Is Wabi-Sabi even applicable in American home design?
With buzzwords such as “rustic simplicity,” “roughness,” “economy,” “austerity,” “modesty” and “nature” floating around it, “Wabi-Sabi” feels a little Shaker in its austerity, recessionist in its economy and environmentalist in its closeness to nature. But, these ties are inherently not accurate, or at least not deep enough. The Shakers did believe in austerity and the stripping away of anything that is unnecessary, but they did not find beauty in destruction or natural decay. There was no “chippy” paint on the Shakerís furniture. Economy is important, but itís not about reuse, reduce, recycle, itís a feeling closer to emptiness and total lack of need.
It seems to me that in our Western culture, Wabi-Sabi cannot really become a design style in anything but the broadest of terms. We can embrace imperfection and the patina that comes from age and use, but we cannot force it.† Faux antiquing will never be Wabi-Sabi, nor will finding an old stick on the road and hanging light bulbs off of it to make a chandelier. Half painted walls and unfinished furniture are not rendered beautiful because they are imperfect and will never be Wabi-Sabi. On the other hand, a beautiful handmade vase filled with a single flower may be Wabi-Sabi. The vase is an empty vessel open to possibility, and the flower is an object of natural beauty that is on its journey between first bud to inevitable decay.