But to Fang Wei Low, the Singapore shophouse simply signifies his idea of home. The 32-year-old entrepreneur has always lived in shophouses. For the first 12 years of his life, he grew up in a refurbished three-storey shophouse in Tanjong Pagar’s Blair Plain neighbourhood. (He recently moved into one on Little India’s Petain Road). His childhood shophouse, of which origin can be traced back to the pre-war era of the 1920s, had housed three generations of Low’s family. Later on, Low moved to New York for his studies, interned for the fine art auction house Christie’s, accidentally broke a cup from the Ming Dynasty, decided to make his exit, and couch-surfed the world.
During his travels, Low came to a realisation that he would always pose the same instinctive query before choosing an accommodation: What is the equivalent of a shophouse in this city? “It could, for instance, be like a Haussmann-style building in Buenos Aires,” he says. “There are all these regional architectural vernaculars that only locals would know.”
Enter Figment, Low’s shophouse initiative. After returning to Singapore, Low wanted to bridge an unfilled gap for what he calls “localised boutique homes.” His father, Low Seow Juan, has been one of the principal investors for several shophouses along a street in Geylang, renovated by seven architects into contemporary homes and rented out to art-inclined expatriate families.
Now, led by Low, Figment is his co-living follow-up. “A lot of the other co-living operators [in Singapore] are run by expats, and they don’t have a first-degree understanding of shophouses. So a lot of it would focus on Peranakan tiles or the facade,” he says. “But that’s been done to death.”
What Low is proposing is a total resetting of the insides. For Figment’s first series of co-living shophouses, titled Case Study Homes, Fang roped in three local creative collectives and gave them carte blanche to the interiors of three shophouses in three neighbourhoods of Blair Plain, Balestier and Joo Chiat.