How to Be Wabi-Sabi with Western Things

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailIn 1960, House Beautiful magazine ran two special issues devoted to shibui, the spare, restrained style referred to variously as “the cultivation of the little” or “the cult of the subdued.” Very similar to wabi-sabi, shibui is the ancient Japanese art of not too much, of quiet grace through economy of means. “Discover Shibui: The Word for the Highest Level in Beauty” (August 1960) and “How to Be Shibui with American Things” (September 1960)—two special issues that deciphered this Japanese concept of “severe good taste” and “superb understatement”—sold out immediately.

To help Americans understand shibui, House Beautiful developed this list of shibui things. They could also be considered wabi-sabi.


18th-century captain’s chests 

early american cupboard 

Early American cupboards, blanket chests, and trestle tables/Photo courtesy of Sylehive 

oaxan jar 

Oaxacan black clay jars 


Shaker furniture/photo by Matt Jiggins/flickr 


18th-century pewter 

salt glaze pottery 

Salt-glaze pottery/photo by Mike Pugh/Flickr