Almost every person who visits Planter Chin pauses at the entrance and pans from left to right, sometimes while unconsciously holding their breath. It is a lot to take in right off the bat, especially after rounds of manoeuvring through rows of double-parked cars along Jalan Kemuja in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. But the reward is worthwhile: an enchanting view of a flourishing urban jungle and good coffee to boot.
Floating shelves hold up a variety of knick-knacks, magazines and potted plants, some of which are climbers that cascade down to lower ledges. Large, towering palms draw the eye up to the ceiling, where a sunroof was installed to diffuse plenty of natural light. No surface area, not even the nooks and crannies, is without at least a few plants. The longer you look, the more you discover.
Planter Chin came about as a partnership between two friends — Jeremy Chin of Outcast Coffee, a pop-up coffee bar that caters for events, and Jan Zainal of bijou plant studio Taman Hati. The pair met in 2019 when Chin was introduced to Jan’s old studio in Jalan Maarof, KL. His frequent visits sparked a two-week collaboration, which eventually led to talks for something more permanent.
When the tenancy for Jan’s small studio was ending, she had to make a decision. “It was either I stayed status quo and small scale or tried this partnership and see how it goes,” she says. “To tell you the truth, it was a leap of faith.”
After acquiring the space (the location was offered to Chin by long-time friend Lisette Scheers of Nala Designs), the duo rolled up their sleeves and began prepping their new home. “We did everything ourselves,” says Chin, 36. “We ripped out the roof tiles and installed new ones.”
The partners were on the same page in terms of design direction. Anything minimalist was out the window and they agreed, the more forest-like, the better — or as Chin likes to call it, “a beautiful mess”.
“We had a vision in the beginning, but when we physically moved in, we realised we didn’t have to do much,” says Jan, 49, who previously worked in IT. “The only big thing we did was open up the ceiling.”
“I was contractor Chin for a while,” Chin jokes. He is recognised as a veteran of the coffee scene. He used to consult for big café brands like Huckleberry, Birch and Eight Ounce Coffee Co, but intends to keep it small with Planter Chin. “I don’t want it to be too commercial. We want to talk to customers and build relationships. We want to keep it intimate.”
The café cum plant studio has welcomed a steady stream of plant and coffee lovers since it opened last August. “The good thing about the Movement Control Order is that it brought in a lot of new plant parents,” says Jan. “People were depressed at home and felt like they needed to nurture something. So, it was either plants or pets. Plants are more manageable.”
While Planter Chin has both — three of Taman Hati’s resident felines moved in too — the situation meant that there was a surge of customers who lacked gardening knowledge. Thankfully, both Jan and Chin are more than happy to guide and advise beginners. “There is a plant for every person,” she declares.
While people often get confused about what exactly to call the establishment (Planter Chin, Outcast Coffee or Taman Hati), the founders clarify that the venue itself is called Planter Chin while Taman Hati is the brand carrying the plants in the shop. Taman Hati also has plants on consignment at zero waste store The Hive Bulk Foods and Hip Salons, a co-sharing hairdressing studio in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.
Apart from coffee and plants, Planter Chin also offers a variety of services, including workshops, consultation, styling and gifting.
“Instead of giving someone cut flowers, try a living gift,” Jan suggests. After all, plants are natural mood boosters and can give life to an otherwise sterile space.
Unique arrangements can be prepared along with products from Planter Chin’s collaborators such as ceramic ware from Purple Ling, plant stands from Adi and Aida or cement pots from Concrete Designz.
Initially, Planter Chin only served beverages such as coffee, tea and kombucha with the occasional dessert made by the founders’ friends but now the menu has expanded to include breakfast food while gardening merchandise are in the pipeline. “We want to host community events like open mic sessions in the future and have people come after hours, have a drink and listen to local talent,” says Jan. “We want you to enjoy the space we put our hearts and souls into.”
Planter Chin, 6a Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar, KL. Tue-Sun, 10am- 5pm.
This article first appeared in issue No. 98, Winter 2020 of Haven.