Achieving Wabi-Sabi Outdoors

Posted February 21, 2019 in Landscape Design

Wabi-sabi…so fun to say, but what is it?  Stemming from traditional Japanese values, this term is a world-view centered on the acceptance of imperfection.  Wabi contains the root “wa”, which refers to harmony, peace and tranquility; sabi means “the bloom of time”, which connotes a natural progression.  In a world that seems to be obsessed with the pursuit of perfection and excess, wabi-sabi offers a simpler and more authentic mindset and outlook.  This concept can be translated into what is known as the Slow Design movement, which aims to slow down and satisfy real needs rather than market-driven needs by savoring moments and designing for people’s love and enjoyment first and foremost.

Wabi-sabi fully welcomes and embraces the aging process, accepting the theory that objects grow more fascinating and beautiful as they weather.  Typically, this can be seen in peeling paint, rusty gates, weather-worn fences…etc.  However, we believe that there can be a hybrid-wabi-sabi of sorts, for those who appreciate the simplistic and rustic wabi-sabi aesthetic and philosophy, but don’t want their outdoor living investments to deteriorate over time.  This can be achieved through careful design and material selection.

Cliché or not, you should regard your home as your sanctuary and treat it as such.  The first step in achieving a wabi-sabi outdoor living space should be to accept the notion that a clutter-free space is also free of distraction.  A minimalist approach is revered as clean and unapologetic, leaving more room for enjoyment than…stuff.  So instead of feeling that an outdoor living space needs to incorporate all outdoor features to keep up with the next door neighbor’s backyard, fall in love with the idea of creating and outdoor space that fits your family, your home and your lifestyle.

As we all know, one way to experience pure enjoyment outside is by means of a fire feature.  While stainless steel and other sleek materials do not fit into the wabi-sabi aesthetic, there are plenty of choices that do.  For those who seek a particularly rich and rustic material, corten steel is your ticket.  This steel has an alloy application which creates an oxidized surface which creates a rust-like appearance yet resistant to deeper atmospheric corrosion.  For a little cleaner look, reclaimed granite works fabulously in fire feature construction.  Recycled from structures of the past like old churches or school buildings, these slabs are not always clean cut and come with their own unique history, perfect for outdoor living and an additional livable chapter.

Another beautiful material that can speak to the outdoor wabi-sabi aesthetic can be found in earthy colors with perfect imperfections, we can only be talking about reclaimed barnwood!  Stemming from humble beginnings, this material has so much potential in a new outdoor living setting.  From uses as wall, beam and post cladding to durable planters and versatile furniture, this material essentially sings its bucolic roots and serves as a gentle reminder to be content in simplicity.

The garden is also an obvious and natural place to embrace wabi-sabi by learning to perfect the balance of nature and nurture.  One would think that embracing imperfections and allowing nature to run the show would mean that a wabi-sabi garden is a no-maintenance endeavor, but it’s actually the exact opposite.  To let any garden do its own thing, a few months down the line you will notice that everything has run amok and on the brink of organic chaos.  There is a fine art to creating a garden that feels close to nature with little notice that it has been carefully planned.  Native plants in a variety of hues with different bloom times will ensure that your outdoor living space will have constant color and prolific blossoms.

To balance the softness of the surrounding foliage, try to incorporate boulders throughout the landscaping or garden.  Boulders lend a beautiful natural structure to any landscape, creating a harmonious atmosphere.  Sticking with the idea of natural rock in the landscape, for those who have a penchant for relaxation, talk to your landscape designer about natural rock water features.  Basalt spires or limestone boulders are great selections for custom water features.  Soft trickling water tends to drown out surrounding unwanted sounds like light traffic or noisy neighbors which further adds to a wabi-sabi outdoor oasis.

As far as accents and decorations, try to keep these to a minimum as well.  In this application, less is definitely more, but the pieces you do select for your space should be meaningful.  Feel free to bring out your daughter’s first hand-crafted ceramic vase and fill with sprigs of lavender growing in the garden while you snuggle up in your favorite blanket from your childhood.  If certain pieces have personal meaning to you, they definitely belong in your new peaceful space.

Keep in mind that this concept is not to have simplicity for simplicity’s sake, it’s about recognizing the beauty around you, celebrating authenticity, having a sense of order and welcoming the air of calm into your space.  This may not come naturally to you at first, but with a little practice, your space will become imperfectly perfect.

Serving the Poconos, Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to chat about all options and possibilities for your outdoor living space!  When you are ready to uncover the true potential of your property and create a unique outdoor living space to perfectly fit your family and your lifestyle, reach out to MasterPLAN!  We would love to partner with you and welcome you into the MasterPLAN family.

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