Every philosophy spawns multiple interpretations. The more I study wabi-sabi, the ancient Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence, the more I see that it lends itself to a wealth of definitions and delineations, and each layer gives the thinking depth. Andre Rothblatt, a San Francisco residential architect, interprets the wabi-sabi philosophy in his designs by simplifying spaces to reveal the beauty of their natural essence.
“Wabi-sabi can be roughly translated as ‘rustic,’ but it is as difficult to define as the word ‘music,’” Rothblatt says. “Wabi-sabi is a concept that guides one’s perception to find great beauty in the poetry of simple objects and an appreciation for how the effects of time and forces of nature can enhance the beauty of objects.”
Rothblatt says wabi-sabi can be as simple as crackling leaves in autumn, a chip in a vase, or an aged piece of driftwood. But, he points to the first line of the Tao Te Ching, which states, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.” The same is true with wabi-sabi, he says. “It requires contemplation, meditation and then silence to get a better understanding.”
“What wabi-sabi looks like in my work can best be described as simplicity,” Rothblatt explains. “I engineer each space with craftsmanship and employ natural materials such as wood to create a holistic environment that’s not cookie-cutter or slick. It’s my hope that my designs feel comfortable, natural and warm. People describe my work as restrained and simple, even boring, but to me there’s a purity to stripping down a space to its bare essence, eschewing ornamentation and leaving what is needed and meaningful.”
Andrew Rothblatt designed this bedroom as a place where simplicity creates a serene and peaceful ambiance. The wood beams and ceiling add warmth. Photo by Ken Gutmaker
In this design, Rothblatt’s Tansu inspired stairs feature contrasting wood tones. Photo by Ken Gutmaker
Rothblatt added asymmetric illuminated niches as visual interest on a stair landing. Photo by Marija Vidal