“Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese concept that honors the beauty of natural imperfection and a life of chosen simplicity.”
I’m deeply in love with the new book Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to embrace the imperfect and entertain with thoughtfulness and ease; A book about living simply and welcoming well. Our founder Elizabeth Lane curated the fall Aesthete box with this amazing book front and center. “Wabi-Sabi Welcome applies the humble Japanese principle of wabi-sabi to home entertaining, celebrating the “perfectly imperfect” art of hosting small gatherings. An antidote to the veneer of perfectionism so often presented by books of its kind, Wabi-Sabi Welcome offers readers license to slow down and host guests with humility, intention, and contentment.”
Author Julie Pointer Adams is a maker, writer, and photographer. Wabi-Sabi is her premier book. She wrote, photographed, and art directed (her husband Ryan J. Adams assisted with some photography).
The book celebrates coming together, in our homes and in our lives, perfectly imperfect as we are. Julie’s vision for this book was to convey just a few of the many warm expressions of hospitality that live all over the world, and to create a visual reminder that beauty can be found in many unexpected and unsuspecting places.
Read my interview with Julie below to find out her inspirations, source of her aesthetic and what it was like creating this beautiful book.
QL: Hi Julie, thank you for chatting with us. I know our subscribers and aesthete friends will relish this book. The physical book attracted me right away with the airy photography and calm soothing color palette. The spine took my breath away. It’s exposed paper ends bound with string, so perfectly wabi-sabi if I do say so myself. How did you decide to create a book that celebrates the beauty of natural imperfection and a life of chosen simplicity?
JPA: It’s my pleasure! There were so many reasons I wanted to write this book, but I think the simplest explanation is that I wanted to create some small gesture as an antidote to all the messages—visual and otherwise—of perfection and constant striving-for-more that constantly bombard us. Everything around us seems to communicate that we need to have and be more in order to succeed and be noticed in this world. I have always been attracted to an unconventional and often unnoticed kind of beauty, and I wanted to envision and make physical something that helped draw others to recognize these simple pleasures in life as well. I think the wabi-sabi way of life presents a compelling alternative to the more common narrative about beauty and perfection we often hear that anyone can embrace, anywhere.
QL: I love how throughout the book you draw on the principles of wabi-sabi to show how welcoming people into our homes and lives can be more unfussy, more relaxed, and more fulfilling. What are some tips you share with readers about stepping away from conventional ideas of how to entertain, and instead, focus on how to make guests feel a genuine sense of warmth and ease?
JPA: This is really at the heart of what I wanted to share through the book—the idea that entertaining is all about showing up and not about showing off. It’s about simply having the courage to bring people together even if you’re not a great cook or think of yourself as a natural entertainer. Some of the very practical suggestions I give to readers include inviting guests into the kitchen and employing their help for chopping carrots, setting the table, watching the grill, or whatever needs to be done to get dinner on the table. Others include gathering in intimate, less formal spaces, greeting one another with touch, asking good questions, putting away distracting technology, offering house slippers to guests at the door, gathering at sunrise and sunset, and so on. None of the suggestions I make are revolutionary or altogether very out of the box—but that’s the point! People need simple, down-to-earth actions that don’t feel too far-fetched in order to actually try them out at their next get-together.
QL: I am so drawn to the wabi-sabi aesthetic. I love how you have captured these images that feel infused with peace and light. You shot the book in 35mm film. What made you decide to use an analog process? What is it about film that you respond to?
JPA: The decision to shoot the book on film was two-fold—first, it was the most practical decision because film is what I know! I’ve been shooting on a film camera since the time I started seriously taking photos as a teenager, and it’s what I’ve always been comfortable with. I never owned a digital camera until after completing the entire book—upon realizing how practical (and money-saving) shooting with digital can be for certain circumstances. Secondly, film has a special quality that I think goes hand-in-hand with the wabi-sabi aesthetic. I didn’t want to create a book inherently about the beauty of natural imperfection to be filled with photos that were all digitally edited and retouched. I felt that presenting all of my photos exactly as they were taken in my camera, untouched, was more true to the nature of my vision. Shooting exclusively on film also created a huge risk factor throughout my travel that was both terrifying and exhilarating since I didn’t develop any of it until I was back home. Thankfully I was able to capture what I needed the first time around!
QL: Are you a natural entertainer? Do you employ the advice you have shared in the book? What is one tip for entertaining that you absolutely love and espouse when guests are in your space?
JPA: I suppose I’ve never really thought of myself as an entertainer, but all my life I have always enjoyed bringing friends together, whether in big groups or small. I love the act of gathering around food or a common purpose or just to be together for a little while. Inviting people into my home as a safe haven and a warm, welcoming space has consistently been a very important part of my adult life. In full disclosure, however, the time period during which I was writing my book and it made its appearance into the world has been by far the least full of personal entertaining that I’ve perhaps ever experienced. This was for a lot of reasons too long and boring to describe here, but it has been a necessary and humbling reminder that occasionally there are seasons that even with our best intentions, it can be difficult to open our doors as often as we like. When I do have people over, however, I try my best to adhere to the advice I’ve given in the book. I like to say that I’m a recovering perfectionist, and much of why I wrote this book was to remind myself of all the things I need to remember about letting go and not being so uptight. One of my all-time favorite bits of wisdom is from the writer and philosopher Simone Weil, who wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” I truly believe this and so when I am with guests and friends, I try to give them my full and undivided attention with no distractions.
QL: Natural, seasonal foods, fresh air, linens and ceramics seem like the elements that support the wabi-sabi entertaining framework. There’s so much more to it than those things but aesthetically they’re a part of it. Do you have any textile designers, companies or brands you love? What about ceramicists?
JPA: The book has a fun index of resources in the back that lists some of my favorite makers and designers—some of whose creations I’m lucky enough to own and some whom I’ve just admired from afar. As for textiles, I’m always inspired by what Caroline Z Hurley and Block Shop Textiles are making. Both are women-owned companies and I love what they create and how they create it. I also love all the treasures that Brook Farm General Store, Kaufmann Mercantile, and Joinery NYC carry in their (mainly) online marketplaces. As for ceramics, a few people that come to mind are Eric Bonnin, Helen Levi, Kati von Lehman, Victoria Morris, and Clam Lab.
QL: Thank you so much for chatting with us Julie. I really love this book and find myself flipping through the pages now that it’s in my life. You do so many creative things. What made you decide to pour your energy and time into a book? Did you enjoy the process? Do you think you’d like to do another one someday?
JPA: I was drawn to the process of making a book because the idea of creating something that was tangible, timely, thoughtful, and altogether mine was so enticing—along with the opportunity to share something I feel deeply about with a large and largely unknown-to-me audience…it’s really a special experience. Creating a book is a very long and at times, grueling process (from conception to publication it took me about two and a half years), but also so rewarding. I learned a lot as I was writing the text, and the travel was of course very magical, fulfilling, and eye-opening. People were so kind and hospitable to us every step of the way. Putting the final pieces together in terms of matching the imagery with the words was especially fun and exciting for me. I think the act of making a book is a little like having a baby—throughout the birthing experience mothers say “never again!!” and then as soon as it’s over and they have the baby in their arms, all they want is another one. It’s been the same for me! Maybe not just yet, but down the road if given the opportunity, I’d love to make another book.
Julie’s workspace above.