One solitary picture on Rightmove was all it took for Chris Illingworth to declare undying love for a rundown property at Monkswood, part of a radical development of ten houses designed in a Brutalist style in the 1970s.
His wife, Sophie, says: “There was just one picture of the outside of the building and no interior shots but he decided he wanted it there and then. I said we’d better view it first.” She was equally excited about the chance to own an architectural gem.
The property, in the Kirkstall area of Leeds, didn’t disappoint even though it was in dire need of renovation. That was exactly what they wanted. The couple were looking for another project after modernising their first home and selling it.
“That was a terraced house in Rothwell and it was pretty straightforward. This was a step up from what we’d done before because it needed everything from rewiring and plumbing to a new roof and much more but we really enjoyed the challenge,” says Chris.
The couple, who bought the Monkswood house five years ago, have done the property proud. They have kept and enhanced all its original features while making it work perfectly for modern living.
They are now selling their three-bedroom home to move somewhere bigger and more rural. It has just come on the market for £425,000 with The Modern House estate agency, which specialises in selling homes with exceptional design credentials.
Leaving is a wrench, not least because the Illingworths know they will never find anything like it again. “What struck me about this place was how different it was to the other houses generally found in Leeds, and how brutalist and honest the façade looked. It was clearly design-led, which is why we had to have it,” says Chris.
The house and its nine neighbours were designed by Brooks Thorpe Partners architects in the 1970s. They were commissioned by a group of executives and creatives from Yorkshire Television who moved to leafy Kirkstall from London. Their plot remains a hidden oasis and was chosen for its elevated position at the edge of ancient woodland with wide-ranging views over the Aire Valley.
The properties were completed as self-build projects with each house individually tailored to suit the owner’s needs. Chris and Sophie’s home is one of the few detached properties in the group and it is also one of the largest, extending to over 1,650 sq ft internally.
The exterior is built from concrete blocks and the interior walls are a combination of bare brick and wood cladding. “It’s a modern shape with little cubes stacked on top of one another and angular parapets. It looks different from every angle, which we love,” says Sophie.
The restoration and modernisation began with a desire to celebrate its design. “We wanted to restore the house to its former glory. The houses at Monkswood were cutting edge, commissioned by YTV employees who had moved up from London, were uninspired by the Leeds housing stock and wanted to make something special,” says Chris.
“The house was kitted out with lighting and fixtures from TV sets and features such as the conversation pit, a sunken sitting area, but it had very much fallen into disrepair. We wanted to give this place its mojo back.”
They began by devising a better connection between the grounds and the house via what was a broken set of French doors which led onto a balcony without any railings, about six feet above the ground.
“As the house is south facing, on a hillside and surrounded by established trees with views over the valley, our first job involved landscaping, installing a proper balcony and fitting new bi-fold doors. We specifically sourced doors that opened from the middle to reduce the fold on either side. This maximises the usable space and creates an extension of the living area,” says Chris.
The only other changes outside are new windows and a glass reinforced polyester roof. Inside, the couple removed a wall to open up the kitchen to the rest of the living space. This has helped the ground floor flow and made it more suitable for entertaining and family life.
“Each area on the ground floor is spacious and bright. One of our favourites is the conversation pit. Our son, Finley, who is three, loves running round it. It also seats 12 people and is a great space for entertaining,” says Sophie.
The interiors at Monkswood reflect the Illingworths’ creative talents and hard work. They both have design backgrounds. She has a degree in Fine Art and he trained in furniture design and now owns Loft, a furniture store in Leeds city centre. The shop features collections by Robin Day, along with its own products.
Brick walls that were cream have been treated to bold colours and much of the furniture is from Loft, including the Robin Day Polo chairs and the Leo armchair, which featured in the Bond movie You’ll Only Live Twice.
“I’ve also been able to express myself by designing pieces such as the coffee table, cast-concrete planter, plywood pegboard, neon lighting and our dining table, which has a mesmeric top made from recycled plastic bottles,” says Chris, who has put the dining table into production for Loft, www.loft.co. Most of the art is by Sophie and is a mixture of life drawings and photographs.
Built for TV executives, the property may well appeal to Channel 4 staff moving from London to the new headquarters in Leeds city centre. “It’s an amazing place to live,” says Sophie, “and it’s only six minutes by train from Kirkstall to the city centre.”
*Chris and Sophie's house at Monkswood, Kirkstall, Leeds, is for sale with The Modern House for £425,000. It has a lobby, office and a kitchen, along with a living area with zones for living and dining, each linked by polished-plywood flooring. At its centre is a sunken conversation pit with integrated sofas built around a recessed fireplace. The property also has a internal garage, utility, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. For details visit www.themodernhouse.com
*Loft Furniture is in Leeds and online at www.loft.co
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