First a primary school, then the headquarters of Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, and now, 150 Cantonment is the largest co-living space in Singapore under the Hmlet brand.
Launched in 2016 in Singapore by entrepreneurs Yoan Kamalski and Zenos Schmickrath, Hmlet is the fastest-growing co-living operator in Asia Pacific and operates more than 75 locations in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan. The co-living brand aims to provide affordable and flexible housing solutions with a built-in community for the increasingly mobile workforce who are always on the move.
Building on a heritage site from the 1950s, the 76,000 sq ft Hmlet Cantonment offers 150 rooms spread across two blocks and three levels, each custom-designed by Hmlet’s in-house design team.
“When we took over the building, it was left discarded and unkempt,” shares Amelia Koo, Hmlet’s in-house interior designer who helmed the renovation project. “We could tell the building had gone through a couple of renovations, but looking at the layout and structure of the building, we felt it had great potential.”
And instead of trying to hide it, they let traces of the building’s history be the highlight of the design.
“We wanted to breathe new life into the space while paying homage to the original design intention,” adds Amelia. “To do that, we needed to strip back everything. In the process, we discovered many of the building’s original details that were hidden away under tiles and partition walls, such as the rediscovery of the terrazzo stairs. We also retained the original 1950s windows railing.”
The renovation from design to finish took an intensive 4 months.
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The premise’s largest common area, dubbed The Canteen, also serves at the reception. All the furniture, save the bar, are loose, allowing the room to be easily rearranged to suit accommodate different events. A shiny beer tap flushes out free-flow locally brewed craft beer for tenants and guests.
The familiar retro green mosaic tiling, used so often in vintage homes, is given a modern twist in this kitchen island with the use of sage green and thick white lines. Pops of green courtesy of plants curated by local botanical studio This Humid House freshens up the space.
Hmlet has also worked with local artists such as Onlewoo and artofchris for artworks and decorative accents. Corridor artworks are prints from The Art Faculty by pathlight. "They all have a similar theme of retro Singapore which is very fitting to Hmlet Cantonment," says Amelia.
The communal pantries - smaller, fully equipped kitchens straight out of a catalogue - in the residential block are great if you don't feel up to socialising in The Canteen.
A raised deck out in the courtyard that was once a parade square for the school is now an alfresco area. At night, fairy lights strung around the area light up the place.
The property's crown jewel is the terrazzo staircase in the residential block, which had been tiled over during numerous change of hands, has been stripped back and restored to its original condition from the 1950s. "Hmlet Cantonment is built on adding new chapters to an existing book so a lot of the significant retro elements, like the terrazzo handrail staircase which was made by a single cast (a technique not common today) that stretches three floors, are refurbished to its former glory," explains Amelia.
Other parts of the original building have been adaptively reused. Walls were removed and the existing structural grid, which had divided the interior neatly into compact classrooms, was creatively re-partitioned into larger apartment units. Obtrusive pillars in the middle of the rooms that can't be removed are used to hang full-length mirrors.
The 1950s corridor railings were also retained and incorporated as part of the window design, with the headboards behind the bed reflective of the original grid windows. "Many people do not realise that part of the window design is actually the railings that were used to demarcate corridors when the space was a primary school," says Amelia. "I think it's just the fact that the layout was changed so drastically that it's hard to imagine that part of your room used to be an open corridor."
In true Hmlet fashion, the facility is designed to incorporate co-living spaces, such as communal kitchens, a wellness studio, outdoor plunge pool and relaxation area, as well as an all-day, in-house cafe to encourage interaction among residents.
Strategically located near Singapore’s historic Chinatown and Duxton Hill, Hmlet Cantonment is just a short walk from a myriad of restaurants, cafes, bars and cultural attractions.