The term’s hard to translate into English, but basically, “wabi” suggests simple, natural, understated objects, while “sabi” represents the beauty that comes with age (or even decay).
Its roots lie in 14th-century Japan and its fabled tea ceremonies. The story goes that, one day, the Japanese emperor broke his favourite tea bowl; horrified when it was repaired with ugly metal staples, he asked his personal craftsmen to come up with something better. They invented a method of repairing china with resin and gold (known as kintsugi), so it looked lovelier than before it had been broken.
This idea of celebrating flaws and holding onto old objects was developed by the 16th-century Zen Buddhist philosopher and tea master Sen No Rikyu. He believed that living with few and simple possessions, marked by the signs of time, was the height of wisdom. It was a way of accepting life’s transience, making a link between the big concepts and the small things that surround us every day.
In Zen thinking, wabi-sabi’s essentially about the acceptance of death, but in terms of your home and life, it’s rather more positive: it means learning not to stress about things not being perfect, and being content with what you have rather than constantly craving newness.