The Way of Wabi Sabi


With an increased gravitation towards ​sustainability​ in design practices, wabi-sabi incorporates these natural materials to glorify simplicity, much like Isprava’s philosophy of localization, reutilisation and refurbishment through their spatial experiences. Isprava speaks of crafting these spaces with hand-picked objects with an old world charm, drawing parallels between contextual development, environmental sensitivity and the ethos of Atelier Ashiesh Shah. Whilst we aim to celebrate the longevity of craftsmanship through a contemporary context, Isprava brings forth heritage, recognising a narrative through the spaces they create – the calm in chaos, the imperfection in perfection and the nostalgia through historical recollection.

It isn’t picture perfect, and that’s the point. Architect and Interior Designer extraordinaire Ashiesh Shah lets us in to the world of wabi sabi as he forays into product design. He explains its unique application with his recent collaborations and describes the beauty of this art form in his own special way.

“The Moonshadow”, placed in pairs, textured with hand-moulded clay and blackened with chirona leaves

As with everything that stems from forging an identity of your own, to making your work stand out and leaving an impact, it initially took me some time to find my personal visual language. Finding inspiration from art, architecture and the likes is quintessential. What you imbibe from it is primary and where you draw the line holds utmost importance. Geometry, right from the start, has always been an important element in my practice, and is often the point of departure for all of my designs.

For the past several years, I have been exploring the concept of wabi sabi—an ancient Japanese philosophy of balancing elements that has been a strong part of all my projects and now a primary focus of my very own, Atelier Ashiesh Shah. My atelier is my space of contentment. On some level, I always knew I wanted to foray into product design—I was just waiting for the right platform and my collaboration with Urban Ladder was the perfect opportunity to venture into this space.

Exquisitely Asian, the Wabi Sabi collection of the very successful Urban Ladder X Ashiesh Shah collaboration represents the best of eastern design. The colour palette is earthy, neutral, and soothing. These pieces represent the industrial, as exemplified by the precise finishes—and the traditional, shown to advantage in the cane weaving and the leatherette detailing. These pieces were designed to be part art, part craft and part material. Inspired from the Japanese philosophy, the wabi sabi collection aims at reviving traditional Indian crafts and combining them with a modern sensibility. The pieces of furniture are characterised by a subtle vocabulary of minimal lines, blending local materials like teak and cane with brass and faux leather details.

“Many Moon”, grey grained white marble assembled as a minimal sphere is sliced into six trays, two bowls and a platter

Making the jump from interiors to product design was a natural progression. Custom designing products, be it furniture, lighting or bath ware for my projects is something I’ve been doing right from the beginning of my practice as an interior architect. It accentuates bringing within the space a personality that resonates best with the space designed, a personality with an underlying aesthetic of wabi sabi, a personality that is more of me.

Atelier, a pivot, facilitating the protraction of my design studio is a limitless assemblage of design and design thinkers. An extension to my design practice, Atelier inte- grates experimentation, craftsmanship and technique into a creative ecosystem for collaboration and development. Gravitating towards geometry, materiality and my simple wabi sabi aesthetic, Atelier is a process-driven think-tank, a composition of inventiveness, tapped by artists, coming together to narrate tales of evolving aesthetics, stories of my personal visual language, developed over the years.

Besides bringing the aesthetics through everyday objects, interior spaces that I have designed like Raw Mango and Masque stand true to the very same philosophy. Raw Mango is a very unique brand in that it’s trying to find its own essence through minimalism and what Indian minimalism really means. This idea was very much the point of departure for me while designing the space. Sanjay, founder of Raw Mango, had a very clear vision about his brand. So when Raw Mango approached me, it was very much about marrying our aesthetics. They wanted me to help create something structured yet effortless, which immediately directed me to a wabi sabi-inspired palette.

Raw Mango, Mumbai

Masque, is yet another restaurant that radiated this philosophy. Occupying an old warehouse in Mumbai’s once buzzing cotton district, Masque is a play of materials and form. Tapping into the natural architecture of the space itself, forms appear and disappear. The natural light floods in from the skylight above and illuminates the restaurant floor, part white polished marble, part textured slate. Many elements that might be considered ‘de rigueur’ in most luxury restaurants are ditched in favour of bare natural materials. The use of hard wood tables, brass structures, stone clad walls and floors, mirror the chef’s approach to the naturally sourced and foraged. The Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi was central in the design process. Characterized by an aesthetic of beauty that incorporates natural objects and processes, it is stripped down and subtle. The restaurant decor is also fairly minimal and whatever objects are on display have been carefully procured and help create a balance of materials, textures and colours. The architecture of the space, the amