Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 8, 2017
Wabi-sabi ... just my style
Friend Pat and I went on the local Holiday Home Tour last Sunday. I always enjoy seeing the different interior design styles and hope they will inspire my holiday decorating. It didn't hurt that it was a sunny day with temperatures in the 60s. It seemed more like spring or early fall than December.
Pat and I agreed to meet at what had been the Keats Rural High School. It opened in 1916, but closed during school consolidations in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was home to an antiques and collectibles shop for a short time, and then was vacant.
In 2009, a couple bought and renovated it, transforming the schoolhouse into a combination home and business. It was the one I especially wanted to see because I pass it nearly every day and always wonder how one could make large classrooms, locker rooms and a gym into a livable space.
Eryn and Jeff kept the original hardwood floors, several light fixtures, some lockers, a built-in trophy case, a water fountain, and a slate chalkboard now used as a back-splash in the kitchen.
The library and study hall were transformed into an open living area. The typing room became the kitchen. The teachers’ lunchroom is where Eryn now homeschools their children. The home economics room became Jeff’s office. A locker room on the lower level is the family’s recreation room.
Eryn’s interior design business is centered in the former gymnasium. The stage is part of the show room and the rest is a warehouse.
The whole building was open and cheerful, decorated with greens, wood accents and nativity sets. I was definitely won over by the conversion, loving the openness.
The next home had traditional Southern elements, including square pillars, a dramatic entry with two curved staircases, and a playroom, complete with a caboose bed and large dollhouse made by the owner for their children. Lace angels and many other types of ornaments decorated eight Christmas trees. I overheard someone say that the owners had been working on the decorations since September!
The third was billed as “Modern-Meets-Midwest” and featured solid hardwood doors, a quartz kitchen island, large family photos, and contemporary artwork by local and area artists. A highlight was a theater room with black leather reclining seats and framed movie posters on the walls.
The last was a “craftsman-style bungalow” with knotty cherry and knotty pine cabinetry and ceiling beams inspired by the owner’s childhood home. The copper-topped dining table held “Christmas Tree” pottery.
As we went from house to house, I couldn’t help but compare them to our home. I like antiques, my South American art and textile collections, family photos, our daughters’ and Mom’s artwork, seashells, rustic artifacts from our farm, and vintage ornaments. So what kind of decorating style is that? Traditional? Global? Beach? Farm?
Then it struck me. It’s “wabi-sabi!”
I had never heard the term until a couple of weeks ago when I read “Wabi-sabi will be the decor trend of 2018” in the local newspaper. According to the article, it is a Japanese world view that celebrates imperfection.
Ah, I nailed that!
I will even be in fashion. Etsy trend forecaster Dayna Isom Johnson says Wabi-sabi will be big in home décor this coming year.
No matter your personal style, there is one key factor to nailing this trend for your home design: Find the beauty in the not-so-perfect. Accepting the idea that your home does not have to be showroom-ready is all it takes. Keep it real, be authentic, and be happy that for once you don’t have to make your bed to be cool.
I’m good with that - except the part about not making my bed. I make it every morning. If I accomplish nothing else in a day, I can look at it and say, “I did that!"
Leonard Koren, author of “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,” says wabi-sabi is “ ... the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”
The things that “spoke” to me on the home tour were all related to wabi-sabi: the original brick work and floors of the old schoolhouse, the homemade ornaments, the family photos, the children’s artwork, the items from the owners’ pasts.
Later, I reflected on an episode of writer Rod Serling’s decades-ago television show, “The Twilight Zone.” In it, a ne’er-do-well died and in the afterlife, he finds himself in a place of perfection. The weather is always comfortable, the food is invariably excellent and so on. Initially, the only thing that puzzles him was how someone who was so undeserving ended up in Heaven.
But as the days pass, the endless perfection of his situation begins to wear and each day becomes less and less enjoyable. He eventually expresses that he never imagined Heaven to be so unpleasant. He is quickly informed that he wasn’t in Heaven, but was instead in the place he had deserved.
Perfection is one kind of beauty. Yet it is the departures from perfection that make each person, landscape, and even a home unique, and so, something we can connect with. We all need wabi-sabi in our lives.
Pat and Gloria on the steps of the school home.