Where the unwanted gets a second life

Under the loving devotion of Happy Tan, the abandoned is given a home, the unwanted acquires dignity, the ugly is transformed to admired beauty and the useless becomes priceless.

The result of such care and thoughtfulness is on open display at The Happy 8 Retreat collection of boutique guest houses. Here, discarded wood is turned into artistic features that have become the prime attractions of this guest house.

“I love wood. I often pick up wood from roadsides like a ragpicker. I had never expected that one day, these wood pieces would become the main draw of guests,” says Tan, the founder.

The hobby took flight when Tan chanced upon many old trees being chopped down for development. The wood was to be discarded. Thousands of cars passed by but no one paid any attention to the pile of cast-away wood. He then asked if the wood could be sold to him. That’s when the “wood adoption” began.

As a wood and art collector, Tan used many pieces from his collection in The Happy 8 Retreats.

In fact, the venture also began from his passion in turning the valueless to valuables.

The number 8 under the brand name was from its first establishment, which was an old corner terraced house numbered 8 in Taman Gembira (Happy Garden), Pasir Puteh, Ipoh.

“I used to buy poor-condition houses to renovate and resell for my side income. This corner lot was meant for that too, but in the end, I decided to renovate it according to my own taste as my vacation home. My children thought it was a waste. So they helped me to put it online for rent as a guest house.

“And I never expected it to be so well received, because The Happy 8 Retreat Pasir Puteh wasn’t renovated to be a guest house as it uses a very personal artistic style that [I thought] not many would appreciate,” Tan recalls.

The great response encouraged Tan to open up another similar hotel in Ipoh Old Town after just one year.

The Happy 8 Retreat Old Town is nestled at the end of a row of heritage shoplots in Market Street. Opened in 2014, it is more purposefully built and comes with a cafe and event space.

“The second retreat is the upgraded version of the first. I have allocated the entire ground floor for the reception counter, kitchen and cafe for our guests to enjoy their breakfast. The cafe is also open to the public,” says Tan.

Unlike the majority of the new owners of the old shoplots in Ipoh Old Town, Tan retained most of the structure, tiles, walls, doors and window frames even if they were worn out. “Because they are old, they are priceless. I did very minimal renovation. I only enhanced the place with art pieces.”

Besides his wood collection, the varied paintings at every corner of the building are just as eye-catching. They include Chinese black-and-white watercolours, abstracts, conceptual and religious works.

Guests will also notice several forms of a symbolic face. Named Yasoh, it was first painted on a seed from the looking glass tree, scientifically known as heritiera littoralis. Often, these seeds float down rivers to beaches, hence the name drift seeds or sea beans. It is the mascot of The Happy 8, representing lifelong happiness and good luck.

“The wall paintings are all from the same Nepalese artist. He used to work in my furniture manufacturing factory as a cleaner. On the last day before he went back to his country, I told him to do whatever he wants, and all he requested were colour paints, brushes and a piece of leaf.

“One of the things he drew was Yasoh on an unwanted seed picked from the roadside. The artist gave this seed a second life. The spontaneous idea gave birth to the soul of the company, from the first Yasoh to the Yasoh families,” Tan recalls.

The iconic emblem is found everywhere in The Happy 8 Old Town, be it on door handles, bedside tables, staircases or even window frames.

“My retreats are [like] living art. When you feed them with sunlight, air, water and nutrition, it will grow; if you give it all the love and patience, it will start to flourish and become a big tree,” Tan explains.

Each of the 12 themed rooms in The Happy 8 Old Town offers a different experience. Every single room is uniquely designed and decorated according to its original condition. For example, the Twinkle Cabin used to be the building’s attic and is only half-storey high. “But when you lie down on its bed, you will be able to see the sky because there is a window above the bed. We thought it won’t work but this is one of the most popular rooms now,” Tan enthuses.

Tan believes that when people do things they are passionate about, it will produce incredible results and they will be happy, naturally.

“Often we hear businesses named after their founders. But I’m the other way around. One of my guests told me I’m always happy, and my retreat’s name is Happy 8. Hence I named myself Happy, to relate myself to my babies, as well as to reflect my current life,” Tan smiles.

Besides Pasir Puteh and Old Town, Tan opened The Happy 8 Retreat @ Kuala Sepetang in 2014 and The Happy 8 Retreat @ White House and Kampung House, both in Ipoh in 2016.

The Happy 8 Retreat:
Contact: (03) 2020 2220

This story first appeared in live! magazine. Download a FREE copy of live! magazine here.

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