We found this image in Ranch Houses: Living the California Dream. It’s from Park McDonald’s renovation of the Schaeffer Residence, designed in 1948 by John Lautner, a highly influential architects of the 20th century. We love the trees that appear to be unexpectedly cracking through the deck, a lovely bit of wabi-sabi, that “breaks” the perfect design. Perhaps it’s our recent reading of Leonard Koren’s classic, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers that makes us view the trees through this lens. This little book has been greatly influencing our thinking.

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

It is a beauty of thing unconventional.


Most interesting is Koren’s comparison of the DIFFERENCES between wabi-sabi and modernism, two concepts that have often been compared and misunderstood, as we saw so dramatically in the Greenwich Hotel’s multi-million dollar penthouse suite renovation designed by Axel Vervoordt.

Koren/Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers & Philosophers
Koren/Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers & Philosophers

In this light, we’re thinking the image above isn’t true wabi-sabi, because it clearly “believes in the control of nature”, within a highly-controlled environment no less. Reading Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers makes us realize that wabi-sabi is radical concept with embraces being comfortable with ambiguity, contradiction and the impossibility of control, and “perfect immateriality”, lessons we learn daily.

We’ve found the most powerful examples of the marriage of modernism and wabi-sabi in true mid-century houses like those featured in Artists’ Handmade Houses

Our favorite: Also Russel Wright’s Manitoga, a moderne sideboard with dramatic rocks for legs. “The reversible Formica doors on the living room cabinet below are red on one side––for fall and winter––and white on the other––for spring and summer.”

Don Freeman
Don Freeman

More of THAT kind of wabi-sabi here. 


See a whole house tour of the Schaeffer House at  Remodelista

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