Wabi Sabi at Home

Lesley Swann, owner at Dig Vintage, explores the Japanese aesthetic which celebrates imperfection.

Have you been watching the tidyingup Japanese whirlwind Marie Kondo on Netflix? Have you been inspired to fold all of your clothes into neat little rectangles that magically stand to attention in your drawers? Or are you worried that not absolutely everything in your home ‘sparks joy’? Is it even possible for a tin opener to spark joy? I do love the show (yes, I did binge watch them all). The diminutive Ms Kondo is an absolute delight, but, for me it is the traditional Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi which truly ‘sparks joy’.

Inspired by Zen Buddhism, and Japanese tea ceremonies, Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic which acknowledges, accepts and celebrates beauty as ‘imperfect, impermanent and incomplete’. The words wabi and sabi are not easy to translate. Wabi suggests rustic simplicity, or understated elegance in both natural and humanmade objects. It can also refer to the mistakes or quirks which occur in the construction of the object which add to its unique beauty. Sabi is the ‘bloom of time’ or patina – beauty which comes with age and wear, and a reminder of the impermanence of objects.

A Wabi Sabi inspired home includes lots of natural materials; wood, leather, linen, copper, iron, stone and bamboo. Natural materials usually age well if they are treated with care; leather becomes softer and develops a richer colour, copper will oxidise beautifully, cast iron cookware will last a lifetime and good quality wooden furniture and flooring improve with age.

Plants and flowers are a great way to bring in seasonal and impermanent change, rather than constantly buying new objects to ‘update’ your space. There’s also a preference for handmade objects, particularly ceramics. Hand thrown bowls, plates and cups are unique and a joy to use. Wabi Sabi aesthetics is exemplified by the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken ceramics are repaired using gold lacquer, highlighting the beauty of the damage rather than hiding it (left). Too often the world of interior design presents us with unobtainable Instagram images of perfectly curated homes where nothing is out of place and everything is shiny and new. We purchase (often over-priced) shiny and new things to instantly achieve the latest look. Disappointment inevitably follows. Our shiny new things fail to deliver a perfect home.

Wabi Sabi is a serious challenge to our cultural obsession with consumerist perfection. But one worth pursuing. Our real lives do not resemble Pinterest perfection. Pictures hang slightly off kilter, cushions are not placed just so, surfaces are not kept clear and clinically clean.

The joy of Wabi Sabi is in embracing and celebrating what we already have. Give yourself and your home a break and leave things be.