Common Ground

A funky crop of co-living spaces is transforming millennial travel across Asia. Grace Ma finds sharing is caring in Singapore’s newest community-hotel hub.

Nov 25, 2019

We count no fewer than six USB points in our room, and an almost equal number of sockets, all within easy reach whether I’m sitting at the desk or my preteen daughter is lying on the top bunk bed—which she claimed immediately with a delighted squeal. I fill up the water jug at the dispenser down the hallway. Our private bathroom is stocked with refillable bottles of all toiletries (thumbs up for eco-friendliness). Outside our door, like everyone else’s, hangs a college-dorm-reminiscent blackboard on which my daughter doodled “hello!” in chalk. There is a mini gym, a retro-bright laundromat and a Masterchef-worthy communal kitchen equipped with branded appliances… just BYO groceries from the supermarket in the mall downstairs, where we can also hit up the rock-climbing wall. Underneath is City Hall MRT station, 45 minutes straight to the airport.

DIY laundry at lyf. Courtesy of lyf Funan.

Welcome to lyf Funan Singapore (lyfbyascott.com; doubles from S$150), the city-state’s newest and largest co-living property—which brings back the good ol’ vibe of staying in a hostel, but with a lot more comfort, class and sass. It’s as ideal an abode as any intrepid, connection-hungry traveler could desire, and just one of several new players that have burst onto Singapore’s co-living scene in the past few months, echoing a phenomenon that’s steadily creeping across the Asia Pacific. In a country of skyrocketing property prices and prohibitive rental agreements, it’s easy to see why.

This 412-room hub in the Central Business District has far surpassed traditional ideas of room or house-sharing. You’re not bundled in with a motley crew of residents or trying to get some sleep in a crowded dorm. At lyf, as with any co-living space worth your time, you inhabit an integrated space that has been purposefully designed for sharing with a community of like-minded, peripatetic souls. This natural evolution in hospitality combines the best of all worlds: the functionality of an apartment, the wallet-friendliness of a guesthouse, the design of a boutique hotel, and the social activity of a buzzing hostel.

In lyf Funan’s six bedroom duplex. Courtesy of lyf Funan.

Lyf also adds flexibility to the mix, straddling the long stay/short stay divide. They’ve done away with memberships and minimum-required nights, and room categories, from studios to six-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes and dining areas, cater to every traveler type.

Fellow newcomer ST Signature Chinatown, which opened in a converted Singapore shophouse last month, also allows for nightly bookings. An upmarket, gold-accented twist on hostel living, their small, smartly designed “cabins” provide cozy private spaces, while a common kitchen and patio invite guest interaction. On the other end of the spectrum with a more residential style are Hmlet and Commontown, aimed at students and young workers who want to stay in the city without paying city prices. Hmlet, the largest co-living operator in Singapore, stands out with its handpicked character buildings. Its latest in Singapore is Cantonment, inside a 1950s heritage building that has housed both a school and a police headquarters. Last month the brand expanded internationally, launching a Sydney property in a former warehouse, and the purpose-built Shibuya Shoto, their first outpost in Japan, where they plan to eventually open 10,000 rooms. Commontown’s model is a little different, renting rooms in apartment clusters they refer to as “towns.” Life here is more like in an extended-stay hotel, with furnishings, linens and cleaning standard, of course, plus community activities, and even pets are allowed. Cove takes the “co” in co-living to another level by including flatmate matching as part of the deal.

Cute co-living at Hmlet. Courtesy of Hmlet.

For travelers though—especially short-stayers— efficient operations and excellent customer service will always take priority. That lyf is owned and operated by veteran hotel company The Ascott Limited bears out in its quick response to problems (staff came to my rescue immediately when my key card didn’t work); its homey rooms were kept fresh by daily housekeeping and weekly deep-cleaning; and its effervescent “Ambassadors of Buzz” and “lyf Guards” (a.k.a. guest-service officers), charged to host social events, conduct property tours and float around the hotel making sure everyone’s happy.

We may have been at lyf Funan for only 18 hours on a staycation, but during that time I managed to chat with London-based executive Victoria at the end of her four- day stay, and Australian post-graduate student Chris who was on a six-month exchange program from his Japanese university. When we went to the kitchen for the morning’s activity—making a traditional Singaporean breakfast of kopi (coffee with condensed milk), toast and half-boiled eggs—we got to spend time with lyf Guards Win, Usha, Hafiz and Gen, who shared travel tips and hangover cures (“eat really spicy Indomie noodles with lots of water”). Imagine the people I could meet and the knowledge I could pick up with a stay of a week, a month, or a year. For the social traveler, sharing with strangers could be the next best way to see the world.

Connect Here

Singapore’s co-living scene is exploding—here are some of its major players.

ST Signature
Compact rooms and shared bathrooms with gold fixtures and bidet toilets rule in the brand’s first property in Chinatown, while a new flagship in the Tanjong Pagar business district just opened in November. The proprietary Chat-In technology allows guests to check in and out online and talk to other guests without revealing room details. More locations are planned for key residential and business hubs in Singapore, as well as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. stsignature.com; singles from S$60 per night.

Hmlet
The Singapore-based start-up has been going places since it debuted its first location in the city-state in 2016. In the last two months, it opened its largest property in Singapore and its first ones in Japan and Australia. You can manage everything from laundry to housekeeping services on the Hmlet app and bond with fellow residents over activities such as cocktail workshops and yoga classes in bright and cheery spaces, nestled in neighborhoods with character. Some properties offer bookings for a short as one week. hmlet.com.

Commontown
With eight Singapore locations, this Korean start-up enters Indonesia and Malaysia next year. The fully furnished rooms come with or without en-suite bathrooms and contracts begin at three months. Services such as Wi-Fi, utilities and weekly housekeeping, and the use of communal spaces such as lounges and a rooftop terrace are all included in the rate. commontown.sg.

Cove
This flat-sharing company matches tenants based on their interests, and features rolling month-by-month rental after the initial three-month contract is up, making it a solid option for business travelers and digital nomads. coveliving.co.

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