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The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty Hardcover – November 23, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wabi-sabi, the "Japanese art of appreciating the imperfect, the primitive, the incomplete," may be the next big thing in home design and decoration. Although on the surface it may sound like the popular "French country" or "shabby chic" aesthetics, it’s "much more" than that, says Lawrence, editor-in-chief of Natural Home. Wabi-sabi asks that we "set aside our judgements and our longing for perfection," and concentrate instead on "the beauty of things as they are." In a book that’s as much about uncluttering and digging through flea market castoffs as it is about "quieting" one’s home and abandoning the urge for "the perfect home," the author guides readers through the process of creating a home that embraces elements of wabi-sabi. The result is a friendly, gentle book with advice on, for example, keeping a quiet home by purchasing a white noise generator or using sound-absorbing materials (like rustic burlap drapes instead of velvet ones) and unleashing creativity through housekeeping by making use of simple, everyday ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon. Refreshing and comforting, Lawrence’s book teaches us how to tune out the often chaotic outside world and come home to simplicity and beauty.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Inside Flap

What is wabi-sabi?

Simply put, wabi-sabi is the marriage of the Japanese wabi, meaning humble, and sabi, which connotes beauty in the natural progression of time. Together, the phrase invites us to set aside our pursuit of perfection and learn to appreciate the simple, unaffected beauty of things as they are. Wabi-sabi can be found in the deep cracks of a weathering pine table. It is flea markets, wildflowers, and cobblestones. Intimately tied to Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi is an aesthetic that welcomes comfort and a subtle spiritual component into the home. It is not a decorating style, per se, but a mind-set. To create a true wabi-sabi environment, one must slowly strip away excess and learn to be satisfied living in the moment.

The Wabi-Sabi House recounts the rich history of this emerging trend in home design and reveals countless ways to introduce wabi-sabi elements into contemporary living spaces, including tips for gracefully decorating with salvaged materials and vintage furnishings, advice on how to rediscover the lost joy of hand-crafting household items (or supporting artisans who do), and simple solutions for clearing clutter and blocking noise (even with a spouse, kids, and no closet space).

But The Wabi-Sabi House is so much more than a handbook for interior design. With heart and a sense of humor, author Robyn Griggs Lawrence gently reminds us that there is a life in lifestyle books, and she encourages people from all walks of life to slow down and recognize beauty in what may seem ordinary.

Intimate, authoritative, and truly inspirational, The Wabi-Sabi House lays the foundation for transforming any home into a nurturing retreat from a hectic world.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter (November 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400050464
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400050468
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

As the editor-in-chief of Natural Home magazine from 1999 until 2010, ROBYN GRIGGS LAWRENCE introduced mainstream readers to green homes and lifestyles. A fierce and longtime proponent of healthy, natural living, Lawrence has been an editor with Mother Earth News, Organic Spa, Mountain Living and The Herb Companion magazines and has run successful blogs on Huffington Post, Care2.com and Motherearthnews.com.

A member of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems Board of Directors and an advisory board member for the Healthy House Institute, Lawrence has been featured in USA Today, on CNN and in top-tier newspapers, magazines and TV programs worldwide. The Conservation Research Institute describes her as "one of the best-informed advocates of natural living in America."

Lawrence's 2004 book, The Wabi-Sabi House, which introduced Americans to the 15th-century Japanese philosophy of simplicity, serenity and authenticity, received critical acclaim in Time magazine and The New York Times. A revised and updated edition was released in paperback as Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House. Lawrence co-authored 7 Steps to a Safe, Nurturing Nursery, an e-book, with integrative health expert Dr. Frank Lipman, M.D.

Lawrence, a longtime yogi and yoga teacher, lives in Boulder, Colorado. Learn more at www.robyngriggslawrence.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I admit that I am not sure what to think of this book (and my revisions of this review reflect that).The author works for Interweave Press, whose magazines I purchased for many years, and I have to say that her genuine humility and open-ness shine through the book. The description, and the general idea, sounded wonderful: learn to simplify, appreciate what you have, embrace imperfection, etc. etc. But.....

