Japanese concepts have always had a massive influence in the design world, especially in interior design. Wabi-Sabi design, originating from a varied past, is a difficult term to define. It is a combination of two words with overlapping meanings. Wabi is originally referred to as being one with nature while Sabi refers to the beauty that comes with age or imperfection. Together, they evolve into a distinct Japanese philosophy followed by many. The philosophy can be incorporated in art, architecture, design, engineering, poetry, aesthetics, and most importantly, in life.

1. What is Wabi-Sabi? | Wabi-Sabi Design

The style that first emerged in the 15th century as a contrast to the prevailing aesthetic of perfection and lavishness, Wabi-Sabi is the thought of finding beauty in imperfections, earthiness, and authenticity. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence – impermanence, suffering, and emptiness. This “flawed beauty” aesthetic celebrates the organic nature of materials and asymmetry with a slow-living approach. 

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Wabi-Sabi ©Christall Lowe

2. The Wabi-Sabi Trend

2020 was a year full of unprecedented changes and they have made their way over to the new year too. With most of us spending a lot of time and home and being more perceptive to the fact that change is constant and will continue to be. The Wabi-Sabi trend is having its moment this year and can continue to help us instill a sense of peace and calm in a world full of chaos. It teaches us to find beauty in imperfections, forms a deeper connection to our environmental surroundings, and appreciates the smaller pleasures of our lives. 

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Wabi-Sabi ©Sergey Makhno Architects

3. Achieving Wabi-Sabi 

Wabi-Sabi is a style much more than just a design trend. In embarking on this new lifestyle, there are seven aesthetic principles one must keep in mind. They are Kanso or simplicity, Fukinsei or irregularity, Shibumi or beauty in the understated, Shizen or natural, Yugen or subtle grace, Datsuzoku or freeness, and Seijaku or tranquility.  The real art is to be able to merge these principles together in all walks of life which would majorly benefit aesthetics, health, lifestyle, and the environment. Most importantly, Wabi-Sabi helps us in strengthening our relationships with ourselves, with our planet, and the food that we eat. 

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Wabi-Sabi ©SlowLivingLDN

4. The Art of Imperfection 

Wabi-Sabi stands for everything that today’s technology-driven, mass-produced, luxury culture isn’t. It celebrates farmers’ markets over malls, textured and aged wood over smooth laminates, and rough cotton over silk. The Wabi-Sabi thought process is about curating imperfection. It is about the ability to understand the raw beauty of a dull and cloudy landscape or the beauty of an abandoned and derelict warehouse or shed. All the texture, grain, scratches, cracks, and crevices of any object or material have the ability to narrate its own story. To learn to discover this story and to honor imperfections is to discover true Wabi-Sabi.

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Wabi-Sabi ©Hikarui

5. A Wabi-Sabi Lifestyle 

In the design world, the Wabi-Sabi concept is often reduced to another style genre, but in the Zen philosophy, it is much more than that. Wabi-Sabi is a lifestyle practice that poses as a foundation to design sensibilities and architecture. Wabi-Sabi isn’t found in skyscrapers, luxury fashion, smartphones, or in the relentless drive for success, it is often the small, hidden gem right in front of our eyes. It is found when appreciating and sustaining the beauty of simply living one’s life. A Wabi-Sabi lifestyle is a state of mind that finds inspiration in the elegance of aging, self-care, and humble virtues.  

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Wabi-Sabi ©Sania Pell

6. Wabi-Sabi Interior Design

There is a certain reassuring calmness that comes with the Wabi-Sabi ethos. Wabi-Sabi as a design term, embraces linearity, cleanliness, simple silhouettes, materials in their natural form, and organic masses. An uncluttered space is a foundation for the Wabi-Sabi style. It is meant to appreciate the environment that we live in. Materials that age over time add character to living spaces while narrating the stories of each material. Texture and patina are impossible to predict which makes them uniquely flawed and ‘perfectly imperfect’. The style stems from an overwhelming appreciation of nature. Interior spaces with organic life, shapes, silhouettes, textures, and masses are the perfect way to channel Wabi-Sabi.

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Wabi-Sabi ©Diana Zhelnio

7. Materiality 

To interpret the Wabi-Sabi trend, building with natural materials is essential. With the majority of its influences emerging from nature, the use of raw materials like wood, stone, exposed bricks, linen, ceramics, etc provide the perfect rustic qualities that are irregular and organic in nature. The simple use of imperfect objects or weathered objects brings in an asymmetric aesthetic. Wabi-Sabi celebrates the sense of touch through finishes such as weaves and wrinkles in textiles, the roughness of stone and brick, and knots in wood.

Wabi-Sabi ©Christall Lowe
Wabi-Sabi ©Christall Lowe

8. Wabi-Sabi Colors

Authenticity is a key concept for Wabi-Sabi, so organic materials and colors play a major part in achieving it. Wabi-Sabi colors are meant to transform spaces into serene and harmonious atmospheres that focus on naturality. Turning to nature for color inspiration brings out a neutral palette of browns, beiges, greys, whites, and greens. Wabi-Sabi is an aesthetic that works with the natural pastels of a Scandinavian palette or with Mediterranean earth tones. An anodyne-colored room provides calm and spaciousness, perfect to embody Wabi-Sabi. Natural light paired with muted colors creates a sense of comfort and earthy luxury.

Wabi-Sabi ©Lotta Agaton Interiors
Wabi-Sabi ©Lotta Agaton Interiors

9. Wabi-Sabi and Minimalism

Often in the design world, different aesthetics tend to have a certain overlap. Such is the Wabi-Sabi & Minimalist principles. Originating from different regions, they have a lot of similarities in their philosophies. While minimalism too sounds like a distant term, it is a fusion of ideas that encourages us to be detached from material things in life, a lot similar to the Wabi-Sabi ethos. There is a focus on simplicity and the absence of ornamentation which truly brings out the nature of a space.

Wabi-Sabi ©Dean Cheng

10. Wabi-Sabi Homes | Wabi-Sabi Design

In a world dominated by social media and its expectations, Wabi-Sabi brings in a much-needed contrast to the fast-paced lifestyle. Wrinkled sheets, mismatched glassware, heirloom rugs, and not-so-perfect art pieces are just what one needs to bring Wabi-Sabi into their homes. Appreciating humble, organic products and approaching home design through a thoughtful sight brings forward its Wabi-Sabi nature. Handmade accessories, modest furniture, natural accents, and authentic colors are all present in a true Wabi-Sabi style home. The Wabi-Sabi style speaks volumes about not needing to follow any design trends and to just express your authenticity in your space.

Wabi-Sabi ©Pella Hedeby

Rashmi Nair is an architect, interior designer, and fashion illustrator who is an ardent lover of all things design. She strives to be sustainable in design and life and strongly believes in the ‘Less is More’ idealogy. She enjoys exploring museums, reading, making lists, and a hot cup of coffee