Collaboration focus: Darkroom London
Case Study

Collaboration focus: Darkroom London

By Victoria Smith

Mar 15, 2021

We’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some incredible design companies since we started Bert & May, and these partnerships have become a really important part of what we do.

One of our most enduring unions is with East London design house Darkroom, who we first teamed up with six years ago to create our perennially popular Split Shift tiles. 

These tiles celebrate Darkroom’s signature use of bold, graphic forms and have become a real staple of our core collection, so much so that we thought it was time we introduced you to Darkroom owner Rhonda Drakeford. Here, she shares the story behind our ongoing design partnership...

Split shift tiles in blue. Image Xristina Argyros

Who you are and what do you do?

My name is Rhonda Drakeford, I design furniture, objects, surfaces and interiors. I’m the owner of design house Darkroom and I also run a design consultancy, Studio-Rhonda.

Tell us about Darkroom…

Darkroom started as a design store in Bloomsbury in 2009. We originally sold our own interior and fashion accessories alongside pieces we’d sourced from around the world. We’ve always been known for our bold use of patterns, colour palettes and materials.

We closed the store in 2016 to concentrate on the design side of the brand and now sell our products online as well as supplying lots of different international design stores.

We also work closely with interior designers to produce bespoke pieces and as a brand we’ve designed collaborative collections for the Science Museum and, as well as our favourite Split Shift tile collection for Bert & May.

What’s the story behind the collaboration?

We were approached by Bert & May back in 2015 to design a set of our signature hand-painted wall plates for Bert’s Barge. We created a triptych of plates that playfully split three geometric shapes - a circle, triangle and square. Only when the plates were positioned side by side would the shapes become complete. 

Lee Thornley, founder of Bert & May subsequently asked us to design a collection of tiles and we developed the idea of splitting shapes across three tiles so that you could either line them up or make abstracted randomised patterns.

The Split Shift tiles can be arranged to make countless patterns and allow the user to create something completely unique to their space.

We showcased the launch of the Split Shift collection by tiling the wet room on Bert’s Barge. The colour blue was chosen as a nod to Dutch Delft tiles and the Dutch-style shape of the barge.

The tiles were laid out to start as a rigid and geometric pattern at the top of the walls, which gradually disintegrates as you move down the wall ending with a randomised pattern on the floor, all a visual echo of water pouring down from a shower. 

The wetroom on Bert's Barge

What do you like about Bert & May?

The quality of the products is just so beautiful. For me the handmade process of pouring the pigmented cement into the tile moulds and how the neighbouring colours fuse together with the slightest of softness in the line contrasts so beautifully with the strictness of the geometric forms on the Split Shift design.

The organic process and its effect on the shapes gives each piece its own charm - we find that many people simply buy one of each tile to display on a shelf.

I love how Bert & May provides the building blocks of beautiful tiles designed with function in mind that also allow for so much individuality in how they are laid out. I feel the customer is given so much joy in being able to create a surface that is completely unique to them.

How did ‘Darkroom Black’ come about?

I remember when we saw the first factory samples of the blue and black [the two colours Split Shift was originally launched in] and I was like, ‘We’re gonna need a blacker black!’.

Our store was well known for its black-walled interior and so I really wanted to capture this in the tiles. The factory then developed the beautifully inky Darkroom Black especially for the collection.  

Split Shift Tiles in the signature Darkroom Black

How have you seen the collection evolve?

I really enjoy seeing how customers use the tiles - it’s always so unique. Some customers have interspersed the Split Shift amongst plain white tiles which is stunning, such genius!

I’ve used the tiles in bespoke tables and furniture for many clients and it’s become a signature service we offer - it’s so great that they are robust enough to use indoors and out so are perfect for garden furniture.

The new colours of pink, green and navy introduced in 2018 really help open up myriad options for using them in different projects.

Pink Split Shift Tiles. Image Place of Stories

Can you tell us about the new colours that are due to launch?

The new colours are very much inspired by nature and earthy tones. 2020 really gave me a new appreciation of nature - my daily walks were enriched by the textures, colours and smells of the natural world.

I was contemplating getting a bespoke set made in terracotta for a big interiors project I’m working on with Biophilic design ideas - bringing the outside in. This practice of working with natural materials and colours is proven to really improve the wellbeing of those who use the spaces.

I’ve subsequently expanded the new collection to three natural and complementary colours which contrast beautifully with the strictness of the geometric shapes. It’s really quite subversive and unexpected. These new earthy tones can be used alone or teamed with the original brighter colours.

Explore the Split Shift collection here


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