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A general view of Lunabar Coffee's garden by Sputnik Forest Labs. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs
A general view of Lunabar Coffee’s garden by Sputnik Forest Labs. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs

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GEORGE TOWN, July 25 — It all started at a small cafe in George Town more than five years ago when Tan Wei Ming thought he’d try his hand at enhancing the space with plants, shrubs and small trees. 

The graphic design graduate tried using a variety of plants and realised it was not an easy task at all.

“It took a lot of trial and error, a lot of plants died too, but over time, we learnt how to take care of the plants, how to use different types of plants and how to keep them alive,” he said.

Tan started Sputnik Forest Labs sometime in 2016 and the company concentrates fully on spatial design using plants. 

He has a team of designers working with him in Sputnik: Ngeu Sze Hui, Chong Xin Dean and Tan Chee Leong, and attributes the company’s success to teamwork.

The name “Sputnik” was inspired by Haruki Murakami’s book Sputnik Sweetheartsputnik also means “companion” in Russian.

Tan also worked with architects and interior designers on various “plantscaping” design projects and one of the main projects was the Harmony Centre, an activity and resource space for Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Taoists, in Penang.

Today, Sputnik Forest Labs shares a space with Lunabar Coffee on Jalan Clove Hall, so naturally, the design for the cafe’s garden is also by Tan. In fact, the garden has become a sort of incubator for his collection of plants and shrubs. 

The garden at Dou Dou Bake. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs
The garden at Dou Dou Bake. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs

As word spread of Sputnik Forest Labs’ designs which marries urban functionality with plants to create aesthetically pleasing interiors and exteriors, they began to get more projects in Kuala Lumpur.

Tan said they often partner with interior designers and architects in projects where he is fully responsible for the plants and shrubs introduced into the space.  

In late 2019, they started a project for a bakery cafe in Petaling Jaya but the project dragged on for more than six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. 

The project was finally completed in July 2020 and since then, Dou Dou Bake has drawn people to its space as much for its great pastries and coffee as well as its amazing garden.

Among other projects in Kuala Lumpur they’ve managed to complete before the third movement control order (MCO) this year is the Vernakular Store in Bangsar and some residential houses in Desa Park City in Kuala Lumpur.

“More than half of our business is in Kuala Lumpur so we have to travel frequently for work but due to the current restrictions, we are not allowed to operate… so we are now in a limbo,” he said.

“We did get some fees for some of the projects we had accepted but we can’t start the projects yet due to the SOPs,” he added.

The garden at the Harmony Centre in Penang. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs
The garden at the Harmony Centre in Penang. — Picture courtesy of Sputnik Forest Labs

He said the crew are still working on proposals and designs for enquiries but none of them can be finalised at this moment. 

Instead, he has taken to selling plants, most of which are non-flowering and leafy. 

“Since we are propagating our own plants, some of which are exotic that originated from South America, we have started selling plants… there are actually plant collectors who will look at adding these to their collection,” he said.

Tan has also taken up a programming course from a programming learning centre near his office. 

He said he is looking at integrating smart technological features into his garden designs and learning to programme and code is a way toward that goal. 

“It is still at an early stage but we hope to look into integrating technology with our designs in future,” he said.

Sputnik Forest Labs are currently selling their plants through Lunabar Coffee via Instagram here

Check out Sputnik Forest Labs’ Instagram page at sputnikforest or go to their website for more information.

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