FI Real Estate Management is transforming one of the UK’s finest surviving examples of mid-20th century modernist architecture into a blueprint for modern urban living
Design was at the heart of the redevelopment of Croydon’s iconic Leon House from the start, as architects worked on plans to create 263 spacious, light-filled one and two bedroom apartments from the former office block – all featuring bespoke interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows, framing amazing views over London.
But the building’s ‘secret history’ as an undiscovered masterpiece of modern brutalist art took the design to a new level, as architects, developers and interior designers worked together to respect the principles of modernist post-war artist William Mitchell, whose sculptures were revealed during early construction.
Architect Roy Collado explained, “When we researched the architecture of the building, we came across a reference to a sculpture, and when we opened the plaster up we found it! It was like finding a fireplace if you’re doing up a Victorian house – it was that kind of moment. It’s probably one of the biggest pieces of installed art in south London.”
The huge, intriguing piece was carved into the concrete by renowned post-war sculptor William Mitchell when the modernist tower block was first erected in the 1960s. Fully restored, it now forms the striking focal point of the grand double-height entrance.
For years, the sculpture, and others dotted throughout the building, lay hidden away behind the walls, but the team overseeing Leon’s transformation were all in agreement that Mitchell’s work should become a central feature of their redevelopment.
Mitchell’s work was prolific during the 1960s, with his company at one point employing more than 40 skilled craftsmen and artists. His pieces feature in a wide variety of schools, public housing schemes, public subways, civic gardens, shopping centres and religious buildings, and now have listed status.
Croydon-born developers Joseph and Bernard Gold, through their company Centrovincial Estates Ltd, began the construction of the then £2million office and shop development at Leon House back in 1964. The name Leon was chosen because it was the name of the Gold brothers father, and of Bernard’s oldest son.
Having worked for the brothers previously, Mitchell was brought in to oversee the design elements of the building. He created two heavily sculpted structural columns in the entrance hall that ran through the two lower floors of the building.
On the main staircase, Mitchell hand carved further pieces in wet plaster to produce a specialist design for each floor. The process was recorded for the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme, with Mitchell providing an ongoing commentary describing the technique.
As many of the pieces as possible have been preserved and restored during the development of Leon House, which has been shortlisted for FTB’s Most Innovative Redevelopment of an Existing Property award 2018.
In addition, the inside of every apartment features bespoke design by Love Interiors, which worked with the form and function of the building to keep the spirit of William Mitchell alive. This was done by keeping the interiors clean, modern and clutter-free, and by specifying quality materials including oak flooring, specialist ceramics and designer-specification appliances and fittings.
Leon has been attracting plenty of attention from prospective buyers, thanks in part to its perfect location – within walking distance of both South London’s planned new Westfield shopping centre and East Croydon station – just 15 minutes from central London.
Features at Leon House such as the sky garden, co-working space, and private roof dining room, all help this stunning redevelopment breathe fresh life into one of Croydon’s most well-known buildings. And a generous Help to Buy scheme is ensuring the luxurious properties will be truly affordable for local first time buyers.