Friday, July 17, 2009

wabi sabi

The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away.
-architect Tadao Ando

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.

It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all.
Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass.

It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind.

It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came.

Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: ... the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud.

It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe.

For the Japanese, it's the difference between kirei-merely "pretty"-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful.
(Omoshiroi literally means "white faced," but its meanings range from fascinating to fantastic.)

It's the peace found in a moss garden, the musty smell of geraniums, the astringent taste of powdered green tea.

My favorite Japanese phrase for describing wabi-sabi is "natsukashii furusato," or an old memory of my hometown.

Daisetz T. Suzuki: "Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," he wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."

In Japan, there is a marked difference between a Thoreau-like wabibito (wabi person), who is free in his heart, and a makoto no hinjin, a more Dickensian character whose poor circumstances make him desperate and pitiful.

The ability to make do with less is revered; I heard someone refer to a wabibito as a person who could make something complete out of eight parts when most of us would use ten.

For us in the West, this might mean choosing a smaller house or a smaller car, or-just as a means of getting started-refusing to supersize our fries.

Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature.

Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi.

Undertones of desolation and abandonment cling to the word, sometimes used to describe the helpless feeling you have when waiting for your lover.

Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled.

It's the understanding that beauty is fleeting.

The word's meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, "to be desolate," to the more neutral "to grow old." By the thirteenth century, sabi's meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man."

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough.

An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America's contribution to the evolution of sabi.

An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.
There's an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own.

We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however.
It is a gift of time.

So now we have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered.

In home decor, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine.

Possessions are pared down, and pared down again, until only those that are necessary for their utility or beauty (and ideally both) are left. What makes the cut? Items that you both admire and love to use, like those hand-crank eggbeaters that still work just fine. Things that resonate with the spirit of their makers' hands and hearts: the chair your grandfather made, your six-year-old's lumpy pottery, an afghan you knitted yourself (out of handspun sheep's wool, perhaps). Pieces of your own history: sepia-toned ancestral photos, baby shoes, the Nancy Drew mysteries you read over and over again as a kid.

Wabi-sabi interiors tend to be muted, dimly lit, and shadowy-giving the rooms an enveloping, womblike feeling. Natural materials that are vulnerable to weathering, warping, shrinking, cracking, and peeling lend an air of perishability.

The palette is drawn from browns, blacks, grays, earthy greens, and rusts. This implies a lack of freedom but actually affords an opportunity for innovation and creativity. In Japan, kimonos come in a hundred different shades of gray. You simply have to hone your vision
so you can see, and feel, them all.


Wabi-sabi can be exploited in all sorts of ways, and one of the most tempting is to use it as an excuse to shrug off an unmade bed, an unswept floor, or a soiled sofa. "Oh, that. Well, that's just wabi-sabi."

How tempting it might be to let the split running down the sofa cushion seam continue on its merry way, calling it wabi-sabi. To spend Saturday afternoon at the movies and let the dust settle into the rugs: wabi sabi. To buy five extra minutes of sleep every morning by not making the bed-as a wabi-sabi statement, of course. And how do you know when you've gone too far-when you' ve crossed over from simple, serene, and rustic to Uber-distress?

A solid yellow line separates tattered and shabby, dust and dirt from something worthy of veneration.

Wabi-sabi is never messy or slovenly.

Worn things take on their magic only in settings where it's clear they don't harbor bugs or grime. One senses that they've survived to bear the marks of time precisely because they've been so well cared for throughout the years.

Even the most rare and expensive of antiques will never play well in a house that's cluttered or dirty.
Cleanliness implies respect.

Spaces that have been thoroughly and lovingly cleaned are ultimately more welcoming.

When the bed is neatly made, the romance of a frayed quilt blossoms.

The character imparted by a wood floor's knots and crevices shines through when the crumbs are swept away. A scrubbed but faded kilim, thrown over a sofa that's seen one too many stains, transforms it into an irresistible place to rest.

