The Perfection of Imperfection
- Forget hygge; wabi-sabi is being hailed as the home design trend of 2018
- Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese tradition that values the perfectly imperfect
- Though imperfection is valued, so is a modest home that is welcoming and free of clutter
- Wabi-sabi aesthetic values the use of natural materials such as wood, stone, leather and iron
In our quest for the perfect home, we often forget that homes are meant to be lived in.
We want our furniture to be scratchless, our linens to be wrinkle-free and our rugs to be as pristine as the day we bought them. A single crack in its surface can banish the coffee table to the garage, never to be seen again, and a chipped vase will be stashed in the back of a cupboard, safely hidden from view.
According to the wabi-sabi aesthetic, those imperfections are to be celebrated. That chipped vase should be displayed — perhaps right on top of the flawed coffee table.
Rooted in Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi is a Japanese tradition that sees the value in the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete. Instead of seeking flawless perfection, it finds the beauty in every crack, ding and chip and honors the signs of wear and tear in our lives. Here are a few ways you can adopt the wabi-sabi design philosophy and embrace the imperfect in your new home.
Keep It Casual, Not Cluttered
Embracing the imperfect doesn’t mean you get to have a messy home. In fact, a wabi-sabi home is generally free of clutter and excess. As you begin your wabi-sabi journey, take inventory of everything you own and determine which items you really need and which you’re holding on to out of nostalgia, uncertainty or even fear. How often have you used that fancy kitchen gadget in the last year? Does your collection of garden gnomes truly add value to your life? Use tasteful baskets, boxes and other containers to help organize the items you choose to keep.
Wabi-sabi combines beauty with utility; every object has a specific purpose and use. By clearing unnecessary items out and letting space and light in, your home becomes more calm and serene. The goal is to create a space that feels simple, welcoming and comfortable.
Use Natural, Organic Materials
With its emphasis on authenticity and sustainability, wabi-sabi involves the use of natural, organic materials that age well and last for generations, such as wood, stone, leather and iron. You can’t buy these materials at the big-box retailer down the street.
It’s worth it to take the time to peruse your local independent furniture stores and flea markets to find high-quality items that will last. They may cost more in the short term, but the investment will pay off in the long term. And don’t reject a piece because of a gouge or other indication of age; remember that those imperfections only add to the beauty of the object, according to the wabi-sabi aesthetic.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between wabi-sabi and shabby chic. Furniture is gently used, not intentionally distressed. Wabi-sabi recognizes and appreciates the passage of time; authenticity is more important than achieving a certain look.
Stop and Smell the Wildflowers
Above all else, wabi-sabi is a state of mind. It’s a philosophy that encourages us to slow down, clear our minds and go with the flow. It allows us to be at peace with our surroundings, our lives and ourselves. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, we observe what is right. The world is full of imperfections and, by seeing and appreciating the beauty before us in our everyday existence, we can live freer, fuller lives.
So, marvel at that knick in the sideboard. Throw that blanket onto the back of the couch instead of folding it neatly into thirds. Hang up that painting with the slight tear in the corner. Choose the wildflowers, not the roses.
And go ahead and display that slightly off-kilter bowl your daughter made at her pottery class on the table in the entryway. It has its own unique beauty — and it’s a good place to put your keys as you walk in the front door.
Debbie Ritenour is a freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in the communications field. Based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, she worked for a number of associations and non-profits before launching her freelance business in 2016.