Edward Hendricks

Co-living certainly isn’t a new trend in Singapore – while there are plenty of well-established players in the market, there are boutique ones that offer a much more upscale option, like Figment.

Designed for executives and creatives who value heritage and local flavour, the Figment brand specialises in shophouses that each have a distinct personality. Although they don’t come cheap – a shophouse suite starts from $2,200 a month – Figment homes are well-appointed, intimate spaces that stand out from the run-of-the-mill crowd. Creations by local designers like Ministry of Design and Scene Shang feature heavily in all 15 homes in their portfolio, including the Lorong24A Shophouse Series in Geylang.

The founder, Fang Low.

We sit down with the founder, Fang Low, to find out more about his journey.

What inspired you start Figment in the first place?

The Singapore skyline we know changes all the time. After working abroad, I came back to find that so much has changed, that Singapore essentially has construction going on all the time. So in a way, Figment arose as a response to the mounting anxiety that I felt coming back to all this change, to this Singapore that was always changing.

But of course, it’s so much more complex than that. Figment is also a mixture of all the different passions that I have, like my love for travel, for instance. I used to couchsurf a lot in different countries, which let me have a sense of what it was like to live local and be a part of the place. Being able to immerse myself in the local architectural vernacular helped me build memories in that place, and we hope to create the same memories in a Figment home that people otherwise wouldn’t have if they go to a condominium or hotel to stay.

Is it because there’s a lot more character and local flavour in these shophouses?

The Canvas House on Blair Road features an all-white facade, allowing the focus to be on the doors at the entrance.

Yes, the shophouses have a lot of character, but we also layer on different creative personalities. The artist Arthur P.Y. Ting, the designers, the artisans Roger & Sons who created the furniture, Fossa Chocolate — there are so many stories coming something together as one. I believe that these different layers of personality add vibrancy that turns a house into a home, because it’s all about building memories of that specific place. 

Your family has always been in property. How has that shaped your vision for Figment?

When I was growing up, my dad would drive me to random streets in different neighbourhoods to look at shophouses, and to try different dishes. I looked forward to it a lot, and the experience of growing up around these shophouses is something quintessentially Singaporean. It’s something that I reflect on a lot and want to share with other people. So a lot of that has rubbed off on how I look at things today.

Separately, when I was in NYU studying for my business degree, I interned at Christie’s Fine Art auction house. Although it didn’t end well – I ended up breaking a Ming teacup that was worth 45 grand – I realised I didn’t just have a passion for art, I had a passion for shophouses as works of art. Art is a distinctly Western concept, at least in my opinion, but there are so many things in different cultures that were not originally intended as art, like teacups and bowls, and they are beautiful anyway. To be able to work with buildings as art, that’s along the same lines.

Created by the Ministry of Design, the Canvas House was blanketed with a layer of white, a symbolic canvas for creating a new future. 

How does Figment differentiate itself from other co-living options?

Figment is moving away from the concept of co-living in a building; we’re much more human-scale, with 4-6 people in the same house. I think that’s essentially the sweet spot. There was a co-living survey done by Ikea, which showed that while people are open to co-living, they don’t want to share their private spaces – which is why every one of our rooms has an en-suite bathroom. Neither do they want to share the house with many other people. So for us, capping it at 4-6 people was just right. It’s how I personally want to co-live. I’m sure there are people who value a more condominium-like setup with facilities, but someone who values the local character, privacy and spaciousness that we offer will come to Figment.

While a lot of other co-living companies do pool parties and barbecues, we’re not only about having fun. We do private dining events where we get local chefs in to prepare intimate dinners for 10-15 people, each time in a different shophouse. Not just that: we also bring our members out to different exclusive members’ clubs, and they appreciate the access that we provide. There is networking, but on a much more intimate scale for the executives and creatives who live with us.

How is the design for each shophouse conceptualised? Do you give carte blanche to the designers, or are you very involved in the process?

In the suites, visitors will see a “time shadow” cast by the bed, which reveals the underlying floor and pays tribute to the movement of time.

We do give different designers creative freedom to go out and do what they want. It’s funny you mentioned carte blanche, because the Ministry of Design house is literally all white. For these homes, we pick designers that we trust. They come under referral from other designers, or we go to brands like Scene Shang who are the best fit for the place – like Shang House, which has all the different heritage elements. It’s more about the people than anything else. These are people we have chosen and curated, and so we give them freedom for the actual designs. I like to say that each of our homes has a distinct personality, which is what attracts a potential member. Maybe they’ll find that the Shang House’s design is more for them, or maybe the one by Studio Juju.

A rattan screen at the entrance of Shang House harks back to the rattan-manufacturing history of Balestier.

What are your thoughts on the rise of the co-living trend in Singapore?

I think it’s not just in Singapore, this is how people around the world want to live. I think that the convenience and flexibility that it offers reflect the preferences of an increasingly mobile expat population. It’s likely that over the next five to ten years, we’ll see co-living becoming more entrenched, much like how co-working spaces are common now.

Did you face any challenges along the way when establishing Figment?

I envisioned Figment as something more of a movement. A few years ago, I tried to start a young patron’s circle in Singapore, like an art collective. It failed terribly: we didn’t have many people, the organising committee wasn’t very hands-on, but we really wanted to push for a sort of cultural change. After that, taking a break to do my graduate studies led to the idea for Figment, and now we’re doing shophouses as works of art. So while the young patron’s circle did not work out, right now I think what we’re doing has more staying power, and it’s validated by the different expats that choose to live with us. 

Designed by Studio Juju, the Still House uses natural materials to instill a sense of calm.

Would you say your experience in the corporate world has allowed you to understand your target audience better?

I think our audience is very cosmopolitan. My experience of having had classmates all over the world, taking a year and a half off school to travel the world, and the languages I learned on my travels really informed how I could look into bringing together this cosmopolitan tribe today. I’d say it’s a “bourgeois bohemian” audience, like ex-bankers, ex-consultants who are now doing more creative pursuits. Plenty of people do change what they do and the lines are blurring, and we just have to find them and bring them together in the Figment family.

What do the neighbours think about the homes?

Initially they had some apprehension that it was going to be partying, a lot of noise — the usual co-living setup. But we invited them over to look and they really liked the design of the shophouses. We’re planning to host more events, more dinners and get-togethers that we can invite the neighbours to as well. Ultimately, we want to be an addition to be the neighbourhood. 

Find out more about Figment here.