Showered in puppy hair, Welcome Wabi-Sabi
I have a new puppy in my home. Izzy is a 6-month-old English bulldog with soft white puppy fur that seems to fly off her round chubby body onto every surface and material possible. As I looked down at the moss green Oriental rug and notice a sea of fine white puppy hair peppered all around, I make a mental note to myself: ‘Must find vacuum and remove all traces of shedding.’ As I thought more about a house with a pet, the wave of wabi-sabi came over me. Yes, this is a perfect example of imperfection, of wabi-sabi at home.
What is wabi-sabi? It is a term from the Japanese culture that refers to the natural state and condition of things. The natural state is something that in the Western culture we constantly struggle and wrestle with. We like our things to be perfect. It’s not just our things; we apply the same thinking to our bodies, relationships and more. No wrinkles, deficiencies, challenging moments or such. And in many homes, there is that high pressure to keep everything just perfect. Heavens forbid, a scratch or blemish exists in a piece of furniture.
Yet in the world of wabi-sabi, the look of patina, oxidation, and wear and tear are highly appreciated. It’s the art of imperfection, allowing the imperfection to happen without effort or pre-meditation. Sure there are plenty of craftsmen that can make a piece of furniture look old but that’s not true wabi-sabi. I look at wabi-sabi as a story that’s imprinted on an item or place. It’s part of the history and glory of people, places and things interacting together. In Wabi-Sabi Simple, Richard Powell explains “Wabi-Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
As a designer, my acceptance of wabi-sabi is not always looked kindly upon. I have the homeowners who inquire about how perfect Carrera marble counter tops will hold up to the daily life of kids, kitchen combat and chaos. My answer is always the same, “yes” allowing red wine to stay spilled for 24+ hours will indeed create a stain; perhaps being mindful of cleanup is a good thing. And “yes” life happens and if perfect counters are a must have, finding an alternate material is the better answer.
I look around my own house take in all the wabi-sabi that represent medals of a life well lived in my little adobe. There’s the front window double pane that is clouded from a glazing leak. Functional, yes. Pretty, no. I will eventually replace the entire window when it becomes unbearable to see my garden. There’s the copper top coffee table that shows very soft worn water ringlets of drippy beverage cups. It’s left over from my son’s teenage years when fast food containers accumulation and falling asleep on the couch went hand in hand. Today, a center pot of shells and small candles accent the ringlets. Yet rather than seeing marred copper, the vision of my own overgrown puppy flashes through my mind.
To close I want to give a few examples of what I consider acceptable Wabi-sabi in the home and conditions that are not wabi-sabi. My reasoning on addressing these false wabi-sabi conditions relates to the longer integrity and safety of your home. Resolve these items otherwise you are inviting more of this negative, imitation wabi-sabi into your sacred reclamation space. As it is said “What we resist, persist.” Attend to those matters quickly.
- Scratches in the wood floors from pets, toys and children
- A lumpy thread worn over stuffed arm chair that you inherited from your great aunt. (Yet, it is not wabi-sabi when the springs are poking through the seat and can hurt a tush-ie).
- Rust Water stained porcelain tubs.
- Ivy growing on the side of the house
- A well-seasoned cast iron skillet
Imitation Wabi-sabi that should not exist
- Tile grout in the shower that is cracked or missing.
- Cabinet or panel doors that are coming off their hinges or fall off.
- Leaves and debris clogging rain gutters
- Burnt out light bulbs in fixtures
- Chipped and cracked Teflon pans
Wabi-sabi is about looking at the state of nature and seeing beauty and acceptance. It might not be perfect but it is in the natural evolution of things. Imitation wabi-sabi is about neglect and ignoring the end of functional life of materials. At the end of any life, one hopes to have a graceful closure. Honor this and embrace wabi-sabi.