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How to design the Wabi-Sabi style

April Kennedy April Kennedy
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Japanese design has long been known for its simplicity and deep connection with nature. Both concepts have been hugely popular in recent years and so it's no surprise that the Japanese Wabi-Sabi style has become a major interior design trend.

But designing the Wabi-Sabi way is more than collecting the latest arrangements of objects and looks. This is a design approach that encourages us to value simplicity and the natural cycles of growth, decay and death. In a world where so many of us have been taught to see beauty according to the Hellenic aesthetic ideals of perfection and grandeur, this is an aesthetic that we may instinctually understand but find difficult to emulate.

So how can we learn to integrate these beautiful concepts into the nitty gritty process of designing a space? To start, we can observe the aesthetics of Japanese design. In visual terms, Wabi-Sabi style translates into an aesthetic associated with asymmetry, subtle colouring, grace, tranquility and minimalism. In short, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and the ephemeral. To learn more, come with us to explore some simple interiors and a few glimmers of ancient Japanese wisdom.

Choose an earthy colour palette

There is a tranquillity in natural spaces that quiets the mind and encourages reflection. These values are deeply resonant in the Wabi-Sabi way. The Wabi-Sabi colour palette is informed above all by nature. Though nature provides us with a dizzying array of vivid colours, it's the earthy, neutral tones that are most strongly associated with this approach. The aim is to create a deeply contemplative decor to encourage reflection and serenity in everyday living. When considering the colour scheme, look for peaceful colours in mute tones such as mute grey, off-white, grey blues and mute greens.

Use pared back flooring materials

Wabi-Sabi reveres authenticity above all. It can be quite a surprise to discover a raw concrete wall, unpolished wooden walls or rough particleboard used in the construction of high-end contemporary Japanese homes. It's a combination that surprises many an outsider. But this unlikely combination is simply a reflection of the respect for imperfection that runs very deeply in Japanese design. Nature is always revered in Wabi-Sabi, so a natural wood floor is always appropriate. But a pared back and polished concrete floor like this is another popular option.

Authentic walls

It may not always be so practical leave floors unfinished. But when it comes to the wall materials, there is often much more room to move. A concrete or wooden wall doesn't necessarily need to be polished. This is an act that attempts to erase the history and ruts of the materials. When considering the finishes of your materials, remember that this is a design style that really integrates rustic finishes with full-blown modern interiors. Consider the interior of this contemporary Japanese home for inspiration.

Add simple, minimalist furniture

The Wabi-Sabi approach is less about collecting material things and more about observing the value of the things we do have. Furniture choices here should be less about filling a space with lots of things and more about using objects in a way that will draw attention to their beauty. Favour the simple and elegant over the large or flamboyant. Look for antique furniture complete with dents and history, anything made from natural materials and designs with simple elegance and uncluttered lines. Something like this sofa by Japanese designers Neofurniture or any classic Scandinavian wooden furniture might work.

Ceramics—nothing is ever broken

 Dining room by Humade
Humade

New Kintsugi repairkit

Humade

No consideration of Japanese design would be complete without discussing ceramics.There is an old Japanese fable about a 15th Century Emperor who sent his pottery off for repairs. When it was returned with ugly staples holding the pieces together, he became angry and asked the craftsmen to make the ceramics more beautiful than before. The pottery was repaired a second time, this time with precious gold. This is said to be the beginning of a trend towards repairing broken pottery with gold or gold leaf. It is called Kintsugi art and reflects the Wabi-Sabi concept that nothing is ever truly broken. Kintsugi ceramics are quite distinctive, but if you want to make your own, you can even buy a kintsugi repair kit from Humade.

Accessorise with simple, humble objects

Wabi-Sabi acknowledges three things: nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. These concepts are beautifully embodied in Japanese-style shadow art. This is an aesthetic that incorporates the falling shadows of plant-life or stippled wall screens into the design of a room. But less ethereal accessories are also fine. A Wabi-Sabi home might commonly be decorated with simple and humble objects such as smooth stones, antiques or personal objects of nostalgic value.

If you are interested in Japanese design, you'll love this Ideabook A Secret Japanese Garden and Home.

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