On Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, which was released last month.
Wabi-sabi’s roots lie in Zen Buddhism, brought from China to Japan by 12th-century traveling monk Esai, who also picked up a few tea seeds while he was there. Zen, with its principles of “vast emptiness and nothing holy,” stresses austerity, communion with nature, and reverence for everyday life and everyday mind as the path to enlightenment. Zen monks lived ascetic, often isolated, lives and sat for long periods of concentrated meditation. To help his fellow monks stay awake during these sessions, Eisai taught them how to process tea leaves into a hot drink. Tea had arrived in Japan.
Once it left the monk's hands, tea took on a life of its own. Around the 14th century, the ruling classes developed elaborate rituals that took place in large tea rooms built in a gaudy style known as shoin, with imported hanging scrolls and formally arranged tables for vases and incense burners. Tea practitioners proved their wealth and status through their collections of elegant tea utensils and lacquered serving ware during three-day weekends where up to 100 cups of tea--as well as food and sake--were served. All of the day's revered Tea masters pushed the opulent style, to the delight of Chinese merchants and importers.
In a wabi-sabi garden, plants are chosen because they belong in that garden and in that climate, and they’re allowed to strut their stuff if they’re considerate of the plants around them. Both plants and guests are encouraged to meander and explore.
While photographing homes from California to Maine, I’ve found much wabi-sabi brilliance. My favorite shots of all time capture the magic of simplicity, the beauty found in age and the good instincts that wabi-sabi encourages.
Salt glaze pottery, primitive colonial furnishings and pewter bring wabi-sabi into your home--while honoring our American traditions.
Wabi-sabi is wildflowers, not roses; weathered wood, not plastic laminate; native landscaping, not Kentucky bluegrass. Pictures tell a thousand words.
Planning a party? Let wabi-sabi’s influence lead to a casual, comfortable gathering.
A flea market basket that called to me, my grandmother's hand-embroidered linens and a quilt made by a circle of women in Minnesota are among the wabi-sabi items that I wouldn't want to be without.
Mother readers weigh in on the wabi-sabi objects that give them joy and solace--from old books to heirloom quilts (and a few surprises). This community of kindred spirits embodies the art of appreciation. Enjoy!
My old wabi-sabi home stood witness to celebration, sorrow, our children’s first words and fumbling first steps, dinners shared at the end of each day. It provided all that a home could and should, and now it's my lesson in non-attachment.
Wabi-sabi is underplayed and understated, a quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon obscured behind a ribbon of cloud.
Wabi-sabi is sinewy, flecked browns and yellowed greens, the myriad stone and moss shades, a slate-gray cloud’s washed violet underside. Like nature, wabi-sabi paints in multidimensional swatches that are never what they appear to be.
Learn to let go of associations with price, value, age and prestige and just appreciate beauty without judgment. Nature is the best muse for cultivating wabi-sabi.
In the kitchen, we can cultivate our sense of aesthetics and function. Tools can be beautiful. Food can be art. Cooking can be meditation.
Frugality and lack of pretense or compromise are key ingredients in creating a wabi-sabi home.
A San Francisco architect brings wabi-sabi to his work through craftsmanship, employing natural materials to create a holistic environment that’s not cookie-cutter or slick, and eschewing ornamentation for what is needed and meaningful.
Every once in a while we need to rebel against the machines. Hand a towel to your significant other and ask him to dry while you rinse. Sweep the floor with a real broomcorn broom. Have a real conversation. Enjoy things happening slowly.
A quiet life filled with appreciation for simple things is the richest life possible.
There can be no greater happiness, the Japanese say, than to live a life that follows the natural order of things.
Find out how wabi-sabi, an ancient Japanese philosophy that promotes attention, reverence, generosity and respect, can build the foundation of a happy home.
Wabi-sabi has infused Western design for centuries—though its advocates rarely knew it. It’s in the plain, efficient homes built by the Shakers, the unsentimental Arts and Crafts style, Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie houses and midcentury furniture.
Natural beauty is priceless. We can take in and appreciate a great view because we don’t have any hope of owning it, and we can’t manipulate it. With our egos out of the way, we can learn to simply observe.
There's only one rule for wabi-style flowers: strive for a natural look, with seasonal blooms and branches arranged as they are in the field. Don't worry about perfection. Your "arrangement" is a humble admission that we can't improve on nature.
Zen Buddhism's Seven Ruling Principles are wabi-sabi's foundation. They're also excellent guiding lights for a good home and life.
If we use high-quality items in our everyday lives, our lives become a sort of training. By using each item with care and careful consideration, the way we live becomes a tradition.
In a wabi-sabi house, space and light are the most desirable ornaments. Follow these steps to clear the clutter so they can shine through.
Wabi-sabi is never slobby, but we can allow ourselves to stop trying so hard and just appreciate our warm bed at the end of the day—whether it’s made or not.
We no longer have to make what we need to get by day by day, but for many the desire lingers—and even surges as a strong cultural movement from time to time. Making and growing things yourself is a gentle rebellion against a mass-produced world.
Charles and Ray Eames are modern wabi-sabi heroes who brought fresh, spare furniture, without pretense or stodginess, to the masses. Their home was a wabi-sabi masterpiece.
Not quite ready to get rid of family heirlooms and art that you don’t have space to display? The Japanese practice of rotating precious items through a special alcove, or tokonoma, on a seasonal basis is less painful than giving away or selling them.
Let the ancient Japanese art of wabi-sabi help you purge unwanted items and get organized for the new year.
Today is not a day for selling books. It's a day for prayer and solidarity with the Japanese people.
As we watch the devastation's aftermath in Japan, the world will learn valuable lessons from a culture that reveres service to others, deep acceptance and community.
Together, wabi (humility) and sabi (beauty in rust) become more than the sum of their parts--a philosophy that promotes peace, serenity and respite in our homes.
In Japan, wabi-sabi can be found in the small moments of beauty and acts of hospitality that pervade the culture.
Strongly influenced by wabi-sabi's principles, the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement railed against "the swinish luxury of the rich," ornamental excess and the poverty of people who lacked creativity.
Giving yourself a quiet space for retreat and reflection helps nurture quiet, calm and peace.
The four principles of Tea ceremony—harmony, respect, purity and tranquility—are the means to a good life.
Flea market shopping takes dedication and agility--and it's a ton of fun if you're well prepared.
Your simply imperfect arsenal for getting the whole house clean--naturally.
Wabi-sabi teaches us appreciation for the good energy and soul that handmade items bring to our homes. Etsy, the premiere source for handcrafted home goods, offers an extensive list of items whose sale will benefit Japanese relief efforts.
Alabama Chanin makes sumptuous fabrics from scraps, Mona Hoffman imagines the people she's crafting each lamp for as she makes it, and potter Shiho Kanzaki believes that attitude is everything. These are a few of my favorite wabi-sabi artists.
Meditating has never come naturally to me, probably because of my goal-oriented approach. Wabi-sabi helped me see find peace in simple solitude (and long dog walks) instead.
Over the past 15 years the noise level in cities has increased sixfold; urban noise doubles every eight to ten years. Even in the country, we can't escape the sound of airplanes and engines. What can you do?
Sen no Rikyu's simple, unpretentious ceremony using rustic, local tools usurped the elaborate, ostentatious Tea ceremonies that were the norm in 16th-century Japan. His "aesthetic of the people" made Tea accessible to all--and endures to this day.
Inspired by back-to-the-landers Scott and Helen Nearing, Kate NaDeau grows her own food and enjoys the simple pleasures of seasonal living in her handbuilt stone cottage in Maine. She is the epitome of good wabi-sabi living.