Cover Founder of Sputnik Forest, Tan Wei Ming

Nestled in a charming corner of George Town, Penang, Sputnik Forest’s lush studio is a space which invites dreaming and inspires plant envy

The mastermind behind the photogenic grounds of Petaling Jaya’s most talked-about bakery, Dou Dou Bake, Sputnik Forest Labs is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Penang, Malaysia.

Founded by Tan Wei Ming, the studio doesn’t just create unforgettable gardens, it also creates interior and exterior spaces into expressions of atmospheric visual arts. Their studio in Penang is as unique as the projects they realise.

 

Located on the fringes of the old city of George Town, giant Angsana trees grace both sides of this main road as it transitions into the suburbs of Pulau Tikus. The studio is also a mere five-minute walk from the seaside along Northam Road, which overlooks the Penang straits separating the island from the peninsular.

Set in a two-storey house built in the '80s, the studio was initially meant to be a coffee bar with an open space gallery. It was gradually taken over by the studio’s plants and vintage furniture, one piece at a time.

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Before the studio moved in, the house used to be a Chinese physician’s clinic and was painted a light shade of salmon pink, which Tan repainted in pristine white. “Doing up the space was a slow process, juggling between what we wanted and what we could afford,” recalls Tan. “We managed to get it done with the help of friends. After six months, our studio had big windows, lots of natural light and reimagined in a neutral palette.”

Indeed the studio is beguilingly homey, a cosy space filled with friends, plants, books, music, beer and coffee. Tan says this studio was his haven during the pandemic: “I spent a lot of thinking in this space, like a dream, a limbo sort of mood. Now we dance to the earth’s rhythm gone wild to the tune of Etta Jones’s Nature Boy.”

 

With a name like Sputnik Forest, the Haruki Murakami connection is quickly drawn, and Tan admits that the surrealistic Japanese author inspires him, along with sunsets.

The studio is also a space that inspires dreaming, especially with its eclectic furniture and makeshift greenhouse, ping pong table and the ever-present smell of coffee (a cafe named Luna Bar takes up part of the ground floor). 

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The fruits of these dreaming can no doubt be seen in the latest Sputnik Forest projects: “We have been keeping ourselves busy designing spaces in collaboration with our fellow designers, one of the latest ones being Transparent coffee located in Kampung Attap, KL and Murky Wines at The Gasket Alley, Petaling Jaya.”

In the works are more “new bakery and coffee shrines, private jungles, artsy-fartsy experiments here and there, landscape design projects that may only see the light maybe half a decade later.”

While the studio has a steady stream of projects, Tan still longs for more: “I want to be able to travel and work with people across the globe, explore nature in different parts of the earth, and start a forest on the moon.” 

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