Design Definitions: Wabi Sabi

We’ve noticed the term “wabi-sabi” popping up on Instagram and Pinterest recently and, because we couldn’t suss it out based on context, we decided to do some investigating into what it means.  Most definitions we found include reference to imperfection and age, but we think this explanation from the Utne Reader says it best:

“Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.”

So how does that definition translate to decor?  We think this Ibiza home, with its raw, imperfect sink and rough-hewn wood, captures the wabi-sabi aesthetic to a T.

Red House West || Design Definitions: Wabi Sabi

Red House West || Design Definitions: Wabi Sabi

The wavy edges of Michele Michael‘s ceramics would put a little wabi-sabi on your table (and we’d certainly like to put them on ours).

Red House West || Design Definitions: Wabi Sabi

Red House West || Design Definitions: Wabi SabiRecognize this next image?  Its ubiquity on Pinterest must speak to the widespread appeal of a wabi-sabi aesthetic.

This next image is a little wabi-sabi vignette, each piece having its own patina and story to tell.

If a key component of wabi-sabi is that things are worn, loved, and aged, then these two images are wabi-sabi to perfection.

Are you familiar with this term and, if so, did we understand it the same way you do?  Anything to add to the definition?  Have a great rest of the week!

12 responses on “Design Definitions: Wabi Sabi

  1. Emily

    I don’t know about this… I feel like the only sort of person who could pull it off is the sort of person who wears a lot of careworn grey linen and never a scrap of make up, who never eats processed sugar, and takes brisk sea swims every morning. It’s undeniably beautiful, but has a bit of a sombre air, like it’s taking itself a bit too seriously… I get that it’s the antithesis of overindulgence, but it makes me crave some pink and glamour and gold and huge expensive bouquets of flowers in glittery vases. And a big sugary cake.

    1. Katie

      I find myself doing that any time I see minimalist spaces! They don’t quite push me toward a full-on purge of belongings, but they do inspire me to display my treasures a little more thoughtfully.

  2. Carol Bryner

    I’m familiar with the term because I’m part of a knitting group in Madison, Connecticut (I go whenever I’m back east visiting my family) that for a while called itself the “Wabi-Sabi knitters.” Meaning that we all made lots of mistakes and our projects were never quite perfect. I think all these room arrangements are a little too planned to be true “wabi sabi.” I always thought it referred to things that wanted to be perfect but weren’t quite. In other words, you can’t plan for wabi sabi. It just happens. Maybe your child uses her crayons on a newly painted wall. Is it spoiled or is it wabi sabi??? (But I do like those blue plates.)

    1. Katie

      As I understand it (and I’m surely still getting my brain around it), it’s about accepting (and celebrating) imperfection. Your knitting club sounds right up my alley 🙂 Thanks Carol!

  3. Gillianne

    You gathered some appealing photos here. It’s nice to have a dignified label like wabi sabi to suggest something intentional in the, um, well-loved “character” of some of my decor. 🙂

  4. Lea

    I’m not sure the blue plates crafted to look chipped from the start quite fit with my understanding of wabi sabi as meaning accepting of natural decay, but they are lovely.

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