John Hitchcox makes it sound easy. Eighteen months ago he went to Paris to look at property development sites and met the designer Philippe Starck. He stayed at his house and over two bottles of champagne they decided to set up Yoo. The company, launched in May, is the 'next step post the loft era'.
Hitchcox, 37, was behind many of the loft conversions in London's Clerkenwell and Bankside. He and business partner Harry Handelsmann set up the Manhattan Loft Corporation in 1991. Spotting the potential of still-cheap areas, they bought old industrial buildings and municipal sites and turned them into desirable homes. 'Even in a recession some people are never poor,' he says.
Now he is plugging a gap in the market. At MLC he noticed: 'People would buy the shell space and then be overcome with design indecision. We simplify the process for them by offering a streamlined conversion and design service.' Yoo combines Hitchcox's talent for finding properties with Starck interiors. Customers choose from a 'design palette', advised by Starck's 16-strong design team in Paris and another team in London.
Hitchcox, who will continue as managing director of MLC, is currently scouting for sites in Frankfurt, Milan, Buenos Aires and New York. These will be developed into tailor-made lofts by Yoo in joint ventures with property developers.