Figment brings back shophouse living

By Valerie Kor / EdgeProp Singapore | December 11, 2020 6:00 AM SGT
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - When Figment launched eight beautifully designed shophouses targeted at co-living tenants in February, Fang Low, CEO and founder of the co-living company, thought at first that it could not have been at a worst time.
The Covid-19 outbreak was just beginning to spread across the globe from its epicentre in Wuhan, China. But by the end of March, even as the number of expatriates decreased in Singapore, the boutique shophouses achieved 60% occupancy. Low says that the initial demand was a nod to the attractiveness of “limited edition, hyperlocal, curated and design-led” properties, which are different from the typical cookie-cutter high-rise apartments in Singapore.
Now, despite having doubled the number of shophouses in its portfolio to 16 from eight since then, Figment has achieved an occupancy rate of 90%. “That is pretty astounding, considering that we have not been receiving new expatriates coming into Singapore since the circuit breaker period,” he says. Each shophouse offers between four and six rooms. The minimum lease is three months long and the monthly rent includes utilities and weekly cleaning services.
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CEO Fang Low - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Figment’s shophouses are limited edition, hyperlocal, curated and design-led, unlike the typical cookie-cutter high-rise apartments in Singapore, says CEO Fang Low (Photo: Figment)
The demand has been filled by locals who have returned home from the US and the UK due to the pandemic. “We are also being approached by Singaporeans who don’t have privacy at home as they are living with family or extended relatives, or those who need a more conducive environment to work remotely,” says Low.
That said, 70% of the tenants are still expatriate singles or couples, with most being Western-educated or coming from Western countries. “Since our launch, we have some existing expatriates who have given up their long-term lease elsewhere for a flexible lease with us, so that they can experience living in a shophouse,” Low says.
Many of Figment’s tenants come from the tech, consulting and finance fields. “We also have many ‘design geeks’ from creative fields such as architecture, design or advertising,” he adds.
monocot figment house - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Monocot House at Tembeling Road is one of Figment’s latest additions, and features design by Mikael Teh of Monocot Studio

Champion of shophouse living

For Low, promoting a lifestyle of living in a shophouse is his personal mission, since he spent his childhood growing up in one on Blair Road. He loved living in an amenity-rich, walkable neighbourhood.
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“When my father invested in a shophouse more than 30 years ago, they were affordable and rent-controlled. In fact, shophouses were located in gritty neighbourhoods then, so his friends were laughing at him for buying one,” Low shares.
Everything has changed since then. Today, conservation shophouses easily fetch millions due to their rarity. Residential shophouses, like the one Low lived in, number only around 850. Unlike the commercial-zoned shophouses, of which there are no more than 6,000, foreigners are not allowed to own residential shophouses.
Still House Koon Seng Road - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Still House at Koon Seng Road, where suites cost between $2,500 and $3,500 a month to stay has been designed by Studio Juju (Photo: Figment)
Low returned from the US last year, where he had spent seven years completing a policy degree at Harvard University, as well as the Wharton Real Estate MBA programme. In New York, he lived for a few years in Greenwich Village, a neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan. Low says that there is a strong sense of place and community in Greenwich Village, which is characterised by quaint restaurants and winding streets.
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When he later lived in a condominium on Gold Street in New York’s financial district, he felt that the immediate surroundings were sterile and isolated in comparison.
Given his experience, Low believes that there is potential for “placemaking” neighbourhoods that are similar to New York’s Greenwich Village in Singapore through co-living shophouses, which are located in walkable and liveable heritage enclaves, and near amenities such as gyms, bars and restaurants.
Currently, among Figment’s 16 shophouse offerings, there are four in Jalan Besar on Petain Road and Sturdee Road, four shophouses at Lorong 24A Geylang and three shophouses on Emerald Hill Road. The company has also just launched Monocot House and Dicot House on Tembeling Road.
While Low’s family owns half of them, Figment also rents shophouses from like-minded landlords and homeowners who believe in bringing back shophouse living. “These owners want to play a part in sharing our Singapore culture with our members,” he notes.
Figment would appoint interior designers to style and furnish the homes, and the cost is split between the owners and the co-living operator.
Homeowners who choose to lease out their properties with Figment can benefit from the revamped designs as they help to increase the capital value of their assets, says Low. “We are plugged into the design and art scene in ways that regular shophouse owners are not,” he adds.

Honouring the local context

The Alabaster suite in Canvas House (Photo: Figment) - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Alabaster suite in Canvas House (Photo: Figment)
The first shophouse to be redesigned for co-living use was Low’s family home on Blair Road. All 4,000 sq ft of the house’s built-up area has been painted white by award-winning interior and architectural firm Ministry of Design, leaving only glimpses of the original interior, such as the red bricks of the wall, giving it a refreshed appearance.
Named Canvas House, it has four suites with en suite bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, communal living room and a shared rooftop. It costs $2,500 to $3,400 a month to stay there.
As a company, Figment believes in “honouring the local context”, says Low. For instance, at Shang House on Pegu Road, Figment worked with homegrown furniture and homeware label Scene Shang to curate items, such as beds, hanging lights, and screens, with rattan elements, as a homage to the area’s rattan manufacturing history. Ceramic mugs provided at Canvas House on Blair Road are handmade and pigmented with the soil of the original house.
figment shanghouse - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
At Shang House, local furniture label Scene Shang has introduced wicker furnishings as a nod to Balestier’s rattan manufacturing past (Photo: Figment)
Figment’s latest shophouses, Monocot House and Dicot House, were just launched in November. The properties bookend a row of five adjoining terraces on Tembeling Road. Figment appointed Mikael Teh of Monocot Studio, a spatial designer, to helm the project.
The rooms, lofty interiors and communal areas bear Teh’s modernist-inspired touch and industrial textures, seen in the raw concrete and unpolished steel. The designer has also introduced two-tone walls, Nordic-inspired fixtures, custom furniture and plush French linen bedding.
“Having seen Mikael’s work at the National Gallery where he collaborated with StudioMilou, we were impressed by his clean-lined and unpretentious aesthetic,” says Low.
tembeling road - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
One of the suites in Monocot House at Tembeling Road (Photo: Figment)
The shophouses each have a built-up area of around 3,250 sq ft, and each houses six bedrooms — two on the first floor, and four on the second floor. There is a communal area on the first floor. Rooms are available from $1,500 per month and suites (with en suite bathroom) are available from $2,350 per month.
The properties are near a plethora of dining and shopping options at Joo Chiat Lane and the Katong lifestyle enclave.
Low is confident that with the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines next year, Singapore could regain pre-pandemic levels of mobility and globalisation, and see expatriates return.
“Fat expat packages may be a thing of the past, but we still have junior expatriates and younger local millennials who are into a globally mobile lifestyle. Introducing co-living is a good way of addressing the change and demand of the tenant mix,” he says.
The next step for Figment is to seek out more homes in Jalan Besar and Joo Chiat areas, where there are many amenities and a vibrant street-level ambience, in a bid to create more of Singapore’s own “Greenwich Villages”.