A Wabi-Sabi Home and Garden

Seeing the beauty in imperfection

Dry-stack stone wall and old wood dining table in Minneapolis garden
A dry-stacked wall, brick pavers with moss around the edges, native plantings and weathered wood create a sunken garden oasis. (John Miller III)

Maybe it’s the fast pace of life, political rancor or our anxiety-inducing Instagram feeds, but interest in wabi-sabi is growing. A Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi loosely translates to impermanent and imperfect beauty. The antithesis of pretension, perfection, shiny and new, this approach strives to embrace what is meaningful and humble in life and where it’s lived, the home. Books such as last years A Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams suggest that this simple, thoughtful style creates more authentically welcoming spaces than the perfectly staged rooms seen on social media, magazines and TV.

wabi-sabi home design
A muted color palette and variety of textured fabrics are quietly inviting. (Julie Pointer Adams)

A wabi-sabi home beckons quietly, focusing on the elegance of natural materials. Wabi-sabi tells us to relax because nothing is perfect and signs of age are not only inevitable, they’re desirable. Think of vintage cotton or linen sheets that are a little thin but incredibly soft, clay pottery with an asymmetrical form that no machine could produce, or hairline cracks in a plaster wall which remind us that even large structures aren’t static—they settle and change over time. A chip on the edge of a favorite serving bowl isn’t seen as a defect but rather a reflection of years of use at gatherings and celebrations. Wabi-sabi sees beauty in the journey, memories—the tactile quality of imperfection that encourages reflection.

Exposed concrete, an unfinished ceiling, open cabinetry and a mix of antique wood tables and chairs in this Minneapolis loft create a warm, unique kitchen that recalls an old-fashioned general store (Photo by George Heinrich; Designed by Jodi Gillespie)

A wabi-sabi home isn’t run down, though, with piles of clutter, shoes and unwashed dishes. It’s spare and everything in it is considered and well cared-for, minimal but without the hard edges and high contrast of minimalism. Wabi-sabi favors soft, rounded forms and matte finishes. Colors are muted and draw their inspiration from nature. Furnishings are selected for their ability to last and improve with age.

(Excerpted from Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams. Photo by Julie Pointer Adams and Ryan J. Adams)

Wabi-sabi in the garden is similarly tranquil, asymmetrical and contemplative. The focus is less on taming nature and more on respecting it by using low maintenance plants and raw, natural materials that age well. Jason Rathe, a designer with Field Outdoor Spaces in Minneapolis describes it as the opposite of a perfect English garden. “We try to honor how an outdoor environment evolves naturally rather than trying to force it into a perfectly symmetrical design common to more formal spaces”, he says. Garden paths meander and moss is allowed to grow. A wabi-sabi garden is about offering a sense of discovery and peace.

Wabi-sabi table and ceramics
(photo: David Paul Schmit, stylist: Barbara Schmidt)

Here are some ideas for incorporating wabi-sabi into your home:

Natural Inspiration

Focus on wood, ceramic, stone, matte metals, natural fabrics, fibers, native plants and natural light.

Look For Texture

Subtle texture can add depth to a space (cracks, curves, nubby fibers, and rough surfaces).

Hushed Palette

Quiet, muted colors inspired by nature. Soft filtered light—shaded lamps instead of overhead fixtures, windows with gauzy curtains.

Embrace Aging

Allow objects and materials to show some signs of age, be it scars in wood, slightly frayed linens or white mineral deposits on clay pots.

Snub Symmetry

Balance is the goal. Symmetry implies a sense of rigidity and order not found in nature.

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