Arts & CultureFeaturedLIFESTYLE

Tan Kai Lek’s Undying Passion

By Gisele Soo

Bukit Merah Wood Products Sdn Bhd has been around for about six decades. Originally focused on making quality woodwork for developers, private homes, interior designers and architects, Managing Director Tan Kai Lek, the second generation who succeeded from his father is now fully involved in sharing his enduring love affair with the public.

While others collect antiquities or objet d’art, Kai Lek collected wood, whether it be driftwood from river beds or the sea, felled trees left to rot by the roadside or being cleared by developers or discarded wooden doors, bric-a-brac, etc. In fact, anything wood.

From these Kai Lek would repurpose the very different bits and pieces into utilitarian items for everyday use or polish and shine some especially magnificent pieces, highlighting its grain to create works of art.

With an artist’s eye, he notes the special beauty in each piece and strives to bring out the essence of the wood to give it new life.

“Unfortunately, wood is a medium not very well appreciated by the younger generation of today. With a choice of may synthetic materials on the market, wood has lost its appeal,” he lamented.

To preserve wood’s heritage values and to showcase the need for conservation and preservation, Tan, ventured into the accommodations industry, repurposing his collection of wood and other materials and developed three hotels, all of which have their own unique whimsicality.

Now with the opening of Tin Alley and his Wood Museum, he is giving the community an opportunity to develop their artistic skills and further their appreciation of wood. His core values are to encourage young talents to acknowledge and express their creativity freely.

The amiable Kai Lek said, “Tin Alley and Bukit Merah Wood Product factory is a multifunctional curator space and serves as a platform for the young generation such as artists and talented individuals.”

Wood Museum

Tan runs multiple workshops at his factory. One of the exhibitions is the mini theatre where local producers or filmmakers can showcase their films at a lower cost.

Besides, as an effort to promote Art Ipoh, installation art was introduced by Tan in August 2019. It is an ongoing activity and artists can prepare their artwork at the Bukit Merah factory for free and later, display them during the installation art exhibition.

Up and coming events like Sanctuary Reunion Dinner for Chinese New Year will be hosted by Tan on January 31 at Old Town, Ipoh. Tickets are priced at RM60 per person.

The Happy 8 Retreat and a few other boutique hotels showcase Kai Lek’s passion and love of Perak. All his hotels use local elements and repurposed artefacts to attract tourists and leave lasting impressions on them. “It all helps to promote Ipoh and attract tourists from around the world.” he enthused.

“Many are not aware of the potential of this city and oftentimes take it for granted. Most of the boutique hotels I notice are using European and Korean concepts and style. This has a negative effect on the local culture,” he lamented.

The recognition of local values is important as Ipoh has its own unique assets. Malaysia is a tropical country, rich in sunlight and the availability of moist soil allows continuous growth of trees. Therefore, everyone should make full use of these gifts of natural resources.

“Families are welcome to my factory to create their own memories with their loved ones by making their own wood piece,’ Tan said. “I sell memories, not products,” he added. A ticket is RM400 per person inclusive of high tea. Families can spend up to four hours at the wood factory.

Tan hosts educational tours for free. Anyone who wishes to visit the Bukit Merah Wood Products Sdn Bhd can make a reservation at 05 323 1388 or email, with a fee of RM5 per child and RM10 per adult.

For consultation on how to preserve wood, contact Tan Kai Lek at 012 516 9911.


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