Place Yoo Call Home


L-J Andrew spoke to YOO co-founder John Hitchcox, to discover how the pioneering brand fulfils its mission to improve the way people live, work and play

Where did it all start for you?

Being the son of an architect and the grandson of a carpenter, building and design have been a huge part of my life since a young age. Many of my friends are in creative industries such as design, the arts, and music which has definitely contributed to fascinating conversations over the years. Having a passion for design is what really drives me forward in all of YOO’s projects. Despite my mother wanting me to be a conductor in the Royal Philharmonic, I ended up establishing a group of businesses, all of which are dynamic and constantly evolving.

I started my career in property development at the tender age of 19, when a very obliging bank manager lent me £20,000 to buy my first house, which I converted into two flats and sold for a profit. This project, was the springboard into the world of construction and design. In 1991, we founded the Manhattan Loft Corporation. In 1996, Philippe Starck and I agreed to collaborate and create our global design brand, YOO. From our inaugural collaboration in 1999, we have launched residential development projects in over 45 countries to date, all of which have been inspirational.

What was the initial ethos behind YOO?

We wanted to focus on community. A place where property owners and estate guests can interact as much (or as little) as they wish. This vision stemmed from my earlier attempts to live the rural dream, which didn’t quite live up to expectations. Whilst living and working in London, I was driven by a desire for my two young children to experience the countryside, so we began working on a barn conversion in Sussex, which later became our weekend family getaway. As idyllic as the property was, the lack of community spirit made us feel rather isolated, not to mention there being little to occupy the children.

It was during this time, that I came up with the concept for The Lakes by YOO. I envisioned a sustainable, design project in beautiful countryside, where you could invite friends, and experience a natural environment in which to relax, dream, think and generally decompress. I wanted to create a place that was not only fun, but also provided an authentic rural experience for all ages. Today, The Lakes offers experiences from bush craft to sailing, high ropes, stand-up paddle, tennis, football, fishing, farming, bee keeping, river trails biking, cold water swimming, a spa, a sculpture park, classic car club and so much more - all of this to keep both adults and children interacting, playing and learning.

If people don’t feel like being social butterflies, they can also make use of the acres of surrounding countryside to switch off from the fast pace of daily life. The serene setting encourages residents to step back, observe nature, take relaxing walks, think, dream and simply be.

What sparked your interest in sustainable design?

One of the greatest luxuries we can achieve in life, is to nurture our planet. Sustainability should be at the forefront; it’s so much more than just plants, animals, and nature; it’s a state of mind, a state of calm, mindfulness and tranquillity from our hectic lives. Incorporating sustainability into the design at The Lakes is therefore incredibly important. The in-house architects work with homeowners to achieve their vision. Their core designs are a starting point, but buyers can design a home from scratch if they wish. From there, sustainable touches are weaved throughout, including the use of natural and local materials, such as Cotswold stone and locally woven willow - ensuring the aesthetics blend seamlessly with the rural surroundings.

From your vast portfolio, is there one project that stands out?

There are so many different projects across the YOO portfolio. However, at The Lakes by YOO we have converted what is essentially a brownfield site into a natural haven which has recently been blessed with the status of a site of special scientific interest; this makes it really stand out. We’ve planted half a million trees, rewilded 150 acres, and created eleven extraordinary biodiverse lakes. Aside from these significant environmental achievements, the biggest pleasure is seeing a community of people who love nature, thriving and coming to life, with new friendships and experiences evolving daily.

When partnering with designers or developers, what is it that drives and affirms the partnership? We design great environments which enable people to thrive. It’s this, which is always kept in mind when selecting the talented developers and designers we work with. We aim to collaborate with passionate creatives who are experts in their field, with the goal of fostering their ideas so they can come to fruition as dynamic projects. Our in-house design team combines over 30 years of design experience. For a signature design, we can introduce buyers to one of our creative design partners including Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders, Kate Moss, Jade Jagger, Kelly Hoppen and Elle MacPherson - enabling them to see the design vision through their eyes. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with so many great designers, including Thomas Heatherwick, Piers Gough, and Steve Leung.

Why The Cotswolds?

The idea was to find something within an hour and a half of London to provide urban dwellers with a place of retreat. We looked at several sites, and this was the first one that I felt a strong affinity with, because of its location and its potential. You could say, that the site chose us.

What lies ahead in 2023?

Many exciting developments are in the pipeline. We have recently started plans to create The Lakes by YOO at Cotswolds Waters, on a neighbouring 110 acres, which will likely be the last lakeside development of its kind in the country. The aim is to provide a sustainable living solution to meet growing demands from city dwellers in search of an outdoor escape. The Lakes by YOO has firmly established itself as the most exclusive staycation in the English countryside, and this extension creates even more opportunities for people and families to enjoy the benefits of a luxury rural estate.

Additionally, we are enhancing the existing Lakes by YOO site with further stylish cabins and apartments which meet the needs of a new audience, looking for a more intimate home. Each house on the estate has its own bespoke audience. While the larger homes are perfect for families and bigger groups, the smaller cabins and apartments appeal to couples and individuals looking to escape the city. The idea is that they are a beautiful ‘lock up and leave’ option, where they can stay for a day, a week, a month, or even a year. The newly-launched rental option also opens up cabins and apartments to the staycation market. With flexible accommodation options, guests can rent an entire cabin/ apartment, perfect for people looking to enjoy a shorter stay in the Cotswolds’ countryside. The pandemic certainly caused many people to put quality of life at the forefront, so with this in mind, we are always interested in new projects to serve our clients. Our wish has always been to encourage new experiences, primarily through a range of outdoor activities. 2023 will see The Lakes Art Park develop further as a revolving exhibition of installations by some of the world’s finest artists and sculptors, from KAWS to David Hockney. The Art Park is a cultural extension of these community initiatives, and we hope that this will enhance the overall experience for families and young people on the estate. We are also keen to encourage learning and education with our conservation initiatives, sustainability goals and more recently, with our farmyard and beehives. Next year will also see the development of a first-class spa and wellness facility, alongside fitness partnerships and retreats with leaders in the space such as OMNI Wellness.

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