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De­sign­ers are turn­ing away from the mass-pro­duced and uni­form to em­brace the Ja­panese aes­thetic of im­per­fect beauty

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - KAREN McCART­NEY

In­te­rior de­sign: the idea of im­per­fec­tion. The Closet; Hot Buy.

It is an in­ter­est­ing state of affairs when the next wave of de­sign tal­ent takes on an an­cient phi­los­o­phy such as wabi-sabi, which cel­e­brates a con­nec­tion to na­ture, the bro­ken, unloved, the coarse and un­re­fined, but does it in a way that, in some cases, em­ploys the most con­tem­po­rary of pro­cesses. While some of the out­put is el­e­gant, other pieces are about the fas­ci­nat­ing de­sign jour­ney and how a strange, of­ten un­gainly, beauty re­sults. They do, in the words of Leonard Koren, il­lus­trate the idea that “beauty can be coaxed out of ug­li­ness”.

The in­ven­tion of the cam­era, and the sub­se­quent rise in the ac­cu­racy of record­ing the world in pho­to­graphic im­ages, saw paint­ing move from re­al­ism to the cap­tur­ing of vis­ual im­pres­sions in a more at­mo­spheric form. In the same way, the abil­ity to achieve man­u­fac­tur­ing per­fec­tion has driven a yearn­ing for some­thing beaten up, ir­reg­u­lar or even dam­aged in our lives. Some­thing with char­ac­ter, heart, a past life or a clev­erly in­vented new one.

The love of ob­jects and art that im­part the mark of the maker is noth­ing new, but it is find­ing a new in­ten­sity and a new plat­form. Home­wares com­pa­nies that pro­duce hun­dreds of thou­sands of items at the press of a but­ton want to part­ner with mak­ers so that some of the re­flected warmth from a hand­made cush­ion (of which there are only 12) or a blan­ket that takes a week to knit add a layer of the gen­uine and the heart­felt to com­mer­cial prod­uct.

There is noth­ing wrong with this de­sire to el­e­vate and pro­mote the craftsper­son but it does tell us that there is a broad yearn­ing among the buy­ing pub­lic for in­di­vid­ual items made with cre­ativ­ity and care. As trend fore­caster Li Edelkoort notes: “It is time to em­power goods with a new di­men­sion, their own char­ac­ter, an in­vis­i­ble en­ergy locked into the de­sign process.”

One ap­proach is to ac­quire some­thing that has gained its char­ac­ter through use, its dents and scrapes, marks and ero­sions through the ef­fects of

‘Things wabi-sabi of­ten ap­pear odd, mis­shapen, awk­ward, or what many peo­ple would con­sider ugly. Things wabi-sabi may ex­hibit the ef­fects of ac­ci­dent, like a bowl glued back to­gether again’ LEONARD KOREN WABI-SABI FOR ARTISTS, DE­SIGN­ERS, PO­ETS & PHILOSO­PHERS

ac­ci­dent in­di­cat­ing it has led a use­ful life. There is sen­sory plea­sure in the much-han­dled spoon, the bowl with a mend, the worn tim­ber stool or door han­dle. Aus­tralian ar­chi­tect Richard Le­plas­trier, who has a strong ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Ja­panese aes­thetic, once said that a house is not at its best when first oc­cu­pied, but only at­tains its op­ti­mal beauty when it is used with love.

Even at a more pro­saic level, a good in­te­rior de­signer knows that the in­tro­duc­tion of the worn leather chair, the vin­tage light and the indigo throw with vis­i­ble mends adds ku­dos to the newly minted, no mat­ter how ex­pen­sive. Hence, along­side the be­spoke and one-off craft pieces, a num­ber of de­sign­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with in-built im­per­fec­tion as the cen­tral de­sign driver.

