Wednesday, December 5, 2012


wabi-sabi: the Japanese aesthetic that embraces the flawed, incomplete and ephemeral.

Underplayed beauty is so appealing, is it not? The delicacy of a pot amongst wilting vines, the deep green rosemary sprouting from the wooden stalk, vivid blooms above the muted ground. 

At this time of year when the conversation turns to gifts I am often stuck for suggestions. Apparently I'm incredibly hard to buy for; I'm an idealist with a very clear idea of what I like and what I don't. In retrospect the best gifts I have received are those imbued with the thumbprint of their maker, the patina of age or the essence of nature; a handmade teacup with the grooves of the potter, an old mirror, a succulent plant in a vintage pot. Last week a friend gave me a collection of vegetables and herbs from her garden; their roots wrapped in damp paper towel, their stems tied with string - the perfect gift. 

I always favour tradition over trend. I prefer colours that I see outside the window; those that appear naturally and then fade -  olive green, smoky grey, unbleached white and I like to bring them into the home. Right now there are five shells lining the balcony rail, dried herbs hanging from the kitchen window pelmet and lilac hydrangeas on the table. I light a beeswax candle every night to smell the sweet, clean scent and watch the wax soften and melt. It's all simple decoration, placed with intention. 

Wabi-sabi is simplicity but it's also being mindful of what you buy and recognising what you already have. It is the ultimate lesson in sustainability - to mend and make do. I first came across the concept of wabi-sabi in a design magazine years ago. I tore the article from the book and placed the dark, filmic images in a box for keeps. The pages are frayed and the author's name is long gone, but here is a little excerpt:

"The word 'wabi' literally translates as poverty. It looks to remove the concern about material things, of having 'stuff'; to find a balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get in finding freedom from things. 'Sabi' acknowledges simple realities - nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect."

Che, in his innocent ways, unknowingly practices a little wabi-sabi. He gathers ephemera, round stones and fallen gumdrops and he carries them in his pockets. He places them on his bedside table, arranges them for a while and then they disappear, only to be replaced by a petal, a shell, a stalk. 

Wabi-sabi doesn't have rules; it's born from intuition. Do you have any wabi-sabi ways?

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