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Co-Living Gets A Heritage Spin
IN THE SAME WAY that co-working spaces are all the rage now, so too is co-living changing the way people look at accommodation. Hmlet was one of the first few players to introduce shared living spaces in Singapore in 2017, and more players have jumped on the bandwagon since. (see amendment note)
Mostly, they offered co-living options in new buildings - think lyf Funan, or in existing condominiums. Compared to regular rental, co-living offers shorter leases, communal events and spaces to foster a community bond.
New players Figment and Cooliv are shaking things up by tapping into Singapore’s architectural heritage appeal.
Figment offers co-living in restored shophouses, while Cooliv has turned a 67-year-old apartment block into a co-living space (see other story).
Figment’s founder and CEO Fang Wei Low, 32, has lived in shophouses most of his life, save for a few years when he was studying and living in New York.
“I can’t imagine what it is like not living in a shophouse in Singapore,” says Mr Low.
But rather than let a select few enjoy that experience (you need to have deep pockets or inherit one), Figment makes shophouse living more accessible. Instead of just leasing out rooms in a shophouse, Mr Low collaborated with six design firms across different disciplines to fit out one shophouse each.
Ministry of Design, Scene Shang and Studio Juju worked on three shophouses which will be ready to rent by the end of February. The remaining three shophouses will be launched later in the year.
Mr Low says that the designer collaborations follow the success of the Lorong 24A Shophouse Series, which Figment also manages. The 2012 project saw a row of shophouses in Lorong 24A Geylang redesigned by different architects, with quirky features such as an indoor
lap pool in one, and a red spiral staircase in another. They were initially leased out as entire shophouses, but Figment is now
managing some of them as co-living spaces.
“The Lorong 24A Shophouse Series was designed by architects, but I don’t see why the same concept cannot be extended to other designers and in different neighbourhoods, to see how shophouses can be creatively adapted for reuse,” says Mr Low.
He approached design firms that he felt could inject fresh new ideas into old houses.
Each designer was given an undisclosed budget and a deadline of about two months. “They were all given carte blanche,” says Mr Low.
Ministry of Design created an all-white shophouse in Blair Road. Furniture and lifestyle brand Scene Shang designed a shoppable house in Balestier, where anything that isn’t nailed down is for sale. At product and spatial designer Studio Juju’s shophouse, expect a relaxed,
Mr Low believes that the shophouses will be popular with expats, particularly design geeks or entrepreneurs. But they are open to locals as well. “As co-living spaces, they are more accessible to those who may not want to rent the entire shophouse,” he says.
He reckons that the majority will be single tenants, although the spaces are opened to couples too.
Rents don’t come cheap, starting from nearly S$3,000 a month for a room, with a minimum three-month stay. Tenants get to use the common areas, including the kitchen. The price includes weekly cleaning, and community activities such as a monthly private dining experience.
28 BLAIR ROAD
Clean freaks, this house is for you, although Colin Seah, founder of Ministry of Design who designed Canvas House didn’t have this in mind. Instead, he says, “the all-white interior is about a layering of time, and the blurring of lines between the space and the furniture.”
The entire shophouse has four bedrooms and a roof garden. It took about three weeks to paint the interiors and all the furnishing white. Even the koi, swimming in an indoor pond, is white - by nature, of course.
“With everything white, the object and space dichotomy is blurred. The house becomes a whole rather than a space populated by objects, and the occupants become the focus,” says Mr Seah, who is known for his avant-garde designs, and has designed showflats, private residences and hotels.
While all that white gives the shophouse a timeless look, Mr Seah added some little surprises that reveal the home’s past. For example, vases are left unpainted to reveal what’s underneath, and the shophouse’s historic brick walls are revealed in dots. In a few of the bedrooms, some spots on the floor have been left unpainted as if the beds have cast shadows on them.
Some of the lights in the Canvas House have been specially created too. They include a pendant lamp on the ground floor, made by designer Heng Kang Yong, better known as theKANG, who fused sheets of cling wrap to create the light shade.
The most colourful piece in the shophouse has got to be a neon light installation of a Thomas Jefferson quote, “I like dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Mr Seah says, “The quote summarises the attitude of the house. It is a neutral white canvas for the future to be dreamt upon, rather than a wholesale homage to the past.”
