Embracing Wabi Sabi

Our society celebrates perfection. It’s a symbol of achievement, or so we’re persuaded to believe by magazines and on television. The concept of Wabi Sabi turns perfection on its head. Wabi Sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism that celebrates the beauty of all things imperfect.

Having lived in Japan in the early 90’s, my husband Chad embraced Wabi Sabi early on in his career as an architect:

“Living in Tokyo on a fellowship in the early 90¹s was incredibly formative to my evolution of a design sensibility. The reverential relationship of the built environment to nature in Japanese architecture has served as an inspiration for my work. It is as if the buildings and pavilions solely exist to celebrate the beauty of the natural world, albeit a highly cultivated version. Another aesthetic principal that made a great impact on me is the notion of wabi sabi, or beauty in the imperfect. This is somewhat counter to the typical perfectionist principles of modernism we are taught in architecture school.  In our work we try to employ materials that have character, a soul, and these tend to be more on the rough and imperfect side. Visceral materials of the earth– old woods, patinated copper, steel, bronze, local stones, hand rubbed plaster.  Low-tech, primitive materials that connect our work to nature and establish a more timeless and eternal architecture” —Chad Oppenheim

I love being surrounded by wabi sabi in our home. Be it in a crack, rough surface or other flaw, there is a spiritual feeling of purity and simplicity that comes out of their imperfect aesthetic.


Over the years we have collected homeware objects that evoke the essence of wabi sabi: irregular plates that were handmade, rough wood bowls that celebrate the beauty of the natural wood, unglazed flower pots, antiques that celebrate the beauty of age and wear.


Even in food, I seek wabi sabi. At the farmers markets, I am drawn to the imperfect irregular heirloom fruits and vegetables; the natural form before we engineered the perfect-colored and symmetrical species.


Whether physical objects, earth’s bounty or ethereal environments, wabi sabi has the power to make us feel more alive and connected to the natural world.

Category: Atmosphere, Stories
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