieve this?
We both love being outside and wanted to design the garden in a way that would encourage us to be out there as much as we possibly could be. It’s a massive privilege to be able to build a natural swimming pool but this is certainly the biggest gift we have ever given ourselves. It’s absolutely incredible to wake up and not only see something so beautiful but for it also to be used as a pool.
Building large terraces around the pool, including one overlooking the river, was also an important part of the design. The terrace closest to the house has an outdoor fire and large table next to the barbecue, and the terrace overlooking the river has a fantastic, oversized seating area. Getting outside and enjoying the outdoors (whatever the weather) is nothing but life-enhancing and designing the space to encourage this was a great thing.
How does the finished home make you feel?
It makes me feel very happy to be in the space. It’s stylish and homely while also having wow-factor. Walking into the main kitchen/living space and having this seamless transition to the garden and pool beyond is simply magical.
What's crucial to keep in mind when designing a space that evokes an emotional response? And why is it important to do so?
You must feel something when you enter a space or you have created a vanilla interior and whilst some may think ‘play it safe’, I genuinely think this is a mistake. The skill is working with a designer or brand that cares and wants to bring their personality to the forefront.
Many people claim not to care or understand interiors, but I disagree. Everyone deep down has a view on how things look and it's simply down to us as the experts to enjoy exploring this. An interior is a success when it's unique and reflects the personality of those that enjoy the space.
If you love this aesthetic and the mix of reclaimed and new finishes speak to our design team. Lee and his team are passionate about interiors and can help you with your project.