These Radically Reimagined Shophouses in Singapore Break the Co-Living Mold

These Radically Reimagined Shophouses in Singapore Break the Co-Living Mold

By Luo Jingmei
Inspired by the experimental spirit of L.A.’s Case Study Houses, these remodeled shophouses will upend your expectations for communal living.

Singaporean co-living community Figment specializes in transforming shophouses into communal homes—a project with personal ties for founder Fang Low, who grew up in one of the row houses that were once ubiquitous in Singapore’s urban landscape. The city-state’s aggressive post-war development, however, demolished many of these buildings before conservation efforts started in the ’70s.

Approximately 6,500 shophouses are left, but they’re expensive to purchase or rent as a whole. Figment offers tenants the chance to experience them as an alternative to the co-living market’s sometimes cookie-cutter offerings. Following the Lorong24A Shophouse Series in 2014, Figment has commissioned a series of Case Study Homes inspired by the influential Case Study Houses of Los Angeles, built between 1945 and 1966.

For this new initiative, Figment gave three local design studios carte blanche in transforming three shophouse interiors. The resulting Canvas House, Shang House, and Still House are wildly different, soulful interpretations of the historic typology.

Canvas House by Ministry of Design

At Canvas House, traditional features include timber, double-swing entrance doors and signage bearing the Low family name.

Original built in the 1920s, this property in the Tanjong Pagar Blair Plain that once housed three generations of the Low family was boldly reimagined by designer Colin Seah of Ministry of Design. Named Canvas House, the whitewashed interiors form a literal blank slate for residents.

Ministry of Design blurs past, present, and future by whitewashing both new and old elements.

The whitewashing of the interior creates an abstract, art gallery–like atmosphere.

Vignettes of the original template are left unpainted to hint at the past.

Unpainted circles on staircase treads and ornamental objects reveal "layers" of the past, and other shapes mimic "shadows" on bedroom floors.

"I thought it would be interesting itemizing these pockets of the past but covering everything else to neutralize it, to present it as a platform for something that is free from the heavy weight of time so as to allow something fresh for the future," says Seah, who is excited about how tenants will add their own narratives. 

In the Alabaster Suite, an unpainted portion of the floor acts like a "shadow" of the past.

All-white furniture complete the purist design.

Seah paints traditional pieces such as vintage, Chinoiserie consoles and oriental vases white as well—a satirical comment on the way expat tenants usually furnish shophouses.

Midcentury furniture and the vintage ceramic plates mounted on the wall are also painted white, again flattening the distinction between old and new. 

In the dining room, a neon fixture quoting Thomas Jefferson—"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past"—underscores Seah’s intent. A stack of alabaster furniture and objects in the living room act as both sculpture and screen.

Shang House by Scene Shang

While Canvas House is surreal and dreamlike, Shang House feels warm and grounded. It’s entirely furnished with Art Deco–inspired furniture by design studio Scene Shang, augmenting its Asian heritage.

Scene Shang’s designs often feature a cloud motif, which traditionally represents rain and harvest. Here, it adorns their Kian Old Elm Wood Gate Bench.

Rattan accents pay tribute to the Balestier conservation area’s rattan manufacturing past. It’s used in a living room screen and the headboards of five suites, and a cluster of rattan-trimmed light fixtures floats above the custom-designed dining table.

A custom-designed timber screen in the living room juxtaposes rattan and brass elements.

Scene Shang designed the dining room’s pendants. "They have very simple, geometric shapes inspired by Chinese lanterns, and the black-and-white palette, while influenced by traditional Chinese design, is simplified, a bit more free in shape and localized with rattan," says co-founder and designer Jessica Wong. 

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Scene Shang’s modular Shang system side table is also suited to co-living habits. It can be dismantled into a stool, tray, or drawer system. The version in Shang House features rattan fronts. 

This project allows Scene Shang to display their products in an actual residential setting, such as the modular Shang system side table.

New to the co-living model is this property’s retail aspect. If tenants become attached to a piece of furniture, scanning a QR code links to the product webpage for online orders.

Scene Shang’s acrylic-detailed Shang system table was a special collaboration with Singaporean designer Larry Peh. It perfectly complements the interior's existing glass brick walls. 

Still House by Studio Juju

On the eastern end of the island, Still House by Studio Juju has a pastel-pink exterior that hints at the multidisciplinary design studio’s brand of amiable functionality. Inside, colorful doors add a touch of playfulness, while sturdy, custom furniture evoke comfort and strength.

Still House sits within a row of colorful shophouses along Koon Seng Road in Singapore’s culturally rich Joo Chiat district.

"We seek clarity and simplicity in design [that] touch on the human sensibilities and intuition," says Timo Wong, who helms the studio with his wife and design partner, Priscilla Lui. "These can be physical or intangible attributes that we use as vocabulary to make users understand or be intrigued."

The four suites are dressed in similar fashion with timber-trimmed framing elements, glossy Serax side tables, colored doors, and beds designed by Studio Juju. The exaggerated proportions of the bed legs evoke comfort and stability.

One of the suites features its own living space with ample shelving. Studio Juju designed the modular wall shelves to be easily customizable. 

Made of oak, a wall of shelves accommodates an office nook accented with a slim Superlight table lamp from Pablo.

Modular shelves allow flexible display options in each room, and low benches at the dining are also suitable for holding books or plants. Elongated furniture—such as a Magis Officina Bench outside one of the suites and the bone-shaped Bonos bench from Qeeboo—facilitate communal use.

In Still House, simple forms and jovial colors create a warm, friendly space. Here, a custom-designed dining table with exaggerated legs is matched with Vitra .03 dining chairs designed by Maarten Van Severen.

The living area of this third-story suite was created by slabbing over the double-volume space of the suite below. The singular, sculptural element that makes up the handrail is typical of Studio Juju’s minimal, fluid design language. 

The sunken seating allows flexible use. "We tried to create distinct spatial qualities from one room to another by focusing or increasing a certain function or maximizing the potential of the rooms based on their location," says Wong.

Enzo Mari’s animal prints from Danese Milano and local artist Wu Yanrong’s migratory bird paintings enliven the walls. These accents contribute to a harmonious environment that brings out the shophouse’s charm. 

An Enzo Mari print from Danese Milano adorns the living area of a second-story suite.

A Magis Officina Bench sits at the entrance of a second-story suite. Local artist Wu Yanrong's Migratory Birds series accents the staircase walls to reflect its internationally mobile tenants.

"The future of co-living will only head the same way society evolves," says Wong. "Therefore, on top of sharing economies of scale, it can cater to the aspirations of the people and continue to make living truly bearable by design."

Vitra’s Uten.Silo wall organizer hangs above a desk. The Primo chair is by Konstantin Grcic.

At the entrance foyer, a Palissades outdoor lounge chair perches atop traditional Peranakan floor tiles.

Related Reading: These 3 Co-Living Companies Are Transforming Urban Living

Project Credits:

Client: Figment / @figment.live

Canvas House: 

Interior Designer: Ministry of Design/ @ministryofdesign

Builder: Forte Resources 

Electrician: Logic Engineering 

Carpenter: Second Charm 

Photography: Edward Hendricks, CI&A Photography  

Shang House:

Furniture designer: Scene Shang / @sceneshang

Photographer: Ivan Tan / @ra1nforest

Still House:

Interior and product designer: Studio Juju / @studio_juju

Photographer: Studio Periphery / @studioperiphery

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