Ministry of Design’s Canvas House in Singapore is an all-white co-living space

The Ministry of Design transforms a traditional shophouse in Singapore into a shared space for expats and creatives, covering everything from its walls to furniture in pure white.

by Jincy Iype Published on : Mar 30, 2020

Singapore-based architectural firm Ministry of Design reveals, conceals and embraces our past, present and future, within the layers of the Canvas House. The newly completed, all-white co-living space is located in a traditional shophouse (a building type which is both a residence and a commercial business space) in Singapore, along Blair Road. The blank, white interiors blur boundaries between object and space, provides a canvas for the future, and preserves its history in concentrated spots at the same time.

Inside the Canvas House - Living Room | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
Inside the Canvas House - Living Room Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design

The Canvas House was commissioned by the developer Figment, who gave Ministry of Design (MOD) a fixed budget and only four months to reimagine the heritage shophouses’ interiors, and turn it into rental suites for expats, for three-12 month stays. The brief also appealed to the architects, to make the space look uber appealing to renters who stayed long, and to make the living shophouse distinctive. According to MOD, “Historic dwellings like conservation shophouses are repositories of memories, with previous lives and a past of their own”. Ministry of Design did not want to completely forgo the structure’s past, and so weave it in the new, all white interiors, and how!

  • The Canvas House – Façade | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    The Canvas House – Façade Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design
  • Entrance to the all-white Canvas House | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    Entrance to the all-white Canvas House Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design

The white paint covers the floors, the walls, the ceilings, the furniture - almost every inch of the four-storey shophouse is rendered in white, to present itself as a ‘blank canvas’. Colin Seah, Founder, Director, Ministry of Design, the Canvas House, explains the idea behind the interiors saying, “It is a neutral white canvas for the future to be dreamt upon, rather than a wholesale homage to the past.” The old, original surfaces are revealed sporadically within the blank palette such as old timber and brickwork - these choreographed glimpses by MOD, described by them as “playful peek-a-boo reveals,” pay homage to the past, and give it a distinct character. Parts of vignettes on the decorative dragon or longevity vases, ceramic plates hung on the wall, and wooden screens, vanity dressers and chairs are playfully revealed here and there.

  • Most of the Canvas House is rendered in white | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    Most of the Canvas House is rendered in white Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design
  • All the furniture is white too | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    All the furniture is white too Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design

Circular cut outs on the walls of the Canvas House expose the shophouses’ original red brickwork, while circular spaces on the stairs have been left unpainted to present its old, timber treads. The bedroom suites also see fragments of old wooden flooring, their shape determined by the shadow cast by the sun at specific times of the day. Adding on to the intrigue, most of the tables, chairs, chests, mirrors, screens and vanity desks were repurposed and given a new lease of life, ala upcycling method.

  • The Alabaster Bedroom Suite sees a fragment of the old, original wooden flooring | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    The Alabaster Bedroom Suite sees a fragment of the old, original wooden flooring Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design
  • Close-up of the stairs | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    Close-up of the stairs Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design

Seah shares, “When it comes to adaptive reuse projects, the question is always the same, how do we tread the line between the past and the present? If one opts for the project to be just about preservation, it's as good as time standing still… which could be paralysing and inhibiting. But at the same time, neither do we want to disregard history completely by creating something too foreign or novel. Our response was to layer over the existing history with a proverbial blank canvas whilst leaving choreographed glimpses into the past, blanketing both space and the furniture in it - allowing us to blur the inherent boundaries between past and present, object and space."

A neon art piece fabricated by The Signmakers decorates one wall in the Canvas House, encapsulating MOD’s approach to the project, by featuring a Thomas Jefferson quote – “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”. A small array of custom lights crafted by cling film inhibit the space, designed by artist Kang, who was called upon especially for the project, and who specialises in upcycling.

  • Details of the white furniture and accessories employed within the Canvas House | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    Details of the white furniture and accessories employed within the Canvas House Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design
  • The neon artwork made specially or the interior design project | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    The neon artwork made specially or the interior design project Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design
  • The Canvas House – Concept and Plan | Canvas House in Singapore by Ministry of Design | STIRworld
    The Canvas House – Concept and Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Ministry of Design

Rendering the Canvas House entirely in white blurs the difference between the old and the new; it also diminishes the distinction between the spatial elements such as the walls and the ceiling, and the objects within it such as the furniture and lights. “With everything white, object/space dichotomy is blurred. The house becomes more whole, rather than a space populated by objects and people that move in and out. That allows the people using the space, to truly activate the space, and be the prominent features instead of merely inhabiting space”, explains the Ministry of Design team.

Project Details

Name: Canvas House
Location: Singapore
Area: 350 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Architect, interior design: Ministry of Design (MOD)
Client: Figment

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About Author

Jincy Iype

Jincy Iype

Iype is a trained architect, who often indulges in writing and amateur photography. She was a cinephile and a melophile even before she knew what those words meant. She is inclined towards architecture journalism, and can usually be found curled up reading a book, or cooking for therapeutic relief.

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