Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese design tradition born from the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Aesthetically it emerged in 15th century Japan as a reaction against the dominant style of the day which was lavish, heavy on ornamentation, and rich materials. Wabi-sabi was, and is, a rejection of perfection and embellishment. Rather it is about finding joy in imperfection, finding art in realness.
Wabi-sabi is, in many ways, similar in practice to the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, which is the act of repairing broken pottery with materials mixed with gold or platinum. Kintsugi is the philosophical belief that the broken and now repaired pottery is more beautiful and actually more valuable than the original. Becuase of it's repair it is now unique, special, one of a kind.
The popular rise of wabi-sabi can be seen as a rejection of the modern mass-market culture of factory-created perfection. The modern, technology-driven world has enabled your iPhone to be manufactured to within a few microns of tolerance. But it has also created a gloss of flawlessness over everything. We see it in the products we buy. We see it in the repeated sameness of the layout of the stores we shop in. We see it in the "influencers" on Instagram who, it would seem, live a life never touched by trouble or bad weather or a hair out of place. It would seem that all of this is creating a fatigue in our very humanity.
So what is a "wabi-sabi home" and how does this all apply to interior design?
First, it's important to know that wabi-sabi isn't an interior design style. Wabi-sabi isn't a description of an aesthetic like art deco or colonial. It is, as might be suggested by its Buddist origins, a philosophy, a way of thinking about design. Embracing wabi-sabi is about rejecting notions of perfection, of sameness. Bringing wabi-sabi into your home is a little like learning the strict rules of English grammar so you can then throw them out the window and create glorious, original poetry.
Wabi-sabi is about the worn velvet loveseat that used to be in your grandmother's house. It's about a handmade oak table where the chisel marks of the maker are still visible. It's about the things in your house having a story. Instead of buying everything at retail, it's about collecting things that have a history, a connection to your own journey through life. It's about mixing and matching and, well, mismatching.
Traditionally interior design strives for a certain kind of matching, a repetition of patterns and color tones. Wabi-sabi is about picking moments to embrace the mismatch. Maybe you collect a bunch of different dining chairs from flea markets around town. Maybe each of your mismatched coffee cups has a story of where you found it. Each one offering a memory of adventures had with each sip.
In terms of imperfection, instead of a formally made bed, hospital-corners and all, opt for a linen duvet and embrace its wrinkles and organic softness. Instead of new, opt for a vintage rug, worn and maybe a bit threadbare in spots, but the only one of it's kind. The glory of sheep's wool, the skill of the weaver and the patina of time.
Ultimately Wabi-sabi acts as a reminder to us that we're all temporary inhabitants of this world. That fussing over perfection is perhaps a waste of our precious time. That as we, ourselves, age, we grey, we wrinkle, we become more interesting. And that maybe we should embrace the same notion in the homes we live in. Let them fade and fray a little. And that we should love those imperfections with a kindness and love that we owe to ourselves as well.