Design Styles Interior Design

Wabi-sabi: the luxury of imperfection

29th April 2018

The new luxury is all about finding beauty in simplicity and impermanence. The Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi combines natural inspirations and a neutral palette with an acknowledgement of the beauty in the imperfection of daily life. Unlike minimalism, which seeks to streamline and eliminate clutter, wabi-sabi celebrates the knot in the wood or the wrinkle in the linen.

A state of mind

Wabi-sabi developed from Zen Buddhist philosophy sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries and has three founding principles: that nothing is ever permanent, perfect or complete. Beauty is found in the balance between the harmony and tranquility of wabi and sabi, the ephemeral nature of time and decay.

The use of time-worn objects and natural materials is key to attaining that balance. Wabi-sabi interiors are elegant, sparse and imperfect, yet deliver a very modern take on luxury interior design that finds its inspiration in the colours and textures of nature.

Celebrate imperfections

Wabi-sabi is miles away from the curated warmth of hygge or the pared-back perfection of minimalism. Interior design that embraces the wabi-sabi aesthetic is about respecting the authenticity of objects and materials above all, whether that’s a frayed fabric or a pot repaired with glue and gold dust. You can introduce impermanence as simply as placing a vase of flowers on a rustic table or use imperfect elements that have been weathered by age and acquired the kind of patina that adds warmth and character.

Gold seam in concrete. Image credit 1508London

Luxury materials like wood, stone, leather and metal are embraced for the way that they age and stain, rust and wear. Avoid the mass-produced and embrace handmade ceramics for their simplicity and authenticity. Play with surface finishes that mimic crumbling plaster or weathered concrete. The blend of simplicity and sophistication produces luxury interior design that substitutes warmth, character and beauty for ostentatious displays of symmetry and wealth.

Poor yet expensive

Axel Vervoordt, the Belgian designer who has popularised wabi-sabi design in the west with his stunning designs for the Greenwich Hotel Tribeca, says that a properly executed wabi-sabi interior design should look poor but be expensive. To create such an effortless aesthetic takes time, care and meticulous attention to detail – it took Vervoordt and his team years to source the diverse and unique objects for the hotel’s interiors.

Image credit Greenwich Hotel

Image credit Greenwich Hotel

A muted palette

Turn to nature for a harmonious neutral palette of browns, greys, greiges, greens, whites and creams that reflect the natural materials that ground your interior design scheme. This palette creates interiors that are serene and harmonious, where natural light and the interplay of muted colours creates a sense of comfortable and enveloping luxury. It’s an aesthetic that works with the natural pastels of a Scandinavian scheme or the fired earth tones of the Mediterranean.

In a wabi-sabi interior, less is always more. Quality objects that embrace a sense of history or old items that continue to perform the functions of the new – all play into our interest in sustainability and our desire to step away from the pressures of everyday life into a home that embraces our imperfections by being comfortable with its own.

Header photo credit:
Laziz Hamani for the book Wabi Inspirations by Axel Vervoordt + Tatsuro Miki.

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