In the early days of my career in design, I was obsessed with perfection. I wanted everything to be just right. I would move pieces of furniture to the exact spot down the inch and shift a decorative vase so the light hit it with precision. I was like a surgeon wielding a scalpel. This need for perfection may have stemmed from my youth, my inexperience or even the industry itself. A lot has changed since those days and not just for me. People really live in their homes, adopting the open floorplan of Frank Lloyd Wright in both newly built and renovated spaces, which encourages a collective space and sense of unity and harmony. Every year, we become a society more interested in decluttering our homes and minds and embracing the imperfection of life. Our fascination with Japanese culture can be found in the practice of Buddhism, Yoga, our obsession with Marie Kondo and simple living and, of course, Wabi-Sabi.
Wabi-Sabi is best defined by author Leonard Koren as such:
“Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical
Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”
The words on their own represent humble simplicity (wabi) and the beauty of age and wear (sabi). It is the moss growing on a stone pot for drinking water, the individuality of hand-thrown pottery, and the moth-eaten, threadbare Old Glory. It is the heirloom quilt that has been passed down through generations, tattered and torn, treated more gently with each gifting. Wabi-sabi is minimalism at its finest, utilizing neutral tones and barebone design to convey a space of easy living. While this design style is not for everyone, those that are drawn to and embrace it find the peace and space to enjoy the simple pleasures of living.
It’s seems obvious but one of the biggest things you can do to embrace Wabi-Sabi is declutter. You remove the chaos to make room for the good stuff. Taking on the project of decluttering your home can seem daunting at first but if you make a plan and just start, it’s gets easier as you go. I find Marie Kondo’s way of organization to be very helpful and soothing but hers isn’t the only path to a pared down life. Eliminating clutter and the things that do not serve you allows what really matters to shine.
Focus on Texture
Texture plays a central role in this style of design, elevating the space with its depth. Its application can be found in multiple forms and is best utilized that way. Look at the existing pieces in your collection. Are there items that are or feel artisanal or homemade? The homespun or unmade quality of a potter’s vase or vintage trunk is just what we are looking for in Wabi-Sabi. If they have meaning to you, all the better. There are pieces and materials that are commonly found within this style of design that may already exist in your space.
Pottery is the perfect vessel for an imperfect space. Each piece is unique and the materials used to form it come from the earth, so not only are they an organic shape but also a fragment of nature. Keeping within neutral tones strikes a strong statement with only a piece or two. Terracotta planters are also a good vessel to utilize with their porous surface that morphs color as it collects water and minerals and ages.
There is an unmade feeling that linen bedding evokes, that makes it ideal for Wabi-Sabi design. Its laissez-faire look lends well to those days when you just can’t bring yourself to make your bed. It’s naturally a bit frumpy and wrinkled, imperfect by design and slightly textured. Its unique feel is not for everyone so if linen just isn’t your thing, keep it simple with cotton or bamboo bedding (sheets, duvet, comforter) and minimal pillows.
The natural materials in baskets fit right in in several applications. They have obvious uses like clothing hampers or linen storage and less common utilization for planters or pendants. Natural woven pendants and chandeliers have been highly sought after for the past handful of years. Easy to find, they are an organic piece of art that elevates the space.
Most likely to be already in your home are hard surfaces made from natural minerals such as granite or quartz. These applications, as well as concrete and wood, are a sure fit for Wabi-Sabi ideals and the love of nature indoors. If they are worn in and well loved, even better.
There are a few different styles of window treatments that lean into Wabi-Sabi; drapery, cells, and wovens. White tab back drapes in cotton or linen make for a clean, gentle statement that adds an element of drama when lifted by the breeze. White and neutral toned cellular shades help minimize energy waste and are a simple application that draws little attention, allowing them to blend into the room. By matching them to the wall color, you can really influence where the eye goes.
Woven wood shades are a fit by their very nature as the texture is created with organic weeds and bamboo. The only caution I stress for this type of shade is not to overdo if you have already decorated with a lot of woven baskets or light fixtures. Consider a less busy window treatment.
Finally, if you haven’t caught onto it yet, natural materials are a big win with Wabi-Sabi so it’s no surprise that woven wood shades would have a home within this style. The key is not to overload with the woven reed textures that are found in these shades and baskets. If you do one, try to avoid the other lest it become too coordinated and perfect.
Wabi-Sabi as a design style is not for everyone but it’s intent can be incorporated into daily life. Embracing the imperfections of life and valuing the beauty of individuality, be it in your home, work, others or yourself, can simplify every aspect of the way we exist and develop a gentler, more kind way of living. We could all use a little more of that in our lives, don’t you think?