It’s a Japanese concept of aesthetic values, popularized in the 15th century. Wabi-Sabi refers to a state of not only ignoring imperfection, but finding beauty in it. It’s about embracing things that are worn, asymmetrical, or otherwise beautifully flawed.
There is no perfect translation to English, but that’s sort of fitting. Writer Richard Powell says that Wabi-Sabi, “nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
We think there’s profound peace in this acknowledgement. How lovely to think that an extra wrinkle or a chipped teacup or a building that has witnessed generations of comings and goings is not flawed. Instead, those things are to be appreciated for what they represent about the natural cycle of growth, wear, and history.
Whether knowingly or not, much of our culture outright rejects Wabi-Sabi. This is evident in the boom of tearing down old houses to put up new ones that all look exactly alike. It’s evident in our tendency to discard anything that’s torn, old, chipped, or frayed, in favor of something brand new.
We’re not faulting people for wanting shiny and new. We just want to make a distinction between “new” and “beautiful.”
At Commonwealth Properties, Wabi-Sabi is deeply ingrained into the work we do everyday. We identify, rescue, restore, and re-open historic properties. These spaces don’t need to be bulldozed in order to be beautiful. They already have ornate architecture and overwhelming historic charm. Instead, they are to be appreciated and loved as they are, and given appropriate levels of elbow grease to help them showcase their original beauty.
There is no substitute for the plasterwork, the marble detailing and the etched woodwork in these buildings. Even if we were start from scratch and create exact replicas of these historic properties, they wouldn’t be nearly the same.
Have you ever stood inside a brand-new model home and thought, “If these walls could talk…”?
Neither have we.
On the other hand, St. Paul’s Commodore Hotel, which hosted Al Capone and his buddies—we’d like to hear those walls talk. Those walls are meticulously restored, but they retain an immutable sense of Wabi-Sabi. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.