VOLUME 1RIs Wabi-Sabi the Best Way to Decorate a Home?By Shamontiel L. Vaughn
(Jalyn Edwards contributed to this post.)When Realtors have shown tenants back-to-back locations, after a while, these places may start to look the same. That is, unless something stands out about one over the others. Maybe it’s the neighborhood, the cabinets, or the texture of the walls or floors. Something about the place has to feel like “home” in order to want to move in.

But once the tenant application is approved, the closing costs are paid and the move-in boxes are ready to be unpacked, now it’s time to spice the place up. Could the earthy, muted interior palette of wabi-sabi be the added touch that a new rental needs?

Read on to find out what it is, its pros and cons, and how to incorporate it into homes.

What Is Wabi-Sabi?Wabi-sabi is an ancient principle that loosely translates as wisdom in natural simplicity—or flawed beauty. According to Japan Objects, the term “wabi” refers to “the appreciation of a serene life.” “Sabi” refers to “the delightful contemplation of what is old and worn.” The aesthetics are deeply rooted in Japanese history that (arguably) cannot be duplicated in today’s age. However, some notable features can serve as interior design inspiration.

Zen RootsWabi-sabi has its origins in a Zen-inspired tea ceremony popularized in the 16th century by tea master Sen no Rikyu. The legend goes that Rikyu reached out to a recognized tea master named Takeeno Joo to help him understand the codes of the ancestral ritual of a tea ceremony. When asked to take care of the garden, Rikyu cleaned immaculately. Then, he shook a cherry tree, and sakura flowers fell on the ground. Although decorative, it was neatly imperfect. From that, the concept of wabi-sabi was born.

Incorporating Wabi-Sabi In the HomeSo how can tenants create wabi-sabi in their own homes?

First, keep in mind that wabi-sabi aesthetics disregard machine-made perfection in favor of natural materials, organic asymmetry, and flaws in furniture and accessories from everyday wear and tear. Rentals with neutral paint colors are already on the right track.

The color scheme of wabi-sabi is composed of browns, greys, beige and natural green.
Wabi-sabi is anything but flashy accent walls and statement furniture. Consider simple interiors that appear lived-in rather than extravagantly styled: worn door handles, handmade pottery and bare brick walls. Cobblestone walkways, stone countertops and worn floorboards give that touch of familiarity and comfort that the style is known for too.

However, finding joy in minor imperfections does not equal messiness. Wabi-sabi leans more toward vintage appreciation—scuffs, collectibles and blemishes that a home collects over the years. (Of course, there’s a fine line between scuffs and blemishes versus an inattentive landlord. Tenants will quickly figure out the difference.)

Buying On a BudgetA couple of trips to a local farmers market or thrift store may be all a tenant needs for budget-friendly add-ons. Look for affordable pieces like linen sofas, full-grain leather chairs, mismatching nightstands, antique dinnerware and stoneware bowls.

While Generation X and Baby Boomer shoppers may already be savvy at spotting these kinds of vintage décor gems, Millennials and Generation Zers are taking notes as well. According to the New York Times, demand for antique and vintage pieces were on the rise during the pandemic. Antique items like rugs, desks and table lamps alone were in demand anywhere from 20% to 80% on the online marketplace 1stDibs.com. Budget shoppers may luck up on surprising gems also.

In a recent Good News Network story, one shopper (in England) bought a wooden chair for 5 euros (or $5.72) from a junk shop. That simple chair was worth more than 16,000 euros ($18,317.65) because of its checkerboard pattern linked to Austrian graphic artist Koloman Moser (who died in 1918). She found this out simply from having it appraised.

Does the ‘Worn’ Look Make Sense for the Home?Interior design trends change, and so do houses. In Florida, Mediterranean homes (think of screen porches, private balconies, heated pools, tennis courts) were typical in 2017, according to Insider. Meanwhile, modern homes (visualize eye-catching horizontal and vertical lines, and chrome, steel or glass designs) were most prevalent in Texas.

By 2020, the National Association of REALTORS confirmed that the most popular house style in both states is the modern farmhouse—sleek, contemporary lines with a country-living feel on the inside.

Regardless of the type of home, and whether the lease is for a short-term stay or longer residency, another perk of wabi-sabi is its minimalist theme. There’s an added comfort in the “less is more” vibe of designing in this way. And come move-out day, it’ll be that much easier to pack again.