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What is Wabi-Sabi?

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.

Related:
Zen Gardening for Not-So-Zen People
Simple Ways to Feng Shui the Home
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Image: benipop/stock.xchng

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72 comments

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3:49PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

Colleen I agree, Wabi Sabi is not related with careless.

1:03PM PDT on Jul 18, 2012

i believe in these times, just having simple,useful and significantly meaningful stuff that surrounds you is more important. less in more. un-clutter!

12:39AM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Very interesting, beautiful and thought provoking , Wabi-Sabi.......I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article. Thanks.

2:03AM PST on Jan 9, 2012

thanks for sharing

2:23PM PST on Jan 8, 2012

This book sounds like it has a lot of important ideas that I would love to read about and share with my newleywed daughter and her husband. (I was married and dovorced very young.) My daughter was married less than a year ago and I worry! And I constantly am searching for wise words to help her and her husband love each other and stay together endlessly!

1:09PM PST on Jan 7, 2012

intersting...
more, please...

4:11PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

nothing lasts, this i understand. everything being perfect, on the other hand...

6:54AM PDT on Sep 18, 2011

in regards to Patricia's concern about using Wabi Sabi in Design .... there is a really nice book that talks about the concept being used in Design.... WABI SABI STYLE by James and Sandra Crowley..... the problem with using it as a concept for creating a living space is that you really need to fully understand what it really means before you embark on using it, and that can be done by reading lots of articles and books on the subject.... but the real understanding will come when you have that AHHHH moment, when you finally go OH I GET IT ... in reality, it is something that takes time... I have been studying the concept for years and still today I am not always sure I get it... it is really something that takes a life time of learning and understanding...

9:08PM PDT on Sep 15, 2011

Very interesting philosophy. I hope Wabi-Sabi dose not lose its meaning when used as design. TY for the post :)

7:30PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

another word for recession,times are tough.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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