In 2009, Dutch de­signer Maarten Baas launched his Stan­dard Unique chair for Es­tab­lished & Sons, with the ex­pla­na­tion firmly em­bed­ded in its name. Tak­ing the form of a clas­sic Dutch kitchen chair in tim­ber, he cre­ated 16 vari­able parts that can be con­fig­ured in an in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of ways. The chairs have a wonky char­ac­ter that is both con­sis­tent and play­ful, and com­bines the feel­ing of hand-sculpted tim­ber with the ac­cu­racy of some­thing mass-pro­duced.

An­other piece, which goes one step fur­ther in de­fy­ing rep­e­ti­tion, is the Well Proven Chair (2012) by James Shaw and Mar­jan van Aubel. Ex­per­i­men- tation with waste tim­ber wood shav­ings and soya bio-resin pro­duces an un­pre­dictable alchemy, and the mix­ture, ap­plied to a sim­ple mould, ex­pands and hard­ens overnight.

In this ex­am­ple (pic­tured op­po­site page), the ad­di­tion of dust from wal­nut tim­ber and graphite from Strom­boli en­sures the re­sult is both mirac­u­lous and strange. Legs re­main un­touched as the back of the chair is densely coated in a light­weight ma­te­rial of volcanic ap­pear­ance, which is at once mes­meris­ing and a lit­tle un­set­tling.

An­other maker, Adam Zelezny, pro­duces his ce­ramic range, Blast, through the shock wave of a con­trolled det­o­na­tion, which ul­ti­mately de­ter­mines the shape of the bowls. “It is a kind of punk anal­ogy to an in­dus­trial porce­lain pro­duc­tion,” he says.

Mood is a theme that re­curs among the sub­jects in my book Per­fect Im­per­fect, not only in the play of light but also in the use of colour. Aus­tralian re­tailer and in­te­rior de­signer Si­bella Court talks about her pal­ette em­brac­ing murky, muddy and even dirty colours, and Mar­tyn Thomp­son’s craft with fab­ric is all about the prox­im­ity of “close” but not the same colours cre­at­ing a sub­tle depth and vis­ual rich­ness.

Densely dis­played col­lec­tions of in­trigu­ing ob­jet trouve in the Mon­tauk week­ender of Amer­i­can in­te­rior de­sign­ers Ro­man and Wil­liams de­mand we look more closely, sim­ply be­cause ev­ery­thing is not clearly and declar­a­tively il­lu­mi­nated.

True to the spirit of wabi-sabi, it is of­ten the un­pre­ten­tious branch of leaves, with its sim­ple ex­pres­sion of form and sin­gu­lar colour, that has the abil­ity to evoke more emo­tion than a fan­ci­ful bloom. When paired with ce­ram­ics with an ir­reg­u­lar shape, a dulled sur­face or an of­fk­il­ter de­sign, in muted neu­tral shades, the nat­u­ral el­e­ment be­comes the gal­vanis­ing force that gives the set­ting its en­ergy and move­ment.

There is a won­der­ful quote from An­drew Ju­niper in his book Wabi-Sabi — The Ja­panese Art of Im­per

ma­nence: “Wabi-sabi is an in­tu­itive ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a tran­sient beauty in the phys­i­cal world that re­flects the ir­re­versible flow of life in the spir­i­tual world. It is an un­der­stated beauty that ex­ists in mod­est, rus­tic, im­per­fect or even de­cayed, an aes­thetic sen­si­bil­ity that finds a melan­cholic beauty in the im­per­ma­nence of things.”

And it is this no­tion of “melan­cholic beauty” that res­onates deeply with the idea of the weath­ered, pati­nated and, at its most ex­treme, the des­ic­cated and yes, even the dead.

The Well Proven Chair by James Shaw and Mar­jan van Aubel, left; ir­reg­u­lar plates by Mr Kitly (mrk­itly.com.au), above; the Mon­tauk week­ender of US de­sign­ers Ro­man and Wil­liams, below

Si­bella Court’s dis­play of ap­par­ently ran­dom ob­jects, top left; Mar­tyn Thomp­son’s ri­otous SoHo loft, top right; a col­lec­tion of John War­dle’s tex­tured finds, above left; beauty in the aged patina of a plat­ter, above

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