Strange but True Parallels Between Old Japanese Style and Western

If you have wabi-sabi inclinations, finding this Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence feels like coming home. Most of us have been feeling the little-known philosophy’s likeness, whether we’ve known it or not, for the majority of our lives. That is because Western style changed toward a comparable wabi-sabi simplicity centuries past.

No-frills style has permeated all the significant Western design movements that still influence contemporary trends. The plain, efficient houses built by the utopian Shakers (the antithesis of the luxurious Georgian homes that were constructed since the usa got wealthier) along with the easy, unsentimental Arts and Crafts designs of William Morris and Gustav Stickley (a response to Victorian repression and the Industrial Revolution’s isolation), keep the wabi-sabi markers. As do Frank Lloyd Wright’s unadorned, compact Prairie houses — which he called”wallpapers for the life within their walls”– along with the Slow Design movement of now that urges designers to satisfy real needs over trend.

In another couple of weeks, I’ll Have a Look at Western design’s wabi-sabi-like historical path. Here I’ll analyze how a simpler fashion emerged in the mid- to late 18th century and the early 1900s, when industrialization was forcing paradigm changes that heavily influenced design.


In the mid- to late 18th century, the Shaker aesthetic — showing that an ascetic pursuit of simplicity and efficiency that was free of decoration and embellishment — took hold. Westerners were attracted to the style, which was just a look; it was actually prescribed at the Shaker holy orders. Beadings, moldings and cornices that are only for elaborate might not be created by believers, goes the edict.


Chester Console Table – $97.98

When Japanese architect Tadao Ando first seen the USA in the 1970s, he wrote home about Shaker furniture. He admired its extreme simplicity and reserve, which he said had a controlling and ordering influence on the surroundings (high praise from a man who designs the surroundings). “Technically, the furniture was made without a waste of any kind,” he wrote. “At the excellent diversity of modern times, to experience objects representing an extreme simplification of life and form was very refreshing.”

William Morris Compton Wallpaper

In 1889 housekeeping expert Emma Hewitt called surplus, cluttered Victorian decor”the American disorder” and urged homemakers to”have beauty only in which it’s needed and appropriate.” As the telegraph, railroads and steam electricity accelerated stuffy and everything, brocaded Victorian parlors signaled riches and standing, William Morris began his campaign for a return to handmade quality and the passing of inessential decoration. This ideal is at the origin of wabi-sabi, too.

Morris — a socialist whose naturally dyed, hand-printed backgrounds (one is shown here) were cherished by the robber barons — railed publicly and prolifically against what he called the”swinish luxury of the wealthy,” decorative surplus (“gaudy gilt furniture writhing under a sense of its horror and ugliness,” he explained ) and also the poverty of people who lacked imagination. “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” he said — now one of the most often-repeated lines at home decorating.

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Morris despised fussy, cluttered Victorian decor, and he was a vocal critic of houses being constructed during the era. “It is common today to hear people say of such and such a piece of nation or suburb:’Ah! It was so beautiful a season or so ago, but it’s been quite spoilt by the construction,”’ he wrote. “Forty decades ago the construction could have been looked on as a vast improvement; today we have grown conscious of the hideousness we are generating, and we proceed on producing it.”

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Morris urged his pupils and disciples to continuously seek beauty in life’s mundane details. “For when a man cannot find the noblest motives for his artwork in such simple daily things as a woman drawing water from the well or a man cooperating with his scythe, he won’t find them anywhere at all,” he said. “What you really do love are your men and women, your flowers and areas, your hills and mountains, and all these are what your artwork should represent to you.”

Saying that a well-shaped bread loaf and a beautifully set table were works of art as good as the day’s revered masterpieces, Morris’ successor as the Arts and Crafts pioneer, W.R. Lethaby, claimed that modern society was”overly concerned with notions of genius and fantastic performers to appreciate common things of life designed and executed by common people.”

His and others’ appreciation for the beauty in everyday life resides now. I believe this simple, beautiful bowl of blueberries could make Lethaby and wabi-sabi followers grin.

Stickley Furniture

As the top spokesman for the American Craftsman movement, which evolved from England’s Arts and Crafts movement, Gustav Stickley attracted easy, creatively made furniture to the American masses at the end of the 19th century.

Stickley employed”only those forms and substances which cause simplicity, individuality, and dignity of impact,” he said. He and his family lived in a simple log cabin, of which he wrote:”First, there is the bare beauty of the logs themselves with their long lines and firm curves. Then there is the open allure felt of these structural features which aren’t concealed under plaster and decoration, but are clearly revealed, a charm felt in Western architecture.”

Because This picture demonstrates, Stickley’s easy, classic furniture remains a staple in homes Across the World.

Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

Victorian clutter and crafts and crafts simplicity managed to reside side by side for several decades, before Frank Lloyd Wright wedged his wabi-sabi-like notions about organic architecture deep into the American mind in the early 20th century.

Rooms should be”wallpapers for the life within their walls,” said Wright in describing the compact fashion, with a noticeable absence of decoration and decoration, of his Prairie houses. Just to be certain nobody missed this stage (people rarely did), he added emphatically,”And no junk!”

More: 4 Obstacles to Decluttering — and How to Beat Them

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