Manhattan Loft's John Hitchcox and French designer Philippe Starck to build around the world.
British developer John Hitchcox has teamed up with leading French architect and designer Philippe Starck to deliver custom-designed living spaces to city dwellers worldwide.

Hitchcox, 37, co-founder of Manhattan Loft Corporation, and 50-year-old Starck announced the launch of Yoo, a London-based development-design joint venture, this week.

Within five years, the company plans to develop a £300m portfolio of 30 custom-designed, city-centre residential properties.

Each property would contain 35 to 150 units, with up to three exclusive properties in any one city. These would be a mixture of new build and conversions.

The Yoo project

Starck said of the concept behind Yoo: "We want to offer democratic, high-fashion living. We want to help people to know how to give good proportions, good quality, good materials to their life. That is why we don't speak about architecture, we don't speak about business, we speak about Yoo – it's a human project."

Hitchcox said: "It is about what you want. It is for people with exceptional imagination and interest in how and where they live."

Hitchcox said Yoo planned to create living and working spaces to suit individuals. "The concept is to offer people freedom, flexibility, simplicity. There will be a lot of flexibility built into the structures."

Hitchcox said Starck will act as design director on all Yoo developments, which may involve other architects. "They will not be conventional homes – they will have Philippe Starck's touch – similar to what he does with hotels. Individuals will be able to customise the interiors to varying levels by choosing from a design palette."

Starck said: "Either you are rich or you are not. When you are not, you try to buy your apartment or house and you can get completely lost. You wonder, what is the best furniture? What is the best style? You can spend your money and your life on a plan that is not good for you. That is a little terrible.

"If you are rich, you can ask an interior designer to make a plan for you. Then you spend your life in a fantasy of someone else and that is not good for your mental health. That is terrible, too.

"John will find the best place, building, location. We will clean the space to give the maximum floor space. Often, we will prepare some architectural options and we will ask people 'What is your life? Are you alone? Are you young? Are you old? Do you want a lot of sun? Do you need good insulation? Do you want small rooms; a big loft?'

"We recognise that everyone is different, everyone has a fantasy. We don't believe in trends and we don't judge people. Perhaps someone has a city job but prefers a country style at home. Perhaps they want hi-tec or minimalist style.

We will show them a catalogue where we have chosen the best floor, carpet, chairs, fork, spoon in that style.

Hitchcox and Starck are currently joint shareholders in the company. Hitchcox said the developments would be funded on a project-by-project basis, often through joint ventures. He said they would soon be joined by other partners from the international property and business worlds. "We are talking to several people at the moment," he said. He added that Yoo would appoint a managing director and someone to help find sites within the next few weeks.

Development programme

"We are about to start looking at sites," Hitchcox said. Locations will include London, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo.

"We are also looking for people to bring sites forward. We want to do joint ventures with developers and landowners. We will add value to their site by developing it for them," he said.

Yoo is the latest commercial enterprise for Starck, the prolific designer of everything from toilet brushes to body stockings and motorbikes.

Starck is currently design director for two new boutique hotels in central London, one in Berners Street for Ian Schraeger, former proprietor of Studio 54, once the most exclusive nightclub in New York, and another in St Martin's Lane, due to open this year.

Hitchcox will continue as managing director of the Manhattan Loft Corporation. "I still have a very strong involvement in Manhattan Loft. We have a £180m development programme and five years work ahead of us. Harry Handelsman and I are committed to ensuring Manhattan Loft continues its role in residential property both in the UK and abroad," he said.