The "imperfection" referred to here is not the reality that your table has coffee rings on it which you can't get out. It's the subtle irregularities found in really good hand-thrown pottery, for instance, or the slight wavery imperfections found in old glass.This is a huge, huge, difference. Be aware that this book talks mostly about very expensive ways to implement this philosophy, which comes out of Japanese feudal times, and was dictated by the tastes of their nobles. Since the emphasis is upon natural materials and hand-made articles, with mass-produced and mass marketed items frowned upon (however well made or designed), it's not a book for decorating from your favorite mass merchandiser. Note the bit about mass-marketing: wabi-sabi doesn't care if it's in good taste or well-designed. If it's not unique, it doesn'et want it. I fail to understand why good design becomes bad just because other people appreciate it. Nor is it really about appreciating what beauty there is in that couch that your sister passed on to you after it got given to her by someone who was going to throw it out.

And therein is the rub... wabi-sabi attracts those who, like myself, are on quite a budget. Alas, the standards it sets are very high.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read a handful of books dealing with the Japanese concept of wabi sabi (variously translated as "the art of imperfection" or "the beauty of the old and the new"), everything from Soetsu Yanagi to Leonard Koren. This book by Robyn Griggs Lawrence continues in the same vein of trying to put into words for a Western audience an amorphous and ambiguous idea, specifically as it applies to home decor.

For the most part the author gets it right. She gives the reader a little bit of historical background into the idea (its roots in Zen Buddhism and development from the tea ceremony) and then shows examples of how to put it into practice in a Western context. This is not a book about decorating your home in a neo-Japanese style, but rather how to make tangible a Japanese-originated aesthetic philosophy.

In some ways, she goes beyond the strict confines of home decor and discusses wabi sabi in other areas of life, which is appropriate because wabi sabi, as I unerstand it, is really a whole school of thought. In one chapter she delves into crafts, from knitting to woodworking to cooking. I found this interesting because I am a hobby woodworker/furniture maker who is slowly crafting most of the furniture my family lives with.

I realized, in reading this book, that wabi sabi is an aesthetic I have been reaching for in a number of areas without knowing until recently what it was called. For years I have been interested in a variety of topics, including Zen, environmentalism, the voluntary simplicity movement, modern design and architecture, and woodworking. Wabi sabi is the theme that ties these interests together.
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Format: Hardcover
I've only started reading The Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence, but I was immediately mesmerized by her chapter "Give Space a Chance," which explains why an uncluttered, simple approach to rooms is so comfortable and appealing. Already I've started pulling knickknacks and books off the shelves in our living room to create a quieter, more Zenlike atmosphere. And, I've reorganized my bedroom dresser (using Lawrence's suggestion to undertake just one small thing at a time so as not to be overwhelmed). Now my overflowing jewelry box has been augmented with a jewelry drawer that hides little trays that hold all my earrings so I can see them quickly and easily.

I'm sure the rest of the chapters in this book will inspire me to make other changes in my living and storage spaces so that my lovely home can become even more beautiful and sanctuary-like.
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Format: Hardcover
My sense was different from that of a different reader. I felt that the author was encouraging all of us to make things ourselves--not just purchase expensive handmade items. To create beauty from our own history--family pictures, stories, relics--that evoke timeless good feelings. To not discard things we love just because they become worn--to learn to repair and maintain them, to recognize the character in nicks and scratches, and frays. To look for the sacred aspect in our surroundings--that our furnishings and possessions affect us and express us, so their selection, presentation, and maintenance are worthy of our attention and discrimination (in the best sense). And anyone who still thinks that the author is elitist should keep in mind the quote she included from 1960's House Beautiful editor, Elizabeth Gordon: "If you can't find beauty--for free--when you are poor, you won't be likely to have it when you are rich...even though you may have bought and paid for it." Everyone can have a wabi sabi house: it is in the eye of its beholder, its creator.
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