By Lee Thornley
Apr 27, 2018
Our Bert & May story, aesthetic and DNA comes from a journal of reclaimed finds, discovered and reinvented to give the effortless look you see in our material today. The passion behind the brand is driven by a desire to help create fantastic spaces which people love to look at but most importantly they enjoy living in and reclaimed materials are a key part of that tool kit.
My Own Story and how I learned to love cool old “stuff”
In 2006, I bought a field in southern Spain and built a boutique hotel and it was subsequently voted in the top Tatler 100 hotels of the world (www.casalasiesta.com). Whilst the fame (unfortunately no fortune follows from a boutique hotel with only 8 rooms) was gratefully received, I am adamant that one of the key contributors to the hotels design success are the reclaimed materials we used.
I explored and hunted and became friends with the guys on the salvage yards and here I found my inspiration and the building of Casa from the ground up with reclaimed finds began. I found an amazing set of old doors from Seville and from there my love of doors spiralled. I loved the solidity of them, the worn finish, the quality. I found I could create other things too from these doors; table tops, headboards, cupboards.
All tactile pieces and unique when placed together, the end result is almost naturally great and effortless.
I found antique floor tiles in Cordoba and stone flooring from Cabra and so my love of flooring began.
Antique Flooring & up-cycled table from huge reclaimed door
I found terracotta tiles, previously used between the beams of an old house, like the picture here, full of various layers of paint. But once sanded and laid these old and various colours make this terrace at the hotel truly spectacular, the old and faded colours are calming, relaxing and not overly busy. This “old and faded” colour range is now what Bert & May has become famous for with its colours being painstakingly developed from natural pigments for both the handmade tile range and the paints.
Reclaimed finds are and will always be a key part of the Bert & May business and I want you to see just how effective they can be in our homes. One really important point I want to get across is reclaimed does not mean “rustic” and it certainly (please excuse my snobbery) does not mean “shabby chic” – hate this phrase as I associate it with something very contrived and therefore the opposite of these timeless classics! Using reclaimed materials guarantees uniqueness as every single piece will be a little bit different (be it sun damaged, worn differently, scuffed and so on) and this is the real beauty of it.
This is a great example of our reclaimed plain tiles used in a fabulous modern interior.
This is one of my favourite shots of our reclaimed tiles being used supremely effectively in this East London home – reclaimed tiles being used as a cool bedhead.
Here’s a great inspirational image from @chateaudedirac gorgeous reclaimed terracotta and naturally worn paint finishes.
@ Bert & May
Our DNA is centered around the old materials and our passion is to wherever and whenever possible source these original pieces and give them a good second home. Ensuring they live on and prosper gives us all a great sense of joy.
We feature a few reclaimed pieces in store and have just widened this offering online too. Vyner Street is a great place to mooch around, an inspiring space, an old canal side warehouse. I love the honesty of the building, I’ve not had to create the old brick work and the old concrete floor, we just cleaned it up a little and let the materials do the rest. The perfect backdrop to display our finds and show our architectural homewares collections.
However the reality is we cannot find an endless amount of reclaimed materials and therefore a key part of our business is now focused on re-interpreting the reclaimed designs and colours on our new handmade products.
Our core tile collection all stems from the reclaimed finds, the patterns and designs on all our materials started once as an old antique tile. Our kitchens are all about the material, the reclaimed timber and the raw finishes. Our paints and fabrics are created from natural pigments. And our bathrooms are created from concrete and brass taps that will patina beautifully over time. I think we’ve created a timeless effortless aesthetic that can be adapted to many a personal style.
A snap from my office, whilst writing this article I’ve been compelled to create a new design from an old find, but I’m also thinking of how I can turn these old reclaimed samples into a piece of art. See, they are more than just tiles!
Summary 3 Top Tips on how to use
- Collect materials you love and don’t compromise. Give yourself the longest time frame you can to curate the look and feel you want to achieve. It’s a pain but collect your finds and suddenly you will see it all come together like a good jigsaw puzzle.
- Don’t worry about the imperfections, celebrate them as its exactly these differences between each tile or plank of wood which makes the material so beautiful.
- Don’t be scared and commit. Some people think that putting a reclaimed wooden shelf in their kitchen will make the kitchen feel “characterful” or “old”, well it wont. Don’t be frightened and do it properly. I am not proposing you do your whole house in reclaimed materials, but if you are going to clad some of the space – clad it fully. Be brave ;)
I hope this has been useful, or at least interesting. I head up the Finders team and would love to help you make your residential or commercial space different to the crowds. For those of you in the trade, don’t forget you get first dibs on the reclaimed finds we in the team discover for 7 days but you must be registered as a trade customer.
Also remember if you love one of our reclaimed tiles but there isn't quite enough of them we can make these, ask our team about our "bespoke for you" service.
For those of you who are not trade – the finds move over to our website 7 days later and you can find all of our current stock.