"If a friend visits you, make him tea, wish him welcome warmly with hospitality," Jo-o, one of Japan's earliest tea masters, wrote. "Set some flowers and make him feel comfortable." This is embodied in a common Japanese phrase, "shaza kissa," which translates, "Well, sit down and have some tea."

What if we adopted that phrase and learned to say it more often-when the kids get home from school (before the rush to hockey and ballet), when our neighbor stops by, when we feel our annoyance level with our spouse starting to rise? If we just allowed ourselves to stop for a moment, sit down together, and share a cup of tea, what might that moment bring?
...we're constantly reminded that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art, and a cup of tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today.

Stopping whatever it is that's so important (dishes, bill paying, work deadlines) to share conversation and a cup of tea with someone you love-or might love-is an easy opportunity to promote peace. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit emerges.

Wabi-sabi is not a decorating "style" but rather a mind-set. There's no list of rules; we can't hang crystals or move our beds and wait for peace to befall us. Creating a wabi-sabi home is the direct result of developing our wabigokoro, or wabi mind and heart: living modestly, learning to be satisfied with life as it can be once we strip away the unnecessary, living in the moment.

You see? Simple as that.

What if we could learn to be content with our lives, exactly as they are today?

It's a lofty thought...but one that's certainly worth entertaining.

(The word are condensed from here. I found the writing to be quite soothing, as I struggle to reform from seeking perfection in housing to "good enough" and simple, and also in accepting the effects of time on myself and those that I love.
The pictures are ones I took yesterday after work, while I drove through the Wasatch National Forest, which is about three miles from my house. The fleeting beauty of the wild flowers reminded me of the words of this essay about Wabi Sabi. )

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Random Assortment

Has everyone out there tried the new purple cauliflower? It really is delicious, especially when eaten raw and dipped in a little ranch dressing.

There was a scientific study done on this mutant strain. Purple cauliflower provides a huge amount of antioxidants to help resist disease.

Eat is super good for you!

The orange version is pretty cool too. Isn't it great to see new varieties of things coming on to the market? There was funding given to farmers awhile ago to encourage a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

Any brightly colored fruit or vegetable will have higher levels of good things in them. Plus it is just fun to have such vegetables as bell peppers available in a rainbow of colors.

I thought this was an interesting medallion. Anyone want to guess what it is?

(Answer at the end of this post!)

How about another guessing game: Guess what we were doing when I shot this picture of a blue grass jam session.

While you are trying to guess the's the new planter edging in the garden, made from the "vintage" ashlar cut stones. We were thinking rounded form, and specifically away from touching the house.

The stones were delivered and completely set up by "the crew" before we even knew what was happening. We'll make do with the square shape, but B. will have to dig out the back of the planter and seal the wall against water damage.

Magpies are regularly hanging out in our area now. The robin's eggs had hatched and we could see babies being fed, then suddenly the nest was abandoned. We suspect the magpies might have had something to do with that.

They are pretty birds, but they do have a bad reputation...

The air keeps leaking out of our cats.
They tend to go flat every afternoon....for hours at a time.
Answer to Question 1: That is what was left of a peony after all the petals had fallen off!
Answer to Question 2: We were eating pizza at the little pizza parlor a block from our house. Every Wednesday evening people come and play blue grass in a jam session format.
They were really pretty darn entertainment with pizza!
Not that would have ever linked "pizza" with banjo, fiddle, electric slide guitar, mandolin, and bass fiddle music before.
But it is music that makes you want to tap your toes and do a little dance when you get up to grab another slice from the pizza buffet.
A great way to burn a few calories I'd say.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Before and After: Garden Bonsai Area

At the foot of the stairs leading up to the deck, and at the end of the concrete pad where the hot tub sits, there was this little corner of the garden. It never seemed to be anything but either mud or dust. Every step taken in the area seemed to result in a mud track into the house.
So we thought and discussed what we wanted to do about it.
We wanted a place where Bernie could work on his bonsai collection, and where the collection could be enjoyed from either viewed from above or below on the ground.

