Co-living in Singapore: I stayed at Hmlet Cantonment for a weekend and here's what happened
Live it up
I've got a confession to make; I'm a fully grown man who's turning 30 in a month, and I live with my parents in an old HDB flat in the East. It might sound dire, but I'm not alone. According to a report by PropertyGuru last year, about 70 per cent of Singaporean millennials (aged between 27 and 35) live with their parents because they haven't saved up enough to buy a flat of their own or aren't married yet, which means they aren't eligible for a government-subsidised flat.
Despite the introduction of higher grants for first-time home buyers this month, interest in co-living has steadily spiked in the last few years, particularly among young professionals like myself. It's no surprise then that there are more than a handful of co-living start-ups that have set up base in Singapore, and raised some hefty financing to boot.
For millennials who are looking to spread their wings and leave the family nest, the fascination with co-living is clear; the idea of living alongside other young adults with shared common areas and community activities reminds them of their spirited college days. Although this time, the experience has been elevated with a bucketload of sophistication.
This month, one of the fastest growing players in Singapore's co-living market, Hmlet opens its largest facility with 150 individual rooms on Cantonment Road at the edge of Tanjong Pagar in the CBD. I decided to check in for the weekend to see what's all the fuss about, just before it opened its doors on 16 September.
Blast from the past
Besides a simple sign on its walled perimeter, Hmlet Cantonment's facade is pretty nondescript. I later found out from its general manager Nicolas that this is because it's built on a heritage site from the 1950s, and has been leased with certain restrictions from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
The site was the former location of Keppel Primary before it was converted into the headquarters of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). "We appreciate it was once a school because schools are made up of shared spaces, and we feel that spirit aligns with what Hmlet is about", said Hmlet's interior designer Amelia Koo.
Design with heart
Since I checked in on my phone the day before (similar to taking a flight), I was handed my room key almost immediately when I arrived. I was then whisked to the lobby of Block A (there are two blocks). I refer to it as a lobby, but to be precise, it looked more like a living room with beautiful grey fabric sofas and framed Singapore-themed artworks by Pathlight's The Art Faculty.
As I made my way up the nostalgic terrazzo staircase, I spotted Onlewo's traditional batik prints framed in bamboo embroidery hoops. Amelia later revealed that over 100 pieces were made by hand.
Once I entered the Extra-Large room on the third floor, I discovered that the 76,000 square foot property's discreet exterior — that's framed by eight-metre tall trees and lush greenery — might actually be one of its strengths. I could barely hear, or even see, the hustle going on at its doorstep.
In an effort to be brief, here are 10 things that I noticed and experienced during my weekend staycation:
- There was a real Monstera plant in the corner of the room, which as you might already know, is the king of all hipster houseplants.
- The smart TV had a Netflix option, but sadly, I had to sign in with my own account. A Hmlet spokesperson claimed that it will be offering Netflix to its members in the near future. However, there's no word yet on when exactly that might happen.
- Most of the furniture and fixtures seemed to be made from light wood that's reminiscent of trendy Scandinavian interior labels.
- There were only two seats in the room, which means gatherings of three or more will have to be convened to the communal kitchen on the second floor.
- The open 'wardrobe' had a single arms-length railing and a few flat drawers that was barely enough for a weekend trip, even for a minimalist like myself — unless they aren't expecting most guests to stay for much longer.
- The toilet was decked out with matte black hardware. I'm talking about everything from the tap to the shower appliances. Interior geeks will know that matte black is extremely rare, and these were one of the many objects that were customised especially for Hmlet Cantonment. Amelia later mentoned that even the wooden chopping boards were customised too.
- The shower was surprisingly large, but being a man of over six feet in height, I particularly appreciated the rain shower.
- The kitchenette might have lacked in space, but it definitely made up for it with a fully-stocked inventory of utensils, pots, and pans. Unfortunately, those who are staying in the 60 units that don't have a kitchenette will have to share the communal kitchen.
- That questionable proportion extends to the handful of washers and dryers in the block too.
- Hmlet prides itself on its community programming so I had to give it a shot. An afternoon sketching workshop — which was led by a Hmlet member — provided an unexpected serenity, while a 9am yoga class on a Sunday seemed a little too enthusiastic.
Faces of Hmlet
Since Hmlet Cantonment wasn't officially opened to guests yet, I wasn't able to fully experience the co-living nature of the property, but I did have the opportunity to speak with five Hmlet members who took the time to join one of the community dinners where we rolled Vietnamese spring rolls and drank delicious daiquiris.
Tai hails from Taiwan, and works in the luxury business.
"Co-living is kind of like going back to university life, living in a dorm, and sharing space with others, but with better design obviously. Personally, I feel younger as I've been very active because there are always plenty of activities going on. You can choose to have your own space too if you don't feel like participating. It's a buffet; you can choose to create the kind of experience you want."
Lauren Larose is 32, and she works at LinkedIn.
"There are no children in our Hmlet building, which is just amazing! I've been to people's pools on the weekends, and there are screaming kids everywhere! Not that kids are bad, but it changes the vibe, so it's really nice to have this laid-back vibe."
Karina Panchal is 31, and she works at LinkedIn.
"For those who are interesting in exploring co-living, I would suggest checking out a couple of locations so that you can pick one that's right for you. Tap into the network, because everyone is really cool and interesting. The third is go in with an open mindset. Instead of automatically assumming that you have to enter a one or two-year lease, be flexible about renting something that's shorter term."
Roberta Biandolino is 29, and she works at Food Panda.
"In terms of demographics at Hmlet, most of us are expats, but we also have some Singaporeans. We always ask them why they want to live here. The answer is always the same; they didn't want to live with their parents any longer, and they wanted to become independent and get to know more people!"
Alena Kudriashova is 35, and works as an interior designer.
"Hmlet's properties have that human touch. It looked like someone had thought of me before I moved in. This is in comparison to other studios or apartments, where it's usually pretty clean but it doesn't feel personal. When I looked at Hmlet's apartments, I could picture myself living there. As a designer, I'm pretty picky about what I see, so scary leather sofas are not an option for me as it's going to abuse my eyes for a long time."
Head over to Hmlet's website to find out more about Hmlet Cantonment as well as its other properties islandwide.
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