EMMAS DESIGNBLOGG

Design and style from a Scandinavian perspective

Wabi Sabi, a little more background

“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered but don’t sterilize” says Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. That would be exactly what I think defines good interior design. And that is the reason why I am so drawn to the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, and would like to share some of what I've found out lately.



First there was Feng Shui, and now, coming strong all over the Western world, is Wabi-Sabi. The wabi-sabi philosophy, or sense of aesthetics, refers to an awareness of the transient nature of earthly things and a corresponding pleasure in the things that bear the mark of this impermanence. Or, the celebration of the basic, the unique, and the imperfections in life.


The translation of wabi is "lonely", in current usage it means: "a taste for the simple and the quiet" and incorporates rustic beauty, such as patterns found in straw, bamboo, clay, or stone. It refers to both that which is made by nature and that which is made by man. Sabi refers to the patina of age, the concept that changes due to use may make an object more beautiful and valuable. This incorporates an appreciation of the cycles of life and careful, artful mending of damage. The person credited with first combining the words wabi and sabi into a phrase is the poet Matsuo Bashō. Bashō is most famous for inventing the haiku poetry form.

Some examples of what can be considered Wabi-Sabi:

Humility
Stillness
Reverence and respect
Nature and nature's cycles
The incomplete and unideal
Find peace in change
Timeless beauty
Nature's geometry
Modesty
Estimation
Sustainable development
Living in the moment


However, ask a Japanese person about the meaning of the term Wabi-Sabi, and you will probably be met with silence. There is no simple explanation or definition of this phrase, it is just so intimately interwoven with the Japanese culture that it doesn't have to be explained in words. Westerners tend to associate wabi-sabi with physical characteristics - imperfection, crudeness, an aged and weathered look, etc. Although wabi-sabi may encompass these qualities, these characteristics are neither sufficient nor adequate to convey the essence of the concept. Wabi-sabi is not rigidly attached to a list of physical traits. Rather, it is a profound aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance. It can be felt but rarely verbalized, much less defined. Defining wabi-sabi in physical terms is like explaining the taste of a piece of chocolate by its shape and color to someone who has never tasted it. For that reason, I will not make any more attempts to explain the concept for you. Just look at the pictures, and read some of the texts I've linked to at the end of this post, and try to get a feeling for what it means.


As I was reading the latest issue of Swedish Elle Interiör, I finally got the full story of how this philosophy actually got started. The ideas are ancient, but got a bigger breakthrough in the 16th century when Tea Master and monk Sen no Rikyu reformed the Japanese tea ceremony. As a reaction to the current extravagant ideals with exclusive china, he developed a new thought. The tea ceremony was to be an opportunity to withdraw from the world, in simplicity. It was to be performed in a simple hut with a door so small that everyone - high and low - would have to humbly bow to enter. Rikyu prescribed that the tools used should be plain and rustic, and commissioned special tea bowls to be made for the ceremony. These were the origin for the raku glazing method which is usually translated to mean "the joy of leisure time"or "ease".



The Wabi-Sabi House, the Japanese art of imperfect beauty, by Robyn Griggs Lawrence seems to be the best book on the subject, and it can be bought directly through the authors website or on Amazon.com. This book covers not just design and decorating, but has a holistic approach to the subject, with hands on tips on how to get a wabi-sabi lifestyle.

Here is a short list of some other books and online resources for more info on Wabi-Sabi (some are in Swedish, but just use Google Translate):

Living Wabi-Sabi by Taro Gold
Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren
Wabi-Sabi - Den hållbara livsstilen, a short text by Agneta Nyholm Winqvist, author and founder of Nordic School of Feng Shui, with a list of examples of what is Wabi-Sabi and what is not
A text on Wabi-Sabi on the site of online shop Chai Home
Decorating the Wabi-Sabi way on Apartment Therapy
Wabi-Sabi's simplicity on 37signals.com
A little bit about Wabi-Sabi on wabisabi.ca
Wabi-sabi, Learning to See the Invisible, by Tim Wong, Ph.D. & Akiko Hirano, Ph.D.
What is Wabi-Sabi, by architect Tadao Ando
For photos in the wabi-sabi style, check out the Wabi Sabi Suki Flickr group


I hoped you enjoyed this little lesson about my favourite sense of aesthetics!


Comments

  • dwellings and decor says:

    Lovely post! Very informative and I really like that first quote.

    2008-12-30 | 23:31:21
    URL: http://twoliablog.com/dwellingsanddecor
  • soon lee says:

    thank you for this!

    2008-12-31 | 01:04:25
    URL: http://ishopsoonlee.blogspot.com
  • Robyn Lawrence says:

    Thanks so much for this! You've truly captured the essence of wabi-sabi. And I'm just thrilled to see this philosophy having a resurgence these days...it is time!

    2008-12-31 | 16:44:29
    URL: http://www.wabisabihouse.com
  • emma says:

    Thank you so much for your comments, I'm happy to hear that you liked it! And a special thanks to Robyn, that truly means a lot coming from you!

    2008-12-31 | 20:28:14
    URL: http://emmas.blogg.se/
  • Debbi S. in Texas says:

    My husband is an architect; we appreciate nature's beauty in all forms and try to respect it's natural form when making or designing anything. He also makes furniture and anything in wood. I sew anything in fabrics. I have also read that quiltmaker's always incorporated an intentional small error in their quilts, because "only God is perfect"

    2009-03-31 | 16:28:34
  • Landartist says:

    Seems that landart could be Wabi Sabi ... you could make it outside, but some works look inside very cool to as a part of the deco ... maybe i should shoot some photos of my floor ;o)

    2009-04-02 | 08:59:05
    URL: http://www.landart-und-naturkunst.de
  • steffy says:

    hi! i love your eye candies. they keep me satisfied. i don't know how i came across your website, i love searching for simple yet stunning designs, and wabi sabi kind of hit the spot. you introduced this philosophy to me. i also want to say that every visit to your blog gives me joy. thanks!

    2009-08-11 | 12:33:47
    URL: http://simplysteffy.wordpress.com
  • Tonje Nilssen says:

    Tusen takk! Dette var en av de beste artikler jeg har lest om wabi sabi, en interiørtrend som jeg tror vår skadeskutte verden vil sette pris på at vi trykker til vårt hjerte <3

    2010-02-07 | 21:50:20
    URL: http://t-bird-lavitaebella.blogspot.com/
  • giovanna says:

    hola Emma



    when you'll be posting more about wabi sabi?



    besos

    2010-03-31 | 16:18:03

Comment this post here: