In design circles the word imperfect is the new eclectic, but it has been in my vocabulary for as long as I can remember. In fact it goes back to the 3rd grade when Sister Ignatius told us that there was no way to attain perfection here on earth. What a relief, I thought.
This was my first lesson in seeing the futility of anything, environments in particular, that could be portrayed as impeccable, pristine, or flawless. Perhaps it’s my defense mechanism compensating for not wanting to spend the time, effort, or money required to contrive and maintain perfection. Imperfection’s appeal is that it is far less demanding. Three of my idols profess similar feelings.
With French decorator and antique dealer extraordinaire Madeleine Castaing I share her taste in color, pattern and style. But, where our decorating DNA converges best is in our mutual disdain for perfection. Castaing was not afraid of faded dustcovers or frayed carpets, believing that the worn and a melange of styles “plunge a place into life.”
Illustrious interior decorator Billy Baldwin observed that some people were not secure enough to change or move anything once the decorator departed. Baldwin encouraged his clients to avoid the “sterility of perfection” by adding their own personal identity to the rooms they inhabited.
My admiration for Henri Matisse increased when I learned why he preferred the Spanish painter El Greco over his compadre Velazques. Matisse described Velazques as “too perfect, too skillful,” while in El Greco, “there is soul everywhere.”
As I was composing this Blog I came across the philosophy of wabi-sabi. It is newsworthy in the world of design the way feng shui became the hot topic more than a decade ago. Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic view of the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. As described on Wikipedia, wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object a greater meditative value. Similarly, materials that age, such as bare wood, paper and fabric, become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be explained over time.
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.