Wabi Sabi | The Beauty of Imperfection

If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity in your home there’s one aesthetic that’s on everybody’s lips. More than a global trend, wabi sabi is the embodiment of a spiritual ethos, a unique way of looking at life — and space. This ancient Japanese aesthetic finds its origins in Buddhism and asks us to value the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete in life.

Display from Jarl Bruksmann, featuring aged ceramic @bruksmann

The simple elegance of the wabi aesthetic has become the favoured interior trend of some well known personalities, from iconic actors to hip hop rappers. But what really defines wabi sabi and how can you bring this enlightening art to your home?


Living area at Terra Rosa Country House @terrarosacountryhouse

Wabi sabi

Tricky to translate, we have no term quite like wabi sabi in the English Language. Wabi is derived from ‘wabishii’ (loneliness) while sabi finds its roots in ‘sabiru’ (maturity) and ‘sabishii’ (inconsolable). The combination evokes a sense of solitary grace and worn beauty.

Image featuring Irish linen sofa covers from Harp Studio @harpstudio

The concept of wabi sabi is born out of the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence and emphasises transience and simplicity. An expression of Zen Buddhism, its roots take us all the way back to the 6th century but it was not until the 15th century that the wabi sabi aesthetic began to take gain popular appreciation. It all started with one of my favourite things: tea.


The tea ceremony began as a spiritual practice but by the 14th century it had lost its way and tea had become a political commodity. Business transactions were discussed over steaming bowls of matcha served in lavishly decorated utensils imported from china. Saturated with opulence and excess, the once modest ceremony was fast becoming the privilege of the elite. It was only when Zen monk Murata Juko decided to set tea back on the right path that wabi sabi as we know it today really took shape.

Juko wanted to make the tea ceremony accessible to the working classes, introducing the use of humble, rustic, more affordable utensils. He promoted the four values of kin (humility and reverence), kei (appreciation of food and drink), sei (purity of body and mind), and jaku (freedom from desire, tranquillity.) No longer an ostentatious status symbol, the tea ceremony began to transform into a ritual placing value on the flawed, natural and transient. 

Enough’ mug by Maud Goldberg available at Harp Studio @harpstudio_

A wonderful example of the wabi sabi ideal is the 'chawan' or 'tea bowl', particularly those made in the raku style. First used in Japan as early as the 16th century, these bowls once used glazes containing less than friendly substances such as lead but there are many gifted ceramicists creating non-toxic raku for use today. 

These beautifully asymmetrical ceramic bowls, moulded by hand rather than thrown on a wheel, slowly deepen in colour over time as hot water is repeatedly poured into them. This changing of colour makes them more precious, as each ceremony, each experience, leaves its impression. 

Shiroraku-cha-wan tea bowl, turn of the 16th century

Axel Vervoordt

Fast forward 400 years and wabi sabi has found its way into interiors all over the world – a touch of tranquillity amidst the whirlwind of modern life. Perhaps the most current and celebrated champion of this interior aesthetic is Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt. Renowned interior creative, Vervoordt has a long list of high profile clients to his name and a reputation for creating stunning, thoughtful interiors. He recently designed the New York Penthouse of screen icon Robert De Niro.

The Greenwich Hotel, TriBeCa Penthouse

This peaceful retreat is a calming haven from the relentless bustle of the capital. Spanning 6,800 sq ft, the suite was designed by Vervoordt in collaboration with Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki and inspires a sense of serenity, stillness and simplicity. With a focus on the authentic and imperfect the penthouse showcases the beauty of the wabi sabi interior at its sleekest. Empty space and pared-back furnishings lend the suite a liberating spaciousness. Everything is present for a reason and each detail comes with its own story. Repurposed copper from the building’s previous roofing has been transformed into beautiful handcrafted light fixtures. 

The Greenwich Hotel, TriBeCa Penthouse

Look closely and you will notice the unique fire grate, made using joist hangers from the original structure of the Louvre museum.


The Greenwich Hotel, TriBeCa Penthouse

The living space features an elegant landscape artwork created by Vervoordt and Miki especially for the space. The earthy fawn of the background sets off bold inky strokes that sweep unchecked across the canvas – a distillation of the suite’s organic, unpretentious character.

The Greenwich Hotel, TriBeCa Penthouse

Art has always been important to Vervoordt, who began collecting at age seven and was visiting private collections with his father by fourteen. Growing up, art was an inspiring and formative influence on the young collector and his budding enthusiasm continued into adulthood.

Vervoordt’s taste is varied and eclectic, going on “gut feeling” and an instinctive connection with the pieces he collects. Artists such as Lucio Fontana, Antoni Tapes and Cy Twombly with their strong sense of dynamism and authenticity are a source of inspiration to the Belgian designer.

Fontana is particularly special to Vervoordt who collected his first work by the artist at just 21.


Vervoordt in his Antwerp home, a Lucio Fontana hangs above mantle

It’s easy to see why the striking work of this Italian founder of spatialism captivated him. Just like Vervoordt's interiors, Fontana’s work conveys a profound and timeless message. Working in the aftermath of the second world war, Fontana questioned the future of art in the wake of such devastation. He stood before his canvas and sliced through the thick weave in a decisive, visceral gesture. The peeling edges parted to reveal a gaping hole – this dark void suggestive of a blank emptiness from which everything might be reborn. At once an end and a beginning, from nothing would come everything.

