10 Secrets for Wabi-Sabi Wonder in Your Home

To the untrained eye, wabi-sabi—the Japanese term for embracing imperfect beauty—might sound, well, wishy-washy, but it may just be the best thing that ever happened to your home (and your life)

Kathryn O’Shea-Evans
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Perfectly Imperfect

What does the term really mean? “Wabi refers to living simply and in tune with nature, to paring things down to the bare essentials so you can appreciate them even more; sabi, to transience and the passage of time,” says Julie Pointer Adams, author of the new book Wabi-Sabi Welcome (Artisan Books). Here, ten brilliant ways to champion the concept in every room of your house.

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Opt for Handmade Dishes

There’s something about hand-hewn ceramics that make machine-made options look totally meh. In fact, all utilitarian pieces in your home should be beautiful. “Look for nice-looking storage baskets, a pretty water pitcher for the table, or even a beautifully designed toilet-bowl cleaner,” Pointer Adams says. “It’s the little things.”

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Wax Nostalgic

“Make your home personal by incorporating items that likely only have value to you: family photographs, mementos collected on trips, art made by your children, and so on,” Pointer Adams says. Curated objects that have happy memories attached are what separate homes from lackluster hotels, decorating-wise.

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Go Raw

If you’ve been thinking of resurfacing and painting over, say, your exposed concrete walls, don’t. “Make do with what you have,” Pointer Adams says. “Embracing wabi-sabi is all about recognizing the beauty in humble and imperfect things, rather than always needing or desiring more.”

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Stick with Earth Tones

Neutral color palettes are a hallmark of wabi sabi, which advocates for natural materials (and hues) above all else. Bonus: you won’t tire of tans, grays, and other ecru colors nearly as fast as you would get sick of neon-bright chevron.

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Let There Be Light—Everywhere

“Welcome fresh air and natural light into your home by keeping your windows, doors, and drapes wide open,” says Pointer Adams. If you must have window treatments, consider sheer fabric options that catch the sun but provide some measure of privacy from prying eyes.

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Get Twiggy with It

Sure, you could spend a small fortune at the florist. Or you could trim a branch from a (safe-to-cut) neighborhood tree and make it your otherworldly focal point. “Bring the outdoors and some earthiness inside, whether through a nature-inspired color palette, wildflowers plucked from the roadside, a collection of potted plants, or your favorite beach-walk pebbles,” Pointer Adams says.

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Let Your Sheets Breathe

There is no military-esque coin-tossing on beds allowed in a wabi-sabi home—the concept’s easy-going temperament continues in the bedroom. “Wrinkled linens are not the enemy!” Pointer Adams says, noting that that’s extends to the dining table as well. “Accept a more natural look when it comes to setting your table and free up a little precious time.”

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Savor Daily Rituals

Gulping down your morning caffeine jolt isn’t wabi-sabi (and frankly, the Queen wouldn’t approve either). Transform need-to-do tasks into something more akin to private, meditative ceremonies by taking your time. One trick for reminding yourself to do that is to assemble a tea (or coffee) tray that corrals exquisite accoutrements (a favorite antique stirring spoon, a pot of honey, etc.) into a beautiful focal point.

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Don’t Forget Scent

We spend so much time and energy revamping our visual design aesthetic and forget about our other senses—including scents of home. “Make your house a calming sanctuary by filling it with serene, earthy fragrances like naturally-scented candles, incense, essential oils, and palo santo,” Pointer Adams says.

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“Strive to make your home a place where gathering together can be spontaneous, authentic, and attainable—a place to fully enjoy one another’s company, your surroundings, and your food,” Pointer Adams says. That won’t happen if you’re a host-zilla. If you always have snacks and a few drinks on hand, not to mention a clutter-free home, you’ll be delighted when friends pop by unannounced—not stressed.