In many parts of the world that which is old and imperfect is more highly cherished and valued than that which is new. Brand new Turkish rugs are often abraded before selling, their colors softened by dealers eager to increase their price by having them appear imperfect, used, showing their history. In Persian, they call these qualities “abrash.” It’s a wonderful word that succinctly expresses a deeply held attitude about the beauty and value of imperfection, and its power to reconnect us with the past in a surprisingly profound way. It echoes the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi.
A green oak cabin in the heart of urban Bristol in the UK is an exemplary “abrash” family retreat (above), built with the help of a local designer. Note the salvaged, as-is materials for the bed and cupboards; the headboard is made from the rough wood palettes that transported the sedum for their green, living roof. Mugs and cooking utensils hang from a rack made from a battered old ladder. Nothing matches, yet everything feels perfect.
Seeking “abrash” in today’s interior decorating world is like swimming against the tide in an ocean awash in Ikea furniture, blinding chrome, faux marble, and tangerine plastic. Before we commit ourselves to redesigning our spaces with bright/shiny/new, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder the value of the old, the broken, the imperfect. Faded and worn-in-spots 1940’s Turkish tribal rugs imbue an otherwise sleek, minimalist interior with warmth, lending ambience and a touch of human history impossible to achieve with commercially-produced, over-the-counter, comes-in-a-box, credit card decor.
Designer Anna Bonde blows ‘abrash’ OTT in this highly sophisticated room, whose every detail appears improvisational, yet is part of a carefully orchestrated celebration of understated nonchalance.
Details like this fabric embellished cupboard door abound in Bonde’s designs. She hoards overflowing boxes of collected textiles in her house in Provence, saying, “Some are very special, rare and valuable, some are not so special and may be torn and have holes in them. But they are still pretty, and I like to keep them until I can find a way to use them.” She found an ingenious solution to displaying this irregularly shaped fragment of painted canvas by simply nailing it on a cupboard door like a framed painting.
On a leafy walk street in Venice, this ad-hoc garden gate was a DIY project, a hodge-podge pastiche of beat-up materials built with the help of a few local artisans.The carved doors have been refitted with ironwork, the knockers were dredged from a dumpster, the bronze flowers unscrewed from a discarded bureau drawer, and the wood surrounding the gates was scavenged from a shed that was being torn down nearby. Set into a tidy green fence, it welcomes and deflects vistors with riggish grace and panache.
Before you plunge into a redecorating spree to rejuvenate your space – indoors or out – why not take a walkabout and observe the beauty of “abrash.” It’s all around us if we but peel our eyeballs from our mobile devices. Bonus: maybe you’ll stumble upon an imperfect treasure to lug home that’s perfect for your project.
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