He had cobbled together a bit of a bench using some fencing that originally encircled the lower deck. We had been so happy that most of his bonsai shipped safely via UPS from Houston to here. And since then he has joined a bonsai club...which means we now have even more bonsai!
What to do...what to do. We wanted something low maintenance, yet organic looking.

Grass obviously wasn't going to work.

So we called this guy to come help us:

Moab is a town south of us...or is it north? Anyway, he and his gang showed up one morning and a couple of hours later....

The area looked like this!
After visiting several rock sales yards, and realizing that what was most important to me was being able to walk barefoot on the gravel without yelping "ouch ouch ouch" with each step, we went with "Spanish Pearl" a sandy colored washed 3/8th inch rock.
The piled ashler cut stone wall under the pine tree was an amazing co-incidence of opportunity: a neighbor was having her front planter torn out by the same guy who was going to do our little landscaping project. It is almost impossible to find that particular hand cut style stone any more.

The wall originally was a couple of wooden boards, and the stair steps just weren't there at all. Bernie selected the silver and greenish natural pavers to make a path through the gravel. A brick walkway still skirts the edge of the stairs, it will be easy to shovel it clear in winter.

After the crew was done, and the weekend came... Bernie began to build.

All the materials were found on the property. Very wabi sabi. (I'll explain that in another post.)

The view from the upper deck.

The word "bonsai" simply means potted. The artistry of the plants takes years to be developed. We have learned so much via this hobby, or I should say, I have learned a lot by watching and listening to Bernie as he ponders his plants and plans their training.

He planted this Japanese maple forest about five years ago using two year old cuttings. Each spring when the leaves unfurl he has strip them all off to make the growth go back into the trunks, and the secondary leaf growth is much smaller and in scale with what he is trying to do with the trees. I love seeing the forest turn color in the fall!
The forest was shipped via UPS from Houston to here; we fretted and hoped for the best. The forest thankfully did fine with being re-located.

A tiny pine in training to become curved specimen.

With a bit of patience and time, these plants could one day grace a garden a hundred years from now.
Pretty cool.
I'm thinking we will get a lot of enjoyment out of this corner of this garden for many years ourselves.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Before and After: Master Bedroom

(NOTE: I've reloaded the previously missing pictures now!)

The Master Bedroom BEFORE:

Master bedroom, in the front of the house. Yes...another room with two tone paint.
The "area rug" is made up of black carpet tiles. Ugh.
At least the tiles have protected the hardwood floor from scratches.

The room offered a single six foot long closet to share. We had been sharing a six foot closet in the apartment four months; we could do this...
(and use the closets in the other five bedrooms for rarely used or seasonally used clothes) it turned out it was easy to take the closet from the small bedroom on the other side of the wall, and make it into our second closet.

Once several coat of primer had covered the vibrate avocado and yellow walls, it was time to pick a paint color. I knew I wanted something close to peachy pink, thinking along the colors of a blush wine.

There was a brief flirtation with blue too...
For quite awhile the room was accessorized with a shop vac.
Isn't that a romantic touch to a master bedroom?
I can truthfully say that artistically it sucked...

The overhead light fixture puzzled me. It looked like a kitchen fixture, and fine '50's style one at that. But in a bedroom? just didn't tip my apple cart as the saying goes.

We moved into our master bedroom in Mid-March, the day after our furniture arrived.

The vivid pink is actually a coral, according to the Sherwin William name: Koral Kicks. It is a typical '50s bedroom color, but get this: the same color used to be used on the doorframe and other wooden places on the house exterior. Blink! Hard to imagine with brick!

The windows still needs curtains...and I am still thinking of a large black and white check, but for now it is good enough with the wood tone leveler blinds.

