Coming off of the heels of heavily utilized design trends like Maximalism and Mid-Century Modern, where inferior reproductions flow freely and design styles change as quickly as the seasons, we have been yearning for a more authentic design methodology. And so we have brought on the revival of a Japanese aesthetic that marries the best elements of recent trends like Eclecticism, Minimalism, Hygge, Biophilia and even KonMari to make way for interior harmony: the art of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is more than the design trend du jour; it is a state of being that has made an aesthetic impact in design for more than 400 years. I have been fortunate to spend time residing in Asia, and there I found myself immersed in a culture of mindfulness and wellbeing. There is so much we can learn from Japanese culture, particularly wabi-sabi, about taming our desire for perfection in design that will free us to live more sustainably and impart truly authentic style in our homes.
The 7 Zen Principles of Design
We help our design clients seek wabi-sabi through utilization of the 7 Zen principles. The true meaning behind these principles is so complex that they each deserve their own blog post. A good place to start is in understanding a few key words.
Fukinsei: asymmetry, imperfection
Kanso: simplicity, truthfulness
Koko: weathered, austere
Shizen: absence of pretense, natural by intentional design
Yugen: subtly profound, finding beauty in the partial view rather than the whole
Datsuzoku: free of bondage by “the norm”
Seijaku: calmness, solitude, inner peace
The sentiments of these principles come together beautifully for a holistic designer focused on sustainability. It opens us up to using unique pieces from our clients’ own collections that under a more modern design methodology might not have been considered in good enough condition for display. It also shifts our focus from temporarily trendy pieces that will end up in a landfill when tastes change, to those that have been built carefully, lovingly and with noble materials. Wabi-sabi is adoration of patina and the process that it took to get there.
Because wabi-sabi is one of the founding movements behind some of our current design trends, we can easily source beautiful, heirloom-quality pieces from the market that fit this aesthetic, in addition to finding the beauty in our own collections. One of my favorite lighting finds is the Jatani Wire Lampshade by Amara. This piece embodies the principles of Fukensei, Kanso and Koko through its beautifully asymmetric beehive-inspired shape. Tom Dixon’s Ink Blot Pillow is another great example of the asymmetry of Fukinsei with a bit of Yugen added through the print’s placement. I recently came across this stunning Slab Bed by Roman and Williams Guild made of Claro Walnut in a living finish. The use of the natural edge on the headboard is another example of Fukinsei, and Shizen as well. Utilizing living finishes is an excellent way to impart the principle of Koko and encourages us to embrace the beauty of the patina process over the life of the wood. The floating appearance that the base gives is a magnificent way to bring in the principle of Yugen, which can also be described as appreciation for areas partially hidden by shadows, so as to create a profound reaction through subtlety. This piece is truly breathtaking.
In the vein of the principle of Datsuzoku, I have always found Kintsugi to be a truly inspiring tradition. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold to honor the life of the piece by accenting its imperfection with the freeform beauty of molten precious metal. This art form was developed in the 15th century, around the same time as wabi-sabi, and the two share similar sentimentality for imperfection and impermanence. It is possible to have clients’ own ceramics repaired using kintsugi, but of course we can also source pieces ranging from museum-quality sourced by specialty dealers to still excellent quality from the open market. This Kintsugi Tray by Seletti is very unique, and its design is aligned with the principles of Fukensei, Koko and Datsuzoku.
Seijaku, as a principle, is one that is more inside of us than embodied in our physical pieces. Through thoughtful holistic design utilizing the principles, we clear out internal space for this stillness and calm to fill. Seijaku is the goal we have with all of our clients—achieving inner peace and well being through intentional interior design.
Wabi-sabi is the search for meaning beyond materialism. To seek wabi-sabi is to honor the patina and imperfection of our spaces and collected pieces, to find harmony with nature through biophilic design, and to keep our spaces simple and clutter-free providing us with peaceful surroundings. There is much we can learn from seeking wabi-sabi in our homes. Most importantly, we find peace and beauty in the authenticity of imperfection, opening our minds to designing our spaces in a more eco-friendly way, and providing a sense of well being in our homes that is unmatched by less noble design aesthetics.
Laurence Carr is founder & CEO of Laurence Carr Design, an award winning interior design firm in New York City providing full service and e-design services to clients. She creates exquisite holistic interiors that promote mindful living and harmony, while attaining a level of sophistication through layering modern art, furniture, antiques and accents. Born in France, Laurence has 20 years experience in design, the performing arts, and fashion. She has been nationally published and is a frequent speaker and panelist in major industry related events.