Scarlet Opus, a highly regarded global design trend forecaster, have given a macro trend forecast around the concept of imperfect beauty, releasing a blog post How to Embrace the Wabi Sabi Design Concept in March this year. This trending topic is also gaining attention in Australian design circles, with the much anticipated recent release of the Dulux Colour Forecast 2019. Now is the perfect time to revisit the concept of Wabi-Sabi; its Japanese aesthetic tradition and its place in contemporary design.
Wabi sabi meaning
The Wabi-Sabi meaning, simply translates from the Japanese:
Wabi – ‘tranquil simplicity/elegance in poverty’
Sabi – ‘patina of age’
Suki – ‘subtle elegance’
This meaning is explored in more depth in a previous post on Wabi Sabi Suki. The concept of wabi sabi is about beauty in everyday things – originating from Japanese aesthetic ideas of transience, imperfection, simplicity, fragility and incompleteness. Kintsugi, the practice of repairing broken ceramics and pottery with gold is an example of a wabi sabi design principle. The item is considered more beautiful and is more highly valued because of its flaws and individuality.
“If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.”
– Andrew Juniper1
Where and when it originated
Wabi sabi ideology came from Zen Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan from China in 1191 by Aisay, a monk who returned to Japan intending to build a Zen Temple. The words wabi and sabi originally had negative meanings of loneliness or poverty and decrepit old age but evolved into a bittersweet aesthetic philosophy that has shaped Japanese design for hundreds of years, and is still influential today.
The influence of wabi sabi can be seen in various forms of Japanese artistic expression. Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591)2 is believed to have transformed tea ceremony into what it’s known as today – a humble ritual of preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart with an intense awareness of their surroundings, and a deep appreciation for natural form and simple beauty. Ideas of wabi sabi led to the haiku poem being created by Matsuo Bashō in the Edo region in 1684. Haikus have been embraced and adapted into Western poetry and culture – their short, simple celebrations of transient beauty have universal appeal.
Wabi sabi’s growing popularity in the West
“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
– Richard Powell3
Recently, the concept of wabi sabi has been brought to the forefront of Western design consciousness, featuring on popular television shows like The Block. Wabi sabi challenges beauty in its traditional forms by celebrating imperfection. It is this aspect of nurturing the authentic self that holds modern appeal for the contemporary design space: allowing a uniquely personal expression of form and function.
Wabi sabi: a way to view beauty and the world
Western ideals of beauty depict perfection, strength and youthful invincibility. Instead of viewing beauty as something fixed and unchanging, wabi sabi teaches that beauty is relative, and therefore open to change through the passage of time.
Why Shop Antique?
What better way to celebrate the concept of transience than owning a piece of furniture that has a rich patina of history? Antique stores like Kazari + Ziguzagu stock quality pieces, lovingly restored, that have stood the test of time. By choosing to buy antiques, we reduce our environmental impact and guarantee a unique object, enhanced and improved with age.
Wabi sabi styling in modern spaces
The minimalist style that is so popular right now entwines perfectly with the Japanese ideal of beauty in simplicity. Most Japanese furniture and decor pieces derive their essence from simplicity and can be styled to look completely at home in a contemporary space. Appreciating the beauty of our everyday life promotes peace and tranquility, no matter the culture or setting.
1Juniper, Andrew (2003). Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence . Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3482-2.
2Maxwell, Catherine. Wabi Sabi: The Essentials of Japanese aesthetics . Hitokuchi Memo. Omusubi vol. 16. The Japan Foundation. ISSN 1832-0341.
3Powell, Richard R. (2004). Wabi Sabi Simple . Adams Media. ISBN 1-59337-178-0.