Architect: Wells Coates
Isokon Building, London NW3
This is an exceedingly rare opportunity to acquire one of the most important penthouses in London, positioned at the top of the Isokon, a building widely recognised as one of the finest achievements of Modern Movement architecture in the UK. Designed by the eminent architect Wells Coates and completed in 1934, the Isokon has been given a Grade I listing by English Heritage, placing it among the most historically important buildings in Britain. It has an outstanding location on a quiet road in Belsize Park.
With its curved forms and pale render, the Isokon Building (also known as Lawn Road Flats) has been likened to an ocean liner. The first block ever to be built chiefly using reinforced concrete, it was the subject of an exemplary restoration by Avanti Architects in 2004. The building’s list of illustrious former residents includes Agatha Christie, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus. J.M. Richards, the architectural critic, wrote that it was “more like the machine-à-habiter than anything Le Corbusier ever designed”.
The showpiece of the apartment is an extraordinary south-facing roof terrace, far larger than the Penthouse itself. Internally, the apartment has been wonderfully restored and maintained, an immaculate re-imagining of its original design. A rich birch-veneer panelling covers the walls, and honey-coloured timber floors are arranged in a chequerboard pattern. The timber was bought from the Baltic ply manufacturer (Venesta) that was represented by the former owner of the Penthouse, Jack Pritchard.
The apartment has a large single living space that combines the dining and reception area, with glazed doors to the roof terrace. Adjacent to the dining space is the bedroom, which has beautifully crafted built-in wardrobes and panelled walls. The kitchen and bathroom, both sensitively updated during the Avanti Architects’ refurbishment, sit side-by-side at the far end of the floorplan. At the time of construction, the kitchens in the Isokon apartments were kept purposefully small as the original flats were designed to be serviced, with meals available to order from the staffed Isokon kitchen on the ground floor. However, the central kitchen and meal service was not popular amongst residents, so it was soon replaced with a café and bar.
Lawn Road is a residential street within a short walk of Belsize Park Underground (Northern Line), and all of the shops and restaurants on Haverstock Hill and England’s Lane. It has easy access to huge amounts of green space, with Hampstead Heath to the north, and Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park to the south.
Lease Length: approx. 86 years
Service Charge: approx. £2,898.60 per annum
Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.
Designed by Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard, the Isokon Building (or Lawn Road Flats) opened in 1934 as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living. It was the first block ever to be built chiefly using reinforced concrete.
Coates was inspired by Le Corbusier, who believed that buildings should be “machines for living”, and as a result the 32 flats were designed to create the greatest possible utility and comfort out of constricted dimensions. They had simple built-in plywood furniture. Early advertising stated: “All you have to bring with you is a rug, an armchair and a picture.”
There was a communal kitchen for the preparation of meals, connected to the residential floors via a dumb waiter (which meant that most of the flats had small galley kitchens). This was later converted into the Isobar restaurant, to a design by Marcel Breuer. Other on-site services included shoe cleaning and bed-making.
The Isokon’s ground-floor bar became a well-known hangout for the local and émigré intelligentsia of the time. The building was home to Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer, designer of modernist furniture, and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, head teacher of art at the Bauhaus school. It also attracted artists, architects (including James Stirling), Soviet spy Arnold Deutsch, and writers including Agatha Christie, who lived there between 1941 and 1947, writing her only spy novel, N or M, there.
In 1969, the building was sold to the New Statesman magazine, and the Isobar was converted into flats. Three years later it was acquired by Camden Borough Council, and it gradually deteriorated until the 1990s, when it was abandoned completely. Avanti Architects, specialists in refurbishing modernist buildings, beautifully restored the Isokon in 2004, and many of the flats now provide accommodation for key workers under a co-ownership scheme.
In 2014 the Isokon Gallery Trust was established by John Allan and Fiona Lamb of Avanti Architects. With the help of the National Trust, and to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the building, they have created an exhibition space on the ground floor of the building, which tells the remarkable story of its architecture, its residents and its iconic Isokon furniture.
The Isokon has been given an extremely rare Grade I listing by English Heritage, making it one of the heavily protected and historically significant buildings in the UK.
Wells Coates (1895 – 1958) was born in Japan to a mother who had trained in architecture under Louis Sullivan. His mother encouraged his interest in the profession, although his formal training was in engineering and his first job was as a journalist for the Daily Express. Coates spent his childhood in the Far East, built his most important buildings in Britain, and moved to the United States and then Canada after the Second World War, where he spent his final days. He embraced Le Corbusier’s theory that houses should be “machines for living in” and developed some of the most progressive housing projects in London of the 1930s. In his most famous apartment block, Isokon in Hampstead, he demonstrated his theory that with a well-planned kitchen, bathroom and dressing room, one-room living should be possible. He established his own firm in 1928, and alongside Maxwell Fry he established the British wing of think-tank CIAM: Modern Architectural Research Group (MARS).
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