No one's perfect. And thanks to the ancient Japanese art of wabi-sabi, your home doesn't have to be either. Wabi-sabi authority and book author Robyn Griggs Lawrence explores this growing trend in home decorating (some say it's the new feng shui!) and shows you how a few small changes can quiet your stress-filled home and calm your restless spirit.
Recently wabi-sabi -- the Japanese art of imperfect beauty -- has crept into American consciousness. It's an ancient concept, reaching all the way back to 15th-century Japan, where it emerged as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation and rich materials. (To understand why Americans are embracing it in the 21st century, just think former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and his $6,000 shower curtains...)
Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today's sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn't. It's flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. Wabi-sabi celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind.Intimately tied to Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi can be embraced as an aesthetic sense, but it also brings a subtle spiritual component into the home. It reminds us that home should be a sanctuary, not a loud place full of disturbance and distraction. It asks that we set aside our judgments and our need for perfection, and focus instead on the beauty of things as they are.
Is it possible for Americans, with our belief in life, liberty and the pursuit of stuff, to even get this thing? Before you say "next to impossible," consider: We do revere the crooked cobblestone streets and the weathered stone and the chipping plaster of those old European towns we spend so much money visiting (when we can). Deep in our hearts, we feel the spiritual pull of places battle-scarred with the beauty of their history. This is our wabi-sabi instinct at work. We can nurture that, and we can learn to bring some of its magic into the place where we live, love, think and sleep.
Taking the Next Step:
Cultivate Your Wabi-Sabi Sensibility in 10 Easy Steps
- Quiet your home. Most of us contend with a daily onslaught of motors and machines '- not to mention the human noise generated by the Loud Family next door. You can bring nourishing quiet into your home through structural changes such as better windows and cork floors or with smaller fixes such as heavy window draperies and rubber mats for your kitchen appliances. Even better, leave the dishwasher turned off and wash the dishes by hand. This quiet task can be a meditation in itself.
- Give yourself sacred space. Don't deny yourself the luxury of a dedicated meditation room or space. If you don't have an extra room for this, find a special rug that you can unroll in a corner to designate the space.
- Clear the clutter. Start slowly, uncluttering your house one drawer or closet at a time. Keep clutter from overwhelming you by spending 15 minutes at the end of the day clearing away all that's accumulated. Get rid of one item for everything you bring in. And create plenty of storage '- built-in storage is ideal '- to keep it all contained.
- Appreciate imperfection. Don't throw out that much-loved but chipped vase, the old wooden coffee table that bears the scars of toddlers and adults alike, or that old tarnished goblet. Begin your wabi-sabi journey by letting the paint on an old chair crumble or by hanging antique doors. Be wary of counterfeits: True wabi-sabi eschews mass-produced distress for real antiques and flea market finds. Also be wary of taking the "wabi-slobby" approach and entering into überdistress '- wabi-sabi is never messy or slovenly. Worn things take on their magic only in settings where it's clear they don't harbor bugs or grime.
- Take inspiration from nature's color palette. Borrow colors from the autumnal landscape '- hues ranging from soft slate gray to matte gold, with occasional spots of rust breaking the subtle spectrum '- for a serene, wabi-sabi look. Take a long walk in March or November, and let nature inspire you.
- Make it yourself. Nothing compares to the satisfaction of curling up with an afghan you made yourself. But perhaps more importantly, there's the calming, centering act of setting stitch upon stitch, slowly building something that no machine could make better. You say you're just not crafty? Anyone can make collages (using magazine and newspaper clippings, flowers and leaves, wrapping paper), dry flowers (just hang them upside down in a closet) or create an indoor rock garden (it only takes a few).
- Bring nature indoors '- no matter what the season. Open yourself up to a whole new world of flower-arranging prospects. Pick a few stems of the chicory growing between the sidewalk cracks and let them settle into an old bottle or a rusty can. In winter, gather a basket full of dried grasses and seedpods. Wabi-sabi flower arrangements follow no rules or regulations '- except for one. They should honor the current season.
- Bring in pieces of soul. What gives a home soul? A sepia-tone photograph of your grandmother as a young bride. Linens your mother embroidered. Your five-year-old's artwork. Getting the picture?
- Study the masters. William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames all came under the wabi-sabi influence '- whether they knew it or not.
- Try the candle trick. So, you come home at the end of a long day and the dog's been on the sofa again and the breakfast bowls are still full of dried oatmeal, and the entry hall still needs a coat of paint. Turn out the lights and light some candles. Nothing looks quite so bad when the atmosphere is dim and flickering.
"Change Your Vision"
Five easy steps to awakening your wabi-sabi mind.
- Give yourself five minutes of quiet time each day. If you like it, work up to 20. Slowly.
- Visit a flea market or junk shop. Don't buy anything. Just walk around and note what really appeals to you. (Okay, if you see something you must have, go ahead and take it home.)
- Take a daily or weekly walk outdoors. Keep a mental or actual log of seasonal changes (color, light and nature's mood) that you see.
- Make something -- anything: a painting, a paint-your-own pottery piece, a driftwood picture frame. Place it in your home where you'll see it often. Admire it. No matter what it looks like.
- Place one flower, branch or stem you've found outside your door (no matter what the season) in a place where you'll see it every day: your desk, your bedside table, next to the refrigerator. When it catches your eye, stop for a second or two and admire its singular beauty.
Excerpted from The Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence. Clarkson Potter/Publishers. © 2004. Used with permission.