Figment weaves art into real estate

By Charlene Chin / EdgeProp Singapore | February 3, 2022 2:51 PM SGT
As of January, Figment is running 25 co-living shophouses across Singapore, with an occupancy rate of 92% (Credit: Figment)
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Unlike most co-living players, Figment is taking a shot at turning the concept of renting on its head. The business imbues each property with artsy interiors and distinct aesthetics, adorned in quality furniture — an uncommon sight in rental homes, where spaces are often dressed in budget fittings.
“If you are look around you and everyone else is doing [the cookie-cutter type of rental homes], you’ll probably follow along and do the same, which happens more often than we like to think,” says Fang Low, CEO and founder of the co-living company.
Kongsi House, along Sam Leong Road, features six studio units and a co-working space, which is complimentary for Figment members (Credit: Figment)
“Figment is lucky in this regard, because we started with shophouses, and shophouses have mainly an emotional value, right? It’s scarcity,” he says.
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Today, conservation shophouses, which number around 6,760 units in Singapore, can sell for millions due to their rarity. Last year, total shophouse transaction value in the city-state crossed the billion-dollar mark to reach $1.9 billion, registering the highest transaction value ever recorded for shophouses, and beating figures achieved in both 2019 and 2020 combined.
Describing itself as a boutique hospitality company, Figment’s decision to focus on design-led properties has paid off. As of January, it is running 25 co-living shophouses across Singapore, with an occupancy rate of 92%. Expatriates make up the majority of its member base, at 80%, while locals take up the remaining share. Generally, each shophouse hosts four to six rooms, at an average monthly rent of $2,800.
The Red Dragon House, at 13 Lorong 24a Geylang, spans 4,000 sq ft and houses six studio units. Nature Shankar’s artwork in the house revolves around textiles and hand embroidery (Credit: Figment)
Out of its collection of shophouses, about one third to half are owned by Low’s family, with most of the remaining signed under management contracts with owners of the properties. Under such an agreement, operators receive a cut of the monthly rent, as opposed to signing a long-term lease with the building owner and then letting it out to individual members.
Before the pandemic, Figment was signing mostly master leases with shophouse owners, Low says. But “increasingly, as Figment has built its brand, we are almost exclusively signing management contracts with owners now”, he adds. “I’m very happy now that we have a lot of family offices that say: ‘Okay, what does Figment want? We will develop it to your specifications and then you just manage it.’”
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The Red Dragon House was named after the red spiral staircase connecting the shophouse’s three storeys (Credit: Figment)
Weaving art into co-living
This year, the business has added four shophouses under its Case Study programme, an umbrella of nine properties to date that it categorises as “unique”, with “distinctive interiors, each thoughtfully re-adapted for modern use by specially commissioned local creators”.
It has partnered four local artists — Nature Shankar, Leow Wei Li, Yen Phang, and Khairullah Rahim — to showcase their works in four conservation shophouses located in Geylang and River Valley. Their art is displayed in the co-living shophouses, which already have members residing in three out of four of the homes.
The art pieces will be displayed for at least the next five years, and artists will be receiving 10% of the rental proceeds from the shophouse their crafts are displayed in.
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At 15 Lorong 24a Geylang, Gallery House was designed by husband-and-wife architecture duo, Lekker Design, featuring artwork by Leow Wei Li, whose work explores the poetic nature of material substances, colours and shapes (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore
Low, who was exposed to arts and culture from a young age by his parents, hopes to sustain and nurture the growth of the local art scene through real estate. “Singapore has a very thriving real estate market. Obviously, it’s expensive, it’s scarce. If just about 1% of real estate rents go towards art — not even 10%, let’s say 1% —that’s going to be a lot of local art patronage that can happen,” he says.
“I do hope to see more cultural dollars being allocated to artists, craftspeople and designers, because the work that they do is very important,” he adds.
In some ways, initiating private-sector involvement in the scene — like what Figment is spearheading — would cut the reliance of the art scene on non-profit organisations or the public sector. These players typically shoulder the responsibility of sustaining the softer facets crucial to a country’s identity and growth that may not necessarily be lucrative, like local culture and art.
At 15 Lorong 24a Geylang, Gallery House was designed by husband-and-wife architecture duo, Lekker Design, featuring artwork by Leow Wei Li, whose work explores the poetic nature of material substances, colours and shapes (Credit: Figment)
Pushing the boundaries of placemaking
Figment is also trying to push the envelope on placemaking, by giving power to its members and fellow artists to make decisions within its community. This will be done through votes using Figment tokens, which are hosted on blockchain. The digital ledger records live transactions across a distributed network of computers. Records, once logged, are irreversible as any change will first have to be verified across the network.
Comparing it to a “souped-up rewards points” programme, members are awarded more tokens the longer they stay with Figment, says Low. This would allow them to decide on the usage of a space in the property they live in, for instance, or what amenities Figment should bring in next, such as a gym, or an F&B space.
Yen Phang’s work, displayed in Alexandra House, reflects upon humans’ relationships with other living things in urban environments (Credit: Figment)
Crucially, Low hopes that the initiative would help Figment’s members cultivate a sense of ownership in the places they live in — a mindset that is lacking among conventional home renters.
Low’s end-goal is to decentralise decision-making when it comes to Figment’s spaces and ideals. “We have our existing systems of navigating space usage, right? Neighbourhood committees, condominium MCSTs [management corporation strata titles], zoning authorities — they’re very top-down… someone who doesn’t [necessarily] live there makes decisions,” says Low. But those decisions may not be “closely aligned” with what the people want, he continues. If people who lived in an area had a say in how those spaces could turn out, “our cities will be much more vibrant as a result”, he adds. “Now, it’s someone taking a guess — no one surveys anyone, no one votes or anything.”
Designed by FARM architects, Alexandra House, at 21 Lorong 24a Geylang, features a lap pool on the first level of the shophouse (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Future plans
Low is also looking at placemaking at a neighbourhood level by building a “15-minute kampung”. His aim is to build nodes of amenities surrounding a Figment home, where a full range of services needed by anyone would be within 15 minutes by foot or bicycle. Adapted from the concept of a “15-minute city”, the urban planning model was first conceived by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno in 2016.
Currently, Figment already runs a co-working space, complimentary for members, in Kongsi House, along Sam Leong Road, a five-minute walk from Jalan Besar MRT Station. Spanning 2,800 sq ft, the shophouse also hosts six other co-living rooms.
Living room at Monochrome House, along Petain Road (Credit: Figment)
Figment has its eye on partnering other establishments. This could be done through external collaborations, shares Low. “The other way would be — Figment actually has a stake in the commercial real estate, and we do the placemaking ourselves, by picking the right partners to be housed there,” he says.
Beyond shophouses, Figment is also exploring new building types. “The walk-up apartments in Tiong Bahru are full of charm,” remarks Low, noting that the team is also currently sourcing apartments from Golden Mile Complex, which was gazetted as a conserved building by the URA last October. “Golden Mile itself is quite old. But you can [spruce up] the interiors."
By injecting art into co-living properties, awarding its members the power to vote on placemaking decisions, and with its homes a short walk from building amenities, Figment is paving the way for big changes in the co-living sphere.

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