The wabi-sabi home – the seasonal changeover

In spring and autumn each year, think about giving your house a seasonal makeover.

blog imageI normally do this on the first of April, or the weekend closest to it, but this year’s been so cold and dark, and spring so late, that I left it for the first proper spring day instead. For some reason this year (global warming?), we seemed to switch directly from winter to summer without really going through spring at all, and at the weekend, temperatures rose dramatically.

Changing over your house between winter and summer is a very wabi-sabi thing to do because it acknowledges the turn of the season and reflects the fact that you use your home in different ways in winter than in summer. Making dual use of your space in this way also makes it feel twice the size – like you have your very own holiday home.

In winter, you need your house to be more ‘yang’ – warmer, brighter colours and rich textures that comfort and cheer you through the cold months. You want to snuggle down and shut out the outside world.

But in summer, you want the opposite – cool, Yin colours, smooth fabrics such as linen, and lots of light and air. You want to open the windows and doors whenever possible, and embrace the view, which – if you’re lucky – will be changing gradually to green.

The absolute best way to accomplish a changeover is to have a seldom-occupied spare room where you can keep your off-season items. Then in spring, and in reverse in autumn, you can make the switch easily.

The major change I always make is to take the winter curtains down. Who on earth wants heavy velvet drapes in summer? In winter, they’re a godsend, because this house is on a hill and very exposed, but their fabric, and their rich colours of red and pink and peach seem stifling and stuffy when the weather turns. We’re not overlooked, so I sometimes don’t bother with curtains at all in summer, preferring to allow the light to flood in, but sometimes I switch to white lace, or a set of curtains I made from old cream hemp sheets (very House and Garden). These are useful if the weather gets really hot, as you can draw them to keep the heat out and diffuse the strong light to a soft creamy white. Off-season curtains are stored in flatpacks in the spare room.

I gave up rugs a year or two ago and I loathe fitted carpet in any case (too insanitary and difficult to clean). We only have hard floors now – terracotta, wood parquet, cork or hard vinyl tile, depending on which room you’re in. But in the days when we still had rugs, I would roll them up and put them away in spring. If you can’t do this for reasons of space, consider turning them over instead, if they have a jute backing, for a summery look, then flip them back to the pile side for winter.

blog imageThe changeover idea works best if your furniture has slipcovers rather than – or in addition to – permanent upholstery. When we bought our sofa, we bought two sets of loose covers, so in winter we have an aquamarine and navy blue scheme, then in summer we switch to yellow and aquamarine. The sofa is a large piece of furniture and this change of covering alters the whole ambiance of the room.

If your furniture is close-covered, you could have loose covers made for it for summer, or think about using summer throws in fabrics like linen or cotton, which will be cooler to sit on than Dralon, leather or velvet. A set of matching throws in a cool colour like primrose, cream or pale blue can take the visual heat out of any colour scheme. Put any loose cushions away for summer, too, for a cleaner, more spare look in the summer months.

Also consider moving your furniture about between summer and winter. In winter, you probably want your living-room furniture clustered around the fireplace, if you have one, but in summer, there’s no sense in this if the fire isn’t actually lit. Think instead about moving the furniture closer to the windows to make the most of the light, and creating more space between individual pieces to allow air to circulate.

Change your lightbulbs over too. In winter, in this dark house, I use 100w or 60w bulbs wherever possible, but in summer 40w is more than enough because there is so much more light from outside.

Finally, think about changing over your wall art with the season. I use obi sashes and kimonos on poles, which are readily interchangeable. I swap a heavy purple kimono for a gold one in summer, and black, red and orange obis for ones in shades of silver, pale blue and cream. Even though the mirrors and framed art remain basically the same, the ‘feel’ of the room is altered dramatically just by changing a few items.

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