These works bring to mind the Japanese expression ichi-go ichi-e – roughly translating as “this time only” – the concept of valuing the transient nature of our experiences; once a moment is past it can never be repeated. Just like Fontana’s bold slashes, our actions cannot be undone or relived and an inner peace is born from acceptance of this fact.


Lucio Fontana, Concetto Speziale, 1959 – for sale

What strikes me about wabi sabi interiors is how loaded they are with meaning and narrative. They seem as much a philosophical exploration as a design aesthetic. In many ways wabi sabi is a way of life. A way of life that we are perhaps more in need of than ever. In a world where we are surrounded by screens bombarding us with images about who we should be and how we should live our lives it’s easy to get caught up in constantly striving for something more, wabi sabi reminds us that it’s ok to be imperfect. Just like the weathered Japanese tea bowls, we are all marked by time and by our experiences, with our own dents and cracks and unique quirks. For me wabi sabi is a prompt to appreciate those oddities and accept all the shortcomings and flaws that come with being human.


Terra Rosa Country House

Creating your own wabi sabi space

There’s no prescribed formula when it comes to bringing wabi sabi to your home—at its best wabi sabi is a personal exploration, a journey toward getting in touch with yourself and with the environment around you. Colour palettes tend to reflect this with earthy, muted shades that are evocative of the natural world. Soft browns, murky greens and clayish greys offer a delicate organic feel. Unmodified materials are celebrated with a focus on the raw, unfinished beauty of natural surfaces. Furnishings are often rugged, with rough-hewn tables or repurposed plank shelving giving a humble, modest feel. In the master bedroom of De Niro’s penthouse a huge, uneven walnut panel — in fact, a repurposed table top — serves as a headboard, and rough stone slabs create a fireplace that evokes the power of the natural elements in all their simple glory.


Bringing plants into the space is another touch that helps to create a sense of calm and connection to your roots. You might like to consider trying your hand at Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Placing emphasis on line, space and form over colour and excess Ikebana is an experience in itself. The process of creating the display is completed in meditative silence as contemplation of the flowers and stems remind us of the cycle of life and energy of the universe. The result is exquisitely understated displays that are all the more stunning for their simplicity.

Display by Frida Kim @fridakim_london

If you're not so keen on taking the green-fingered route there are many talented UK based florists practising the art of Ikebana. Korean Londoner Frida Kim creates masterful displays that showcase the elegance of space and form. Inspired by Ikebana, her arrangements are as soulful as any work of sculpture and truly capture the grace of this Japanese art.

Ikebana  inspired display by Frida Kim @fridakim_london , Suiban Vase by Noe Kuremoto @noe_kuremoto_ceramics

The arrangement above is nestled in a hand sculpted suiban by ceramic artist Noe Kuremoto. The suiban is a shallow vase popular in traditional Japanese Ikebana as it's ideal for holding the kenzan or 'frog pin' which keeps the stems in place. Kuremoto makes everything using only her bare hands and a few simple tools. This elegant, tactile ceramic with its organic look beautifully compliments Kim's work. There is something perfectly understated about the muted tones of the display as a whole, a simplicity that draws the eye to appreciate shape and form in a way that's entirely different from our traditional English displays.


Display by Frida Kim 

There are so many ways of bringing that feeling of earthiness into your home. Look for whatever makes you feel in touch with the environment and brings you harmony. In his Antwerp home Vervoordt used lime and earth to paint his walls, leaving a satisfyingly rough, unrefined texture that brought the outside in—a fitting accompaniment to the thick-grained wooden flooring and austere furnishings of the room. Vervoordt sources his materials locally wherever possible and is forever repurposing objects and surfaces. Sustainability goes hand in hand with the wabi sabi ethos which invites us to appreciate the natural environment and treat it with care when decorating our homes.

Display with urn from Home Barn @homebarn


we’ve gone to far in ruling the earth, as human beings, trying to say to the earth what should done. I think now the earth is saying to us what we should do.” - Vervoordt


Kodama by Noe Kuremoto

Everything in a wabi sabi room should hold meaning and it’s worth checking what furnishings really resonate with you and add value to your experience and which might be unnecessary clutter. While wabi sabi isn’t synonymous with minimalism it does appreciate space and the beauty of emptiness. Using only the most essential, most meaningful furnishings will allow that empty space to breathe and help create an inner stillness and tranquillity.

Bedroom at Terra Rosa Country House

Textures can be used to add variety and tactile fabrics or surfaces might be the perfect finishing touch to your wabi aesthetic. Chunky hand-knitted throws and heavy linens might accompany rugged stone flooring or smooth worn timber furnishings. If there’s a particular texture that you find soothing, think of a way to include it in your design. You might find that the tangibility of you room has a grounding and comforting influence.

Aged timber coffee table from Home Barn 

Whatever you do make sure it speaks to you. At heart wabi sabi is a harmonious meeting of spirit and space, its all about creating your own sanctuary and appreciating the little things that give you that sense of connection and balance.

Image featuring ‘Primitive’ chair from Jarl Bruksmann

With all the noise of modern living it can be hard for us to step back, relax and remember what it feels like to simply breathe. In an age where everything seems to be getting faster and faster your own wabi sabi haven could be a space where you feel the joy of slowing down, sit back and appreciate yourself for who you are with all the flaws, eccentricities and quirks that make you you. In imperfection we see humanity in all its raw, untameable beauty...lets embrace it.

If you're looking for more wabi sabi inspo check out our pinterest board here

(None of the items featured are affiliated, they are simply brands, objects and places that we find inspiring – and hope you do too! If you are interested in taking a closer look, the instagram handle for each brand is featured below the image.)