3 Japanese concepts for sustainable home styling.

Giving new life to pre-loved items is an appropriately reoccurring theme in Japan. Let the age-old Zen tradition of repurposing become your new religion.
From a deep love for tradition to owning things that are cherished for a lifetime, we have a lot to learn about living sustainably (and in a way that encourages happiness) from the Japanese.

Here are three Japanese practices that are all about sustainable home styling.

rustic japanese styling

Sustainable decor in the Japanese way means repurposing textiles and embracing physical imperfection that comes with age. Picture: Martina Gemmola/Willie Weston

1. Mottainai

Mottainai, in simple terms, means to ‘waste not’. While the words are more commonly spoken around the dinner table, the concept is applied across the board.

The concept has even found its way into the work of contemporary artists, such as Queensland’s Tiel Seivl-Keevers, who weave offcuts of Japanese cloth, thread, paper, natural fibres and more into their work.

Boro – referring to the practice of reworking and repairing textiles through piecing, patching and stitching, in order to extend their use – was once a necessity and is now a highly collectible folk craft.

Boro sees the mending, sometimes completely reconstructing, of items such as winter jackets, bedding or floor coverings with scraps of pre-utilised, indigo-dyed peasant textiles.

Expect to pay upwards of several hundred dollars for an authentic boro piece in Japanese antique stores or online – but framed remnants also look pretty awesome.

Jane Lawson Tamara Graham In My Place

How stunning do the indigo textiles look in this bedroom? Picture: Tamara Graham

Inspired? Slice and dice your old jeans and sew them into a denim throw, table runner or tote bag.

You could also upcycle sake flasks into gorgeous stem vases, vintage soba bowls into coffee cups or an attractive old tea cannister into a handy salt pig.Carved wooden kashigata (traditional sweet moulds), vintage kimono and printing stencils convert to striking decorative pieces for walls, mantels or sideboards.

2. Wabi-sabi

Often over-simplistically translated as ‘rustic’, the true meaning of wabi-sabi, founded in Zen Buddhism, is in fact purposely elusive allowing void space for interpretation.

If pushed, it could be described as something determined more beautiful due to its imperfection.

An obvious example, also tying into mottainai, is Kintsugi. The art of resurrecting broken ceramics with gold adhesive, rendering them more stunning in the process. It has grown so popular outside of Japan that DIY workshops and online tutorials are trending off the charts.

wabi sabi philosophy

In wabi-sabi philosophy, this rustic ceramic planter is beautiful due to its imperfection. Picture: Julie Pointer Adams

However, wabi-sabi occurs in the everyday – organic lichen-patterned fence palings, velvety moss cloaking a shady backyard pocket where nothing else will grow or the crunchy carpet of fallen leaves that revitalise the earth.

Instead of tossing that long-loved, newly de-handled ceramic mug/jug – give it new life as a handsome vessel for a wide candle, precious trinkets or a pot of windowsill herbs. Reimagine your home from a different perspective.

wabi sabi potted plants

The beauty of wabi-sabi occurs in the everyday – such as ageing plants against the patina of an old window frame. Picture: Julie Pointer Adams

3. Change with the Sekki

The Japanese are renowned for attention to detail and one excellent example is found in their humble nodding towards 24 mini seasons called Sekki – instead of the standard four we subscribe to.

In traditional homes, Ikebana (floral arrangements), a hanging scroll or even a simple dish of just plucked veggies may be respectfully displayed in the Tokonoma (alcove for aesthetic pleasure).

The colour, style and pattern of kimono worn, the music played, or incense lit add subtle yet complex layers to the story, which is not purely about the aesthetic but how your surrounds make you feel.

japanese kimono

The Japanese’s renowned attention to detail is evident in the exquisite beauty of a kimono. Picture: Kevin Xie/Unsplash

In practical terms, for the home bright or deep colours and candles promote warmth and cosiness in winter and cooler tones, more greenery and artwork featuring aquatic scenes or symbolism are soothing to the mind on hot, humid days.

Changing your decor even four times a year, if only by rotating your soft furnishings, wall art or breakfast bowls, will not only refresh your home but items will last longer, you’ll never get bored of the same old look.

green walls

Can this scene look any more spring? Changing your decor to match the feeling of each season is a Japanese sensibility. Picture: Lisa Cohen/Dulux Australia. Styling: Bree Leech