The Wabi-Sabi Welcome book celebrates coming together, in our homes and in our lives, perfectly imperfect as we are. Each chapter marks a different place where writer Julie Pointer Adams has encountered the wabi-sabi spirit: Japan, Denmark, California, France and Italy.
I met Julie on my very first visit to Portland, Oregon, where I was staying with a close friend named Laura Dart. Laura lived in the apartment above Julie, and the two of them remain dear friends and kindred spirits. It didn’t take long before I decided to extend my stay for six weeks, in large part due to the incredible sense of community and hospitality I experienced from these two, and so many others in Portland. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Below, I share an excerpt from my conversation with Julie. You can read the interview in its entirety over on Pennyweight.
What are the key ingredients to wabi-sabi?
Wabi-sabi is a far-reaching and elusive concept so it’s difficult to boil it into just a few pithy ideas. However, I think one of the easiest ways to understand it is to look at the two Japanese words that were conjoined long ago to become something new. Wabi means simplicity, living in tune with nature, being content with what you have and always moving towards having less. Sabi is more about transience, beauty, and the authenticity of age—accepting that people, nature, moments and objects are always fleeting, and moving towards decay.
Together, the two words describe a type of beauty and a way of life that embraces imperfection and simple living, clinging to what is humble, mysterious and unassuming.
When did the elements of wabi-sabi really begin to take hold for you? Was it a case of a name being given to something you were already doing naturally?
When I first learned about wabi-sabi from a professor in graduate school, it felt like finally learning the name of an old friend—someone and something I had always felt deeply acquainted with but never knew how to articulate. I have always been drawn to a kind of simple, homely, and worn beauty, like an old and fading quilt from a great-grandmother, or a ramshackle barn in the middle of an open field. It’s an aesthetic I have always adopted in my own home, but once I learned about the concept as a whole, I began to slowly try and shift my entire way of thinking around it as well.
There seems to be a bigger-picture element of people returning to craftsmanship, ethically sourced materials, fewer more quality pieces versus mass-produced quantity, which seems in line with the wabi-sabi approach. Do you have any thoughts on why people are looking to that more and more?
I think people are deeply craving objects with this real quality to them as a reaction against several decades of big-box stores and the rise of cheaply-produced, mass-marketed items. That includes everything from furniture to dishware to clothes to food! After having lived with the fake versions of certain things for a long time (I recall in particular a huge particle-board desk made to look like wood that I was extremely excited to get in junior high), it’s refreshing to re-experience how lovely and tactile the real thing can be, whether it’s wood, ceramic, linen, wool, or what have you. Finding quality items made from true materials doesn’t require having loads of money, either. With a careful and patient eye, you can find beautiful, long-lasting items at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets to fill your whole home. For the things you can’t find secondhand, it’s so rewarding to save up for something special that you really want, even if it means sacrificing several other opportunities for instant gratification and a fuller closet, living room, patio, etcetera. I think it has also become more exciting and appealing to surround ourselves with things that have histories attached to them, like a table from a grandparent, or a bowl from a local ceramist. People want these deep stories again after an age of anonymity attached to our things.