The Romance of Reclaimed: A tile-led love story
Feb 9, 2022
If you’ve been a fan of Bert & May for a while, you’ll know that everything we do stems from our first love, which is reclaimed tiles
Our founder, Lee Thornley, first fell for the charms of reclaimed while building a boutique hotel in Spain. “The patina and colours of the old tiles we discovered during the build stood out as absolutely incredible,” he says. “They had a beautiful, faded finish which I realised can totally transform a space.”
Lee subsequently began importing some of his reclaimed finds to the UK, and after several years of increasing demand, Bert & May was born (read the full story here).
Nine years later, our reclaimed collections remain at the heart of the business. We don’t just love the way these tiles look; we’re also fascinated by the stories they tell – each piece has a distinct character imparted by time and is a product of its surroundings in the truest sense.
Whether it’s the imperfections they bear or the patterns that are unmistakably typical of where we find them, there are hidden depths and a certain romance to each reclaimed item we source that just can’t be replicated.
Here, Lee explains more about what makes these tiles so remarkable…
What made you fall in love with reclaimed tiles?
I built a boutique hotel in Cadiz, Spain in 2004 and we were determined to reuse as many local and reclaimed materials as possible – partly because we had a small budget and partly because we wanted the hotel to sit within its surroundings and feel sympathetic to the styles of buildings in the area.
We found some terracotta tiles that had been used between the beams of an old house. Once we’d cleaned them up and laid them for the hotel terrace, they were so impactful I was instantly hooked and spent the remainder of the project sourcing reclaimed materials and items such as old doors and iron pillars. It was the antique tiles that I found so fascinating though. Each lot felt really special and full of amazing potential…
What makes them so special?
I love the stories they tell, and the fact they have been around for such a long time. Each lot is unique – even if we find the same pattern (some patterns are more commonly found than others) they could be in a different colour or have aged differently depending on where they’ve been used.
It’s so satisfying seeing these tiles take on a new lease of life in our clients’ projects. They add such uniqueness and have an authenticity to them you just can’t recreate.
Where do the tiles come from and what do you look for when you’re sourcing?
We have a dedicated team in Spain who source the tiles from all sorts of old buildings. A lot of the time these would just be going into landfill if we didn’t save them! We collect as many lots as we can each month then send them in bulk to the UK, to be as environmentally conscious as we can.
What’s your advice for buying reclaimed?
- Look for materials you love and don’t compromise. Also, don’t rush – it’s important to give yourself the longest timeframe possible so you can curate the exact look and feel you’re after. Spending that extra bit of time will be worth it!
- Don’t worry about imperfections! The differences between each item are what make these finds so lovely.
- Be brave. I am not suggesting you kit your entire whole house out with reclaimed materials, but if you are going to clad some of the space – clad it fully.
Explore our latest reclaimed finds here.
Interior inspiration: Images 1 and 2: Casa La Siesta. Image 3: Uber cool Los Angeles project by A1000xBetter. Photography Alex Zafour. Images 4 and 7: The beautiful Landscape Lodge in French Alps. Photography Nicolas Mathéus. Image 8: Kilmartin Castle in Scotland.