10 PEGU ROAD
Fans of furniture and lifestyle brand Scene Shang who want to live in a home just like theirs, can now do so at 10 Pegu Road in Balestier, which the brand’s founders Pamela Ting and Jessica Wong have decorated in their signature Art Deco Oriental style.
The duo, who previously lived in Shanghai, were drawn to the features of the shophouse, such as the interlocking glass blocks at the back of the house as well as the area’s heritage, with its history in rattan-making. Mr Low declined to reveal the owner of the shophouse, but says, “he is a patron of Figment and is happy for us to turn it into a co-living space.”
Many of the pieces in the Shang House have been specially customised, including the rattan entrance screens, pendant lights over the dining table, as well as a rattan bed frame. Even the Shang system, a customisable, modular storage system comes in a special rattan edition here.
Tenants staying in one of the five bedrooms can enjoy tea from Scene Shang’s May mugs that look like mini thermos flasks, as well as use the bespoke coasters.
On the walls in the living room are artworks by Arthur Ting, who has done a 3D take on the facades of the three shophouses. Another piece of artwork can be found on the second floor, where tenants can add their own weaving to the piece. Ms Wong has also added her personal collection of photos of Balestier to the shophouse.
The best part about living here is that should anyone fall in love with any of the items, they can buy them. QR codes will be discreetly placed so that online shopping can be done.
“I believe this is the first time there is a shoppable house in Singapore,” says Mr Low. He adds that Scene Shang’s VIP guests will also be allowed to visit, to see how the pieces can fit into their homes.
Figment is at figment.live.
The 1950s-era block of apartments is now designed for co-living
5 PASIR PANJANG ROAD
A lone 12-storey apartment block stands near Labrador Park. Located next to two decommissioned power plants, it was built in 1953 and is said to be one of the tallest buildings in Singapore then. The apartment block was home to expatriate senior officers working at the power station and their families.
Those officers have long moved out, and these days there are expats living there too, but they are more likely to be working in start-ups, or in fintech companies in the Alexandra precinct and One-North district.
Its new name is Cooliv Waterfront, a co-living and co-working space started by real estate developer Hong How Corporation and TS Group, which operates large-scale housing for foreign workers and the elderly.
This is the first time that the TS Group has ventured into the co-living sphere, and its director Tome Oh says, “For a co-living space to be successful, it either has to be in the city centre or in a unique location.”
He couldn’t have picked a better spot. Cooliv Waterfront is one of the rare residential blocks that offers unblocked views of the western Singapore Strait, with Labrador Park and Hortpark at its doorstep, and is within walking distance of Labrador MRT station.
Edwin Lam, general manager of Hong How Group says, “We like the charm of this old building, so we kept its architectural integrity, but with new M&E systems and modern features put in.”
After the power station was decommissioned, the building was leased out to the Public Utilities Board, and then returned to the Singapore Land Authority. For some years, it was leased out as residences again, before the last tenants moved out in 2013.
Left vacant, the building fell into disrepair. Much of the over S$10 million investment was spent on strengthening the building structure and waterproofing. New lifts also had to be put in along with more lifestyle elements such as a gym, BBQ facilities and a pool.
The original floor tiles on the ground floor and window grilles for the common meeting rooms were retained, as well as the casement windows in the apartments. Even the building’s original white washed facade was kept but with black detailing added, to create a high rise black and white home.
The block originally contained 42 apartments, but now as a co-living option, Cooliv offers 156 rooms, which can fit two to seven guests depending on the room size. All rooms come with newly-installed ensuite showers.
Sarah Tham, design director of Cube Associate Design, fitted out the rooms with the transient visitor in mind. “They are cosy but do not have that rental place feel,” says Ms Tham. For example, the beds have storage spaces underneath, and walls are painted white for contrast against the multicoloured furnishings.
The rooms are kept simple, to encourage tenants to interact outside of their rooms. This explains why each apartment’s dining area is the main focus, with some that have unblocked views of the sea.
Ng Cheng Huat, director of Prime Residence Home, a subsidiary of TS Group, says Cooliv has been popular with the expat crowd working in the area. “Although the minimum length of stay is six nights, we have many guests who extend their stay,” he says.
Amendment note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Hmlet was one of the first few players to introduce shared living spaces in Singapore in 2018. It is in fact 2017. The article above has been revised to reflect this.