He had luxury fittings, design nous and a coveted canal mooring, but what Lee Thornley didn’t have was the boat to unite them all.
So the director of London flooring company Bert & May trekked to Liverpool to procure a bare-bones narrowboat from a local boatbuilder. Four months later, Thornley, RaT Architecture and creative consultant Laura Fulmine had transformed the space and kitted it out with handmade concrete tiles, wall cladding and engineered flooring from the Bert & May catalogue – plus a selection of tidy, modular furnishings that made the package adaptable and extraordinarily liveable.
Meanwhile, Thornley has gone from niche supplier to property broker with Bert & May Spaces. And his so-called Barge No.1, unveiled in London during Clerkenwell Design Week, has become a prototype of what a narrowboat can be.
‘We’ve always looked for unique ways to use our materials,’ says Thornley, ‘and having an East London warehouse with a mooring, it was obvious what we should do. Besides which, London is going through a huge property crisis, and this was our way of trying to alleviate that.’
Bert’s Barges come in two variations: a 16m ‘country’ two-bedroom and a 14m ‘urban’ one-bed with a murphy bed in the dining area (pictured). Tiled rooftop decks, rare for these boats, have railings that fold down with a spanner when the boat is cruising.
The ‘fully fitted’ price (from £120,000, mooring not including) includes a choice of materials and the option of hiring Fulmine to source the furniture (Barge No.1 was ‘curated’ in the contemporary sense, with pieces from Darkroom, Monologue and Béton Brut).
They claim the boats challenge the perception of what a living space can be. ‘The people who visit tell me it doesn’t feel like a barge,’ says Fulmine. ‘That’s music to my ears.’
Thornley, who’ll take Barge No.1 up for holidays in Yorkshire before settling in East London, has hired a dedicated operations person for the new real estate arm, which is far from complete. ‘I’d like to get into camper vans next.’