The wabi-sabi house

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The most interesting and imaginative book on interiors that I’ve ever read.

wabi sabi house The Wabi-Sabi House by Robin Griggs-Lawrence is quite simply the best book on interiors that I have ever read.

I still read this through several times a year and each time I find something new in it.  

Griggs-Lawrence is an editor who was at one time involved in writing about high-end homes for upmarket magazines, but this book is about far more than interiors. It mainly deals with attitude – your approach to your home, to your space, to finding time for your kids, to honesty, to genuineness, to not letting your life slip through your hands in pursuit of perfection. It takes detours through Japanese crafts, Japanese food, how the machine age has affected us, the tea ceremony and how to reflect the seasons in your way of life.

"To create a true wabi-sabi envronment," says Griggs Lawrence, "one must slowly strip away excess and learn to be satisfied living in the moment."

For me, this book was my first introduction to wabi-sabi, which I now try to practise as part of my everyday life. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy of impermanence and although approaching an 800-year old Zen philosophy via interiors might seem a bit trivial, it’s actually a useful way to go about it because it enables you to immediately implement the ideas into your own life.

There are other, broader books on wabi-sabi and its application to the arts and to living, but perhaps none so attuned to the inherent difficulties that the average westerner, raised in the Hellenic tradition, might find with a philosophy like Zen. 

As an American, Griggs-Lawrence is keen to show the reader how to incorporate some difficult eastern concepts into a western life and how you can enrich your life and environment by doing so. To get her point across, she covers areas rarely dealt with in interiors books, such as noise (how to create a quieter, more restful home using white noise machines, soft furnishings, cork flooring etc); how to bring yourself into your home via craftwork, no matter how uncreative you think you are; learning to let go of status items; and even how to clean your house in an eco-friendly manner.

She pleads for people to stop hating their houses and seeing nothing but their bad points but to focus instead on their good points. She pleads for honesty and genuineness in interiors, for houses that are truly homes and that accommodate real life, for owning fewer things of better quality rather than houses full of junk. Every suggestion in this book that you can implement will make your home easier to live in.

In keeping with its author’s aesthetic, the book is beautifully produced, on thick glossy paper and illustrated in wonderful soft shades of grey and sepia, and is a size and format that makes it a pleasure to handle.

Incidentally, some reviews on Amazon say that they found this book elitist, but I didn’t. Yes, Griggs-Lawrence is keen on quality, but quality need not mean expense. Second-hand, vintage, home-made items don’t cost the earth and bring a real feeling of uniqueness to your home, and even a well-made mass-produced item need make no apologies for itself. In practice, I believe wabi-sabi is as easy to achieve via Ikea as it is via antique fairs and craft shops – all that’s required is to shift your attitude a little.  

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