Lee Thornley and Harriet Roberts are the creators of reclaimed and bespoke tile brand Bert & May, based in Vyner Street, Bethnal Green. They find their inspiration among the capital’s specialist shops and buzzing cultural hubs.
THE BIRTH OF BERT & MAY
Lee: Harriet and I met at my boutique hotel Casa La Siesta in Andalucia, Spain, while she was on holiday with her mother. We chatted over drinks and I explained my plan to open a shop in London selling the sort of tiles that featured in the hotel. Harriet loved the idea and, by the time we had finished our drinks, we had decided to begin working together — resulting in the birth of Bert & May in September 2013. We both understood how important location is to a business and so wanted to be within a creative part of east London. We were delighted to find our fabulous warehouse in Vyner Street, which opened last October.
OUR SECRET SHOPS
Harriet: there is an amazing vintage shop in Hackney Road called Rospo. Hidden away in the basement is a beautiful collection of antique furniture. They also make bespoke pieces to order. I had my kitchen table made there.
Lee: I love Earl of East London for its scented candles, which are essential at home and in the office. They smell divine.
MOST STYLISH EATERY
Lee: I often stay at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, which is home to an amazing restaurant called Corner Room as well as a great cocktail bar, Peg + Patriot. Both have a stripped-back, industrial finish with nice homely touches and interesting design features.
Harriet: it has to be The Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch. They serve a delicious brunch and have an Airstream trailer that acts as a private dining space.
Harriet: Building BloQs in north London is a hidden gem for design inspiration. After an hour spent in the wood workshops among a community of artists, anyone would be inspired to create something amazing.
Lee: any Londoner must visit Wilton’s Music Hall at some point. Between Aldgate East and Tower Hill, it is a reinvention of a mid-19th century grand music hall and an 18th-century terrace of three houses and a pub. The detailing is like nowhere else.
WHERE TO ESCAPE
Harriet: my favourite escape is a place called Sunday in Islington. There is a courtyard in the back garden, which is a little haven tucked away from the busy streets. I like going there for brunch on a Sunday.
Lee: I love football, so a trip to the Emirates Stadium is a serious treat when I am in London.
Lee: there are so many great markets in London, but our favourites have to be the two that are most local to our warehouse, Broadway Market in Haggerston, and Netil Market, rather hidden in Westgate Street in E8. Sometimes when we are working on a Saturday we will take a stroll down to Broadway Market, grab a coffee at Climpson & Sons and then head over to Netil Market. It is the best place for unusual finds and gifts, and we can’t resist a grilled cheese sandwich from Morty and Bob’s.
FIND YOUR FABRICS
Harriet: there is a little curtain and fabric shop, Alexander Furnishings in Marylebone. I go there for print inspiration and to pick up fabric for furnishings at home. Dalston Mill Fabrics in Ridley Road, Hackney is also great.
Lee: Labour and Wait has great household goodies — we sourced our Alpine bucket sink from there.
Harriet: I bought a Danish school gym mat many years ago and had a frame built for it. I use it as my coffee table — I still absolutely love it.
Lee: my Verner Panton bachelor chair. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have it. Now it takes pride of place in my living room and the children know that it is my chair and only I am allowed to sit on it.
Harriet: I am desperate for an Atollo light by Vico Magistretti.
Lee: anything by Jean Prouvé — I’m a bit chair obsessed — so maybe his Cité lounge chair.
DESIGNERS WE ADMIRE
Lee: we are constantly inspired by the creativity in the capital, especially in east London. One of my favourites is Mathias Hahn, an incredible product designer who has a studio in Stoke Newington. Sebastian Cox’s designs are timeless and I love his approach to sustainability.
Harriet: my absolute favourite is Philippe Malouin. He is an architectural and interiors genius who transforms spaces using the most unusual and unexpected materials. I also love International Studio for unique lighting and furniture design.
WHERE WE LIVE
Harriet: I live in a Georgian townhouse in the Barnsbury area of Islington with my husband. When I was looking to buy I instantly fell in love with the area — it is so quiet on our street yet only a short walk home from the City, where I used to work, and a quick taxi ride home from the West End after an evening out. The architecture is beautiful and there’s a quirky and forever-changing selection of design and antiques shops dotted around which I love visiting when I have time.
Lee: I split my time between Yorkshire, where my family live, and London for Bert & May. I’m very lucky to have a beautiful Georgian house in the Yorkshire countryside, a fabulous Spanish holiday home and the exciting and inspirational buzz of city life in London. My home in Yorkshire is my family hub and the place I share with my two gorgeous children, Lyla and Iris. It is the perfect place to relax, unwind and enjoy time being a dad.
OUR DREAM HOMES
Lee: it is hard to give only one example of my dream home because I dream about so many homes. I am currently building a dream home in London — a canal boat on Regent’s Canal. We have a mooring at the Bert & May warehouse, so I’ll be able to roll out of bed and into the office. The design of the barge is striking, geometric and minimalist. It is a fabulous, simple space with everything I need to enjoy London life.
Harriet: I have a few dream houses that match different parts of my personality. A villa in the Caribbean, a cottage in the countryside — I’m a bit of a traditionalist — or my dream house in London would be Fenton House in Hampstead. It is the most stunning property with a walled garden.
Harriet: mornings are usually reserved for leisurely breakfasts with my husband. Then we will meet friends for a drink in our local pub.
Lee: usually I spend my weekends in Yorkshire with my family, heading out to the moors for bracing family walks. Sometimes I cannot make it back up to Yorkshire because of work, so I spend the weekend on my friend’s houseboat. We will make breakfast then take the boat towards Camden or Hackney Wick, where we will stop off at Crate Brewery for pizza and a pint of local ale.