Wabi Sabi: The Art of the Imperfect

Wabi Sabi: The Art of the Imperfect

Jackie Ashton
Sep 27, 2011

Wabi sabi is aged wood, not finished floors. Wabi sabi is a flea market, not a high-end store. Wabi sabi is the broken shells you collected on your honeymoon, not the perfectly silver-plated conch someone gave you. Wabi sabi is the Velveteen Rabbit, not Buzz Lightyear. Wabi sabi celebrates the signs of age and the evidence that our items have been cherished and loved -- cracks, crevices, frayed edges, peeling paint, and even rust...

We've talked about wabi sabi before on Apartment Therapy, but in a time that often feels a bit like a race to get-more-stuff, do-more-faster, or make-it-perfect, it feels appropriate to take a look at the ancient Japanese art of appreciating the imperfect, the simple, and the modest.

Wabi sabi is more than an art, it is a world view that is sometimes described as the beauty of the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete. Its earliest origins are from ancient Chinese Taoism and Zen Buddhism, but it began to shape Japanese culture in the 15th century when the ornate gold, jade and porcelain typically used for tea ceremonies were replaced with simple, rough clay and wooden utensils. Having lived in Japan for a few years, my husband recently bought our daughter a book about wabi sabi. It reads:

"Wabi sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, modest, natural, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may be best understood as a feeling, rather than as an idea." - Mark Reibstein and Ed Young

Quite the opposite of aiming for perfection, wabi sabi embraces the realities of life: nothing lasts forever, nothing is completely perfect, and nothing is ever truly finished. I love the idea of embracing, and perhaps even celebrating, the imperfections in our homes, in our world, and maybe even in each other. (Hmm...maybe our character flaws are beautiful?) Wabi sabi reminds us that beauty, and life itself, is fleeting.

As we turn closer to colder weather and a change of seasons, I'm looking for some ideas on how to cultivate the element of wabi sabi in my home. Here are a few beautiful examples:

1. Natural curves of stones; wood scraps — via Poetic Home
2. The rough, scratchy surface of an exposed stone wall — via Wabi Sabi Style
3. The elegant withering of an old ladder and chair — via Wabi Sabi Style
4. Graceful fragments of worn china — via Wabi Sabi Style
5. The yielding blue of weathered wood — via Lestroisamies

Decorating the Wabi-Sabi Way
8 Wabi-Sabi Kitchens
Embracing the Art of Wabi Sabi

Images: As linked above.

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