In Japan, ancient aesthetics predicate what is considered beautiful, even in today’s contemporary context. Two such aesthetics are wabi (transient and stark beauty) and sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging). According to Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers collectively wabi-sabi is defined as ‘the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental’.
As Gretchen Roberts of Whole Living beautifully illustrates, ‘Wabi sabi is asymmetrical heirloom vegetables and handmade pottery, crow's feet and the frayed sleeves of a favourite wool sweater, exposed brick and the first draft of a difficult letter.’
There are seven artistic principals of tea and zen which, in harmony evoke wabi-sabi.
These are -
Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity;Kanso: simplicity;Koko: basic, weathered;Shizen: without pretence, natural;Yugen: subtly profound grace, not obvious;Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free;Seijaku: tranquillity.
Whilst fundamentally visual, the philosophy of wabi-sabi is also practiced in daily life where nonessentials are omitted in favour of deliberate inclusions. This is evident through practicing mindfulness in the most ordinary of tasks, from the preparation and consumption of wholesome foods; acceptance of ageing and natural beauty; and to the contents of the home.
3 ways to embrace wabi-sabi at home
Japanese architect Tadao Ando suggests the ‘Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away’. The pursuit of simplicity can be challenging, with each inclusion requiring considerable thought. To quote Gretchen Roberts, ‘each object in your home should be beautiful, useful, or both’. Eschew nonessentials and embrace the artistic principle of kanzo (simplicity) by slowly decluttering one thing at a time, be it a busy mantel piece, full trundle drawer or messy pantry. Reminded of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it’s less about discarding items and more about retaining what brings happiness.
Organic forms and natural materials
The pursuit of minimalism needn’t induce sterile environments. The acceptance of imperfection can also be applied to the interior of a home. Introduce natural and weathered materials by way of fibrous linens, cast iron tea pots, uneven and gently creviced ceramics, woven rugs and natural woods. Similarly, organic forms can soften a barren space. Low-set and rounded meditation cushions; furniture with curvaceous forms and finishes; spherical lanterns; and light, unobtrusive display shelving such as our Shibui shelf are simple means of softening a minimalist space.
Victoria Redshaw from trend forecasting agency Scarlet Opus suggest products with wabi-sabi inclination ‘become more attractive and interesting as they become love worn and time worn from use; revealing new layers of colour and texture, crackled effects, weathering and oxidisation.’ Echoing minimalist sensibilities, wabi-sabi is about acquiring less. Utilise what you already have and invest in pieces designed to last, grow and even transition with your family over time. In committing to a life of less, be prepared to accept the artistic principal of koko (basic, weathered) … for a small dent, little finger marks or natural discolouration are no reason to send an otherwise perfectly adequate piece to landfill. Embrace the blemishes and the stories they tell.
Image credit clockwise L - R: Analogue Life Instagram, Takashi Endoh Demitasse Cup and Saucer from Analogue Life, BS Residence by Vincent van Duysen, Analogue Life, Graanmarkt 13 by Vincent van Duysen, Plyroom Flat Out Queen Bed, Analogue Life Grass Broom, minimalist space via Pinterest (source unknown).