Tag Archives: wabisabi

Zen and Now: How-to Secrets of the Wabi-Sabi Sisterhood (Part 3)

Rustic all wood dining areaTake a look at the first Wabi-Sabi post if you missed it to get a rough introduction to the concept, or go back to the second Wabi-Sabi post for tips on how to apply wabi sabi principles to your design project’s colour and material choice.

In this last post on wabi sabi design, I’ll discuss how to choose and display your art and accessories. I ended the last post with an introduction to the Japanese concept of shibui as it relates to design – with your muted backdrop of organic tones, adding thoughtfully chosen dramatic pieces will give your space visual interest. Your art, accessories, and curios will shine, just as the mouth waters in reaction to a sudden astringent taste. Have fun picking out these special items. There are no rules about the right choice for these pieces: they can be conventional or not; new and expensive, or someone else’s throwaway that you’ve repurposed with love. Just choose things that reflect your personality, that tell their own story, and that bring you a sense of calm. To maintain a wabi sabi aesthetic the most important rule is to avoid filling your walls and surfaces at all costs. When cultivating this style for your room, you want to have only a few items that act as dramatic focal points.

jar with beautiful texture that comes with age

Your choice of art, accessories, and curios should stand in vibrant contrast to your neutral backdrop, as this beautiful piece of pottery does. Pottery by artist Ken Mihara

Consider putting away most of your items and instead rotate through your collection with the changing seasons and celebrations. Again, wabi sabi is a design aesthetic that places deep reverence in nature. In keeping with this, remember to place art and floral arrangements away from the windows. You’ll want to allow natural light and your view to stream into your space, helping to fight a boxed-in feeling.

An example of traditional Japanese interior

A traditional Japanese interior, complete with tokonoma (a built-in recessed space) displaying some choice pieces of art and ikebana, sliding doors opening onto a garden, and tatami mats. The very picture of wabisabi.

Always restrain yourself from creating clutter, if for no other reason than because it’s always harder to de-clutter than create it. Setting aside a room in your home to hold excess stuff originated in Japan, where families often had a separate building on their property for just this. Think attics, basements, or storage rooms.

Wabi sabi is being referred to as “the new fengshui” in some design circles, and is catching on worldwide as a hot new design trend. There are no shortage of books, websites, magazine articles and other resources out there if you would like to learn more.

Simple kitchen with a lot of elements that show age and character

Image courtesy of Apartment Therapy

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Zen and Now: How-to Secrets of the Wabi-Sabi Sisterhood (Part 2)

Take a look at the first WabiSabi post if you missed it to get a rough introduction to the concept.

Wabi-sabi house in Singapore

Wabi-sabi house in Bunga Temususu, Singapore by K2LD Architects.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to integrate the wabi sabi concept into your interior design project, focusing on colour and material choice.

A room’s colour scheme is key to setting the right mood and your wabi sabi home should include a palette taken from nature – muted tones mixed from opposing hues are your best bets as foundational colours. Given that balance and serenity are cornerstones to wabi sabi design, it follows that your wall colours should promote these qualities. When it comes to choosing the best colour, I find the “Garden Wall Test” is a no-fail. Imagine you painted a wall in your garden the colour you’re contemplating. Would your choice blend naturally with the foliage or are we talking a garish contrast? (Back to drawing board if you answered with the latter.) Another tip for those of you in small spaces: painting opposing walls different colors, and incorporating a different shade again for the ceiling can lend a room a more open feeling.

Modern wabi-sabi

A modern wabi sabi inspired interior from Houston,Texas.

Just because you’ve decided to redesign a room following some wabi sabi principles you – and your carbon footprint- don’t have to toss your existing furnishings and start from scratch. Just keep in mind the colour of the furniture you’re repurposing – dark walls will complement lighter neutral furnishings; and of course the opposite is also true too. When you are investing in new furniture and surfaces, the focus should be on organic materials. If you must use an artificial surface, like a Corian countertop or a linoleum floor, try to choose a pattern that appears organic. Wabi sabi isn’t a demanding, tyrannical design philosophy but its reverence for nature really is its defining feature.

Wabi sabi -- crisp, clean, organic

Kitchen from the same house as above. The different tones and patterns represent a beautiful modern take on wabi sabi.

Like your mantra, repeating themes of colour, form and texture both within a room and throughout your home will help create harmony and cohesion in your space. The final touch is to use certain focal elements in key places that stand in contrast to your chosen theme. If you’ve ever wandered through an Asian antique market you probably noted that black is a popular accent colour, used in small pieces of furniture and accessories. The rule here is to add choice vibrant objects – beautiful pieces that are sure to stand out all the more with your neutral backdrop. This is Shibui, the concept of an astringent taste, like an over-ripe persimmon. Within the overlapping muted tones of your interior design, these high contrast pieces offer shibui, and bring everything together to create true wabi sabi style.

organic textures in the bathroom

In the next article, the final in the series, I’ll focus on how to choose and arrange your furniture, art and curios to complete your wabi sabi sanctuary.


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Zen and Now: How-to Secrets of the Wabi-Sabi Sisterhood (Part 1)

cherry blossoms

Pictured: fallen sakura (cherry blossoms). The beauty of the sakura aren’t in the blooms themselves, but in their ephemeral quality. Their impermanence is part of their beauty.

Any discussion about traditional Japanese aesthetics requires an understanding of the term wabi sabi. A fundamental concept, one that’s centuries old, wabi sabi is the cornerstone to the Japanese conception of beauty. While the words don’t translate easily into English, and the meaning has shifted over time from its roots in Buddhism, wabi and sabi are related terms that together embody the beauty in the impermanence of life, in imperfection, in advancing age, and demonstrating reverence to the natural world. It’s said that the term was first coined by Matsuo Basho, most famous for his development of haiku poetry, which endeavors to capture a fleeting moment, generally a scene in nature, in just 17 syllables.

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