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What is Wabi Sabi? Interior tips to channel this 'simplistic' design ethos into home decor

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Mar 25, 2024 01:55 PM IST

Wabi Sabi doesn’t reflect any trend as the aim is to bring joy to those who use it. Here's how this 'simplistic' design ethos can be channelled into our home

Rooted in Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi embodies the beauty of imperfection, impermanence and simplicity hence, channelling this 'simplistic' design ethos into home decor involves embracing natural materials, muted colours and a mindful approach to space. Incorporating Wabi-Sabi into interiors means celebrating the authenticity of materials, such as raw wood, stone and textiles that bear time marks.

What is Wabi Sabi? Interior tips to channel this 'simplistic' design ethos into home decor (Photo by Kam Idris on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Rachna Agarwal, Founder and Design Ideator at Studio IAAD, suggested, “Instead of concealing imperfections, they become part of the narrative, infusing spaces with a sense of history and character. For colour palettes, earthy tones and muted shades create a serene ambience, evoking the calmness of nature. The design principle encourages a decluttered space, favouring essential pieces that serve a purpose and hold personal significance.”

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She asserted, “Spatial arrangement is crucial; it's about balance and harmony rather than excess. Open layouts, natural light, and uncluttered surfaces create a calming environment. Incorporating handmade or artisanal elements further underscores the uniqueness of the space, fostering a connection to craftsmanship and the human touch. Ultimately, Wabi-Sabi in home decor invites a departure from perfectionism, urging occupants to appreciate the beauty in simplicity, the transient nature of life, and the stories embedded in every design choice. It's a holistic approach that transforms living spaces into havens of understated elegance and serene authenticity.”

Bringing his expertise to the same, Anuj Kapoor, Principal Architect and Founder at Logic Design + Build, explained, “The essence of Wabi Sabi can be captured in this quote: “it's something that happens naturally, you can't just create it.” Wabi Sabi is about honest work that gets graceful as it ages. It seeks a return to humble and unpretentious values. The intent of this philosophy is to embrace aging rather than hiding or correcting it. True Wabi Sabi lies in the journey and thought behind an object, space or structure, not just its appearance. An object that simply mimics the Wabi Sabi style but is created without this authentic process and mindset doesn’t fully represent Wabi Sabi.”

He elaborated, “An object might visually resemble what is typically associated with Wabi Sabi — for example, it might have an imperfect, rustic, or aged appearance. However, if it hasn't undergone the natural process of aging or imperfection typically revered in Wabi Sabi philosophy, it doesn't embody the true essence of the philosophy, which is about authenticity and the natural cycle of growth, decay, and imperfection. It is not advisable to intend to create such an effect of imperfection. These details should simply emerge organically, and remain as an index of the object’s contact with the world. This can happen only by building honestly –exposing natural materials in their true form, rather than concealing them with artificial inorganic layers like paint, allowing them to interact with the environment naturally and age over time.”

According to Anuj Kapoor, design with Wabi Sabi focuses on the quality and authenticity of materials and embraces a less-is-more philosophy. He said, “It doesn’t reflect any of the trends, because the main aim is to bring joy to the person who uses it. It's about creating harmonious spaces that soothe the soul, a luxury in its own right.” Talking about how this 'simplistic' design ethos can be channelled into our home, he advised, “Wabi-Sabi is about creating spaces that evolve with time, just as we do. A Wabi Sabi home is never truly 'finished' in the conventional sense. It's designed to grow and change, acquiring new layers of meaning and beauty with each passing day.” He recommended -

  1. Focus on using natural materials, like exposed bricks, wood, stone, concrete and metal, in their most organic forms, ensuring that the imperfections are celebrated, not concealed. Their unrefined nature and raw textural quality can be incredibly expressive. These materials age beautifully, developing a patina and gaining character over time, rather than deteriorating. They end up telling a unique story and adding depth to spaces. Besides, these traditional building techniques like stonemasonry and rammed earth walls, not only look beautiful but also have a lower environmental impact.
  2. Embrace Minimalism with Meaning: Focus on the ‘less is more’ philosophy and practice restraint in your decor choices. Avoid unnecessary decoration to highlight the beauty of the structure and materials themselves. Wabi-Sabi is about appreciating the beauty in simplicity and avoiding clutter. Each element in your space should have a purpose and a story. Incorporate less but functional elements that will be used and will age well.
  3. Handmade Over Mass-Produced: Wherever possible, choose handmade items. These pieces carry the marks and idiosyncrasies of their makers, making them unique and full of character. Collaborate with artisans to create bespoke pieces for your home. These pieces contribute to the personal story and spirit of your space, resonating with the Wabi Sabi philosophy.
  4. Light as an Architectural Element: Design spaces that capture and play with natural light. The way light interacts with materials and spaces can create a serene, almost spiritual experience. Employ advanced lighting design to create moods and highlight the beauty of imperfections. This could involve integrated lighting in unexpected places, shadow play to accentuate textures and forms, or the strategic use of skylights and natural light.
  5. Incorporate Nature: Integrate natural and living elements to create a deeper connection with nature. This can involve more than just plants; think of incorporating elements like indoor water bodies, natural light wells, or green walls. These features not only bring tranquility and movement into our spaces, but they also evolve over time, embodying the Wabi Sabi essence of growth and change.

Devika Khosla, Creative Director at The Works Interiors, encouraged to embrace Wabi Sabi in home decor by choosing raw materials like unfinished wood, favouring asymmetry and opting for minimalist furniture. Echoing that this Japanese design philosophy celebrates imperfection and simplicity, creating a serene and harmonious atmosphere that values the beauty found in the natural and unpolished elements of life, Devika Khosla advised:

  1. Bring in nature with plants, woven fabrics, and natural textures and showcase heirloom pieces and decor. Avoid excessive ornamentation and clutter, allowing the space to breathe.
  2. Pick colours that are quiet and earthy, show surfaces that look a bit imperfect using unfinished wood or weathered stone.
  3. Make spaces for relaxing and keep some empty spots for simplicity. Integrate handmade or artisanal pieces that showcase craftsmanship and individuality. Celebrate the uniqueness of each item rather than aiming for uniformity.
  4. Fuse Wabi Sabi simplicity with Indian flair in home decor. Integrate raw materials, minimalist furniture, and asymmetry. Enhance ambiance with soft lighting and aromatic touches like incense or herbs. Infuse Indian charm by incorporating aged furniture, handmade fabrics, and a touch of creativity. Create a harmonious space celebrating imperfection and cultural richness.

Making your home Wabi Sabi means using simple materials, natural looks, calm colours and a mix of cultural styles to create a home that feels simple, a little imperfect and truly beautiful.

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