Designs on the Bauhaus lifestyle

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Teachers are the key to revitalising the intellectual life of a historic London building. Adi Bloom reports

Emerging on to the balcony patio, Natalie Frost sits down at an elegant Bauhaus-style table and gazes out into the leafiness around her.

These are the kinds of surroundings most teachers think about only in their most reckless moments of aspiration.

But Ms Frost, a 33-year-old peripatetic art teacher for the north London borough of Camden, is considering buying a flat in this Grade 1 listed building in an exclusive residential street in Hampstead.

The Isokon building was built in 1934 to provide stylish, minimal living space for Hampstead intellectuals.

Crime writer Agatha Christie bought two apartments in the streamlined Bauhaus building. Walter Gropius, founder of the avant-garde movement in Germany - which aimed to unite artistic design with technology - was so impressed that he moved in as well. In a ground-floor bar, sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth gathered to right social ills over cocktails.

Now its owners hope to recapture the high-minded intellectualism of the Isokon's heyday. And they intend to do this by bringing in teachers.

In 2001, the crumbling building was bought by the Notting Hill Housing Group. With pound;712,000 of its pound;2.3 million costs funded by the Government, the group is now redeveloping the Isokon's 36 apartments according to original 1930s specifications.

Furniture and fittings have been painstakingly reconstructed, while doorknobs and curtain rings have been rescued from the original flats.

Window-frames were repainted, after English Heritage consultants suggested that the shade of pink chosen was not authentic.

Fiona Lamb, the architect on the project, said: "We have tried to keep as close as possible to the original detail, tweaking it to incorporate modern conveniences. It has a historical romance to it."

Twenty-four studios and one flat have been assigned to teachers. Notting Hill offers a shared-housing scheme, enabling teachers to buy between 20 and 80 per cent of a property. With flats worth pound;140,000-pound;185,000, it means that teachers could pay as little as pound;28,000, with no deposit required.

Nicholas Breakspeare, of Notting Hill, said: "These flats were built so that people could focus on intellectual living, rather than tedious housework.

"There are communal areas, where they can exchange ideas and develop professionally. We're hoping the teachers of today will replicate the values of the 1930s."

Ms Frost is not daunted by the responsibility that this places on her. "I like the whole vibe of the place, with creative people hanging out and sharing ideas," she said.

"And I'm quite busy, so it's good to have somewhere that looks clean. But, basically, I just want to get on the property ladder. At last I've found somewhere I can afford."

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