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Wabi-Sabi Wednesday: Soothing Colors

7/6/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: wabi-sabi, Wabi-Sabi Wednesday, Simply Imperfect, color, interior design, milk paint

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailOn Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, which was released last month. 

“Be rather restrained than over-luxurious in color, or you weary the eye.”  —William Morris.                             

 Japanese tradition holds that bright colors tire the eye—which then tires the body and soul. Wabi-sabi borrows its hues from late autumn: soft slate grays and matte golds, with occasional spots of rust breaking the subtle spectrum. In the absence of spring and summer’s brilliant color palette—in autumn’s soft, low light—these colors allow the eye to relax.  

Wabi-sabi is sinewy, flecked browns and yellowed greens, the myriad stone and moss shades, a slate-gray cloud’s washed violet underside. Like nature, wabi-sabi paints in multidimensional swatches that are never what they appear to be. A gray stone slab, close up, is speckled with crystalline bits, ranging from deep and dark to almost white, with orange and red washed gracefully into the larger scheme of quiet, recessive color. You have to look closely and carefully, and you still might not find all the colors that make up the monolith. Seeing color this way will also teach you to see.  


Eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin captured wabi-sabi light, color and mood in his domestic still life paintings. 

You can wash your walls with wabi-sabi color. Instead of synthetic paint in never-from-nature colors, use milk paint or natural paint, made from food-safe plants and minerals. Milk paint is made from milk protein (casein), pigments, lime and clay. Used for centuries, it gives a subtle, muted color wash that was common on 18th-century homes and barns. Natural or organically derived paints are made from essential oils, tree resins, beeswax and mineral pigments. Because they’re derived from plants, natural pigment colors are more subtle—like nature’s. 

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