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5 Ways to Bring the Wabi-Sabi Style Into Your Kitchen Design

white kitchen worn beams frieze
Photo credit: @allabouthomes_ via Kitchens_of_Insta

One of the biggest kitchen design trends for 2018 is going to be decor, finishes, and furnishings inspired by the wabi-sabi style. If you’re thinking “What’s that?” you’re not alone.

Wabi-sabi is difficult to translate directly, but it’s a Japanese term rooted in the Zen Buddhist philosophy of finding beauty in imperfection.

To put it another way, in the modern home, wabi-sabi is all about keeping it real.

We think this aesthetic is ideal for the kitchen, because really, when is your kitchen ever perfect? As the center of the home where we cook, eat, feed the dog, open mail, entertain, clean up kids, and work. The kitchen always has a little disarray going.

Instead of striving for perfection, in 2018, you’ll see more kitchen designers selecting finishes and materials that capture and celebrate slight imperfections and variations in texture and finish. Here are five ways to bring the wabi-sabi look into your kitchen – and the rest of your home.

1. Patinated Metal Finishes

There’s always been something pleasing about copper surfaces turning to verdigris overtime or the uneven speckled pattern on plain galvanized metal buckets. Now, that dappled verdigris finish is showing up on statement hardware. Look for brass, bronze, and copper with an uneven patina. You can even buy a kit that gives your metal hardware a time-worn look in an instant. 

patina brass drawer pulls by Studio Dearborn
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn 

2. Rustic Textures

Reclaimed barn timber changed the look of interior design a decade ago, and now there’s more interest than ever in character woods and other surfaces with texture. Think natural planed pine with all its knots and burls, live-edge timber that shows the bark and long-grain, and distressed wood flooring or furniture full of purposeful nicks and dents. Unusual and affordable woods with beautiful grains include black locust, macacauba and katalox, according to The Wood Database. And with a satin finish, these natural textures look stunning when the light hits them just right; check out this Jean-Pascal Lévy Trumet kitchen that Cordelia Fox posted on Instagram.

wabi-sabi wood kitchen
Photo credit: Cordelia Fox Design

3. Worn Paint Finishes

Imperfect and uneven paint finishes are a staple of the farmhouse kitchen style, as well as modern industrial decor. But they’re becoming more at home in traditional and modern kitchens, too. Add some charm with a wall that features distressed glaze, a breakfront cabinet or kitchen table with paint worn off the edges, or well-loved cabinetry in the picture at right shared by The Buttermilk Rose. On the left, a Joanna Gaines kitchen shows how slightly unpainted concrete walls can evoke a velvety texture and movement. 

worn paint effects
Photo credit left to right: Joanna Gaines and The Buttermilk Rose

4. Open Shelving and Storage

The open shelving look has been growing in popularity, and it fits perfectly with wabi-sabi’s devotion to realness and imperfection. Reena of Hygge for Home in Australia is a master at artful open storage. Her cozy white-and-black kitchen features magnetic knife storage strips, a wall-mounted pot rack, and a cup rack conveniently by the range, a utensil pegboard (just like Julia Child), and lots of open shelves with Mason jars filled with beans, flour, and other staples. Don’t you just want to grab a seat on that bench?

open storage kitchen Hygge for Home
Photo credit: Hygge for Home

5. Relaxed and Rumpled Accessories

Kitchen accessories, such as linens and tableware, are another easy way to add a touch of wabi-sabi spirit to your kitchen. Über food and kitchen decor site Food 52 has elevated artfully wrinkled tablecloths and napkins to one of their visual signatures. And hand-thrown pottery, with uneven glaze and imperfect shape, can add so much texture – whether it’s from Japan or your kid’s art class. We’re taken with the special Japanese pottery called kintsugi that shows love to broken objects by repairing cracks with gold-leaf glue. Bring this look into your own home with natural linen tea towels and napkins (if it’s wrinkled it’s right), handmade pottery, tarnished flatware, or even a simple wildflower bouquet gathered by hand.

wabi sabi kitchen towels, grout, pottery, linen
Photos credit clockwise: deVOL Kitchens, Denis Kabanov, and Food52

We love the way embracing the imperfection of wabi-sabi takes the pressure off and gives the kitchen a relaxed feel – and our clients do, too. It’s also a daily reminder that uniqueness and quirks make the design – and people – so much more endearing and inviting.