Kitsungi – the art of repair

 

Celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world is a tenet of our work here at RISE Design Studio. By embracing impermanence and accepting that we are always in a state of flux, it becomes easier to appreciate what we have, rather than compare ourselves to others. It is this mindfulness and ‘living in the now’ – with all its imperfections – that we try to capture in our work. An important influence on our approach is the Japanese art of kitsungi – ‘golden repair’ – which respects the unique history of an object.

Reclaimed bricks RISE Design Studio

An accidental art form

It is thought that kitsungi was developed in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke his favourite tea bowl. He was disappointed that the repair involved stapling the pieces together, which left the bowl looking unattractive. Instead, local craftsmen filled the crack with a golden laquer. This made the bowl more unique and valuable, and prompted a new style of repair. As the style developed, the lacquer was likened to natural features like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

The need to accept change

We often feel regret when something breaks or is wasted. For the Japanese, this is ‘mottainai’, a feeling that dates back to the original era of kitsungi and remains present in contemporary Japanese environmentalism.

In London, we are tackling the challenge of developing a circular economy to support net zero targets – mottainai and kitsungi can provide us with the inspiration we need. In our ‘throwaway culture’, we often miss opportunities to transform broken or used objects into something new, perhaps even making those objects more rare and beautiful than the originals.

This is the essence of resourcefulness – making the most of what we already have (or what already is) and highlighting beauty alongside any flaws. The perfections and imperfections are what gives our surroundings a story and meaning.

Embracing the past in the home

What does this mean at home? It can include choosing authentic furnishings that create a lived, harmonious space. It might also mean sourcing used furniture and allowing each scratch to add to the narrative of an item’s history. It might mean repairing walls, floors and external materials to reflect the history of the building and the changes it has seen through the years. Sourcing local or reclaimed materials might also help to root the home in its local environment and landscape.

Imperfections are gifts

The art of kitsungi is not only about objects – it is also about how we live our lives. It helps us to realise that we, like the tea bowl, are all fallible. We heal and grow, and we often survive emotional blows and live to tell the story. However, it can be hard to admit our failures and accept that bad things can happen. If we are to learn something personal from the local craftsmen who repaired broken items with gold, it is that imperfections are gifts to be worked with.

We take pride in working with imperfections in our projects, whether those be in buildings with a story to tell, with materials that reflect the local landscape, or with furniture and other fittings that have existed for several generations.

Embracing imperfection: wabi-sabi and Japanese aesthetics

 

Here at RISE Design Studio, you could say that wabi-sabi is “part of our DNA”. A world view that stems from Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It can include asymmetry and simplicity, as well as an appreciation of the integrity of natural objects and processes. Or, put simply, it is all about celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world.

Wabi sabi RISE Design Studio architect west london

Natural and light

A wabi-sabi house is filled with air and light. Soft, natural lines allow us to find beauty in asymmetry, and a strong connection with nature is achieved through natural materials such as wood, stone and clay. Wabi-sabi also seeks to reduce the number of objects in the home that we don’t need, without making the home feel cold or sterile (a house is, after all, a place to be lived in). The spaces are warm and welcoming, thanks to the use of natural colours and materials, particularly wood and stone. Colours also tend to be inspired by nature, bringing balance and serenity to the home.

Embracing imperfection and authenticity

Wabi-sabi has cultural and historic links with the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. If you haven’t experienced this, the atmosphere is generally calm and relaxing with simple routines that centre on the tea. Often, the crockery used in the ceremony is faded or damaged, as a result of being passed down the generations. A fantastic example of wabi-sabi is the art of ‘kintsugi’, which is where cracked pottery is filled with a form of gold-dusted lacquer to showcase the beauty of its age, rather than hiding it.

In the home, choosing authentic furnishings creates a lived, harmonious space. Sourcing furniture that has been passed down through the generations allows each scratch to add to the narrative of that object’s history. It also alllows us to turn away from the ‘throwaway’ culture that we are learning is so damaging to our environment, to appreciate the ‘true and humble’ that wabi-sabi emulates.

Existing in the now

Wabi-sabi can also be applied to your daily life. It is a state of mindfulness which involves ‘living in the now’ and finding satisfaction even when it’s easy to think the opposite. If you trace wabi-sabi all the way back to its roots, the Buddhist teachings of the ‘Three Marks of Existence’ would guide you to embrace impermanence, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life that can ultimately lead to growth, and accept that we are always in a state of flux.

In times when we might constantly compare ourselves to others, there is no harm in taking the time to appreciate what we have. It is this mindfulness and appreciation of the ‘now’, with all its imperfections, that we try to capture in our work.