Bernie and I bought our oak bedroom set just before we got married 32 years ago.
The little ladder back chair with the woven rush seat is an antique that my mom got at a garage sale and refinished. The chair with the plant on it is a teak danish modern piece that I got here at a thrift shop for $5. I want to recover it, but for now it is a good sturdy chair.
There will be close-ups of the two pictures later.
I still like our bedroom set very much, however we have since changed the matching headboard to one that accommodates a king sized bed. We started with a queen sized bed, and it took years to find a bigger headboard that we like. We had only purchased one nightstand originally, later we found the two small black tables to compliment the new head board.
This is the view out of the narrow window when you are standing. We almost never pull the blinds as the windows are at chin level, and you'd have to push into the bushes in front of the house and stand on a small ladder to see in.
From the bed the view is to a mountain side. We loved waking up and seeing it covered with snow in the winter.
The two original 1954 closet doors. Aren't the patterns in the wood panels interesting?

My night stand. We are just using lamps that we had in the entry way in Houston, they aren't "just the thing" for this room, but they work for now and are kind of cute anyway.

The kitchen light fixture got replaced with this diffuser after B. installed a different style of light fixture. Pictured with the lights off.

Lit up: It has a lovely pinkish glow!

Good old is such fun to find retro ceiling lamp shades for a song!

More details: Bernie's grandfather's boot jack works to hold the door open. We leave the door open during the day, and want to make sure a breeze won't slam the door shut and lock the cats in by mistake.

I only stub my toes on it occasionally...

An old oil lamp that has been wired for electricity that my mom or dad got for me somewhere years ago. I found the cut work shade in La Mesa, Calif. years and years ago...that was the town where we lived for 14 years, and where Bernie grew up.

The little bird belonged to Bernie's grandmother, the one who owned the Japanese art. The bowl was a student art project at the college I worked at in Houston, and the bird eggs were from a nursery in Houston.

I find having accessories gatherer over time become a lovely way to remember people and places of my life.

The other window in the room looks into a fir tree and a scrub oak. The oak will turn beautiful colors in the fall, and fir tree is lovely covered in snow.
While the slope of our lot makes this a second story window, it still feels more private having the trees break up the view.

More details: on my nightstand is a box of lavender and Salt Lake salt that was a gift to each guest at our son's wedding. You can see Jeff and Rachel's name and wedding date wrapped around the box...the inspiration for the gift was lavender to represent the Sonoma area of their wedding and Salt Lake salt to represent the town where they met and would live together as husband and wife.

The idea is to use the mixture in cooking. I doubt I will ever do is too special just the way it is.

The picture over the ladder back chair is a photograph taken by Bernie at the Winchester House in San Jose. He took the picture during a family vacation, and I like it so much I had it enlarge, matted and framed. Little did we know when we visiting San Jose that we would later move there. Funny how things turn out.

On a trip to New Orleans Bernie and I were walking down a street in the French Quarters, and both of us glanced at a display of framed photographs in a shop window. We walked about a quarter of a block more before we looked at each other, and turned back to show each other the same picture that had caught our eye. We decided to buy it on the spot; it caught the mood of the French Quarter that pleased us most: a misty foggy morning before anyone is up and about. The lone cat sauntering home in the mid ground of the picture sealed the deal for us.

I can't wait to visit New Orleans again. Especially during the Christmas season...anytime in December it is just the best!

(I wish I could have taken this picture without the glare on the glass....)
The last picture is quite special as well. A woman who attends the church I grew up in is the artist. Georgianna Lipe began as a medical illustrator, and later focused on scenic watercolor. Over the years her pieces have become well know and much desired in the La Jolla community, and the paintings presented at a yearly show are quickly sold at even as the value of her works climb.
My parents purchased this painting as a special gift to us. It is of a walkway above La Jolla cove, with a couple that look a bit like us enjoying the view and the time together. My parents said it reminded them of us...and it brings us a memory of home each time we glance at it.
Turning a house of any age or condition into a home is a process. Adding accessories and memories from the past is part of making a room feel homey. We've only inhabited the master bedroom for four months, it still feels quite odd at times...we've never had our furniture arranged like this, there was no room for the mirror above my dresser, never before had hardwood touch our feet when we slide out of bed.
Eventually it will all become familiar. Eventually we will make memories in this house too, which will knit together with memories of other places, and will make this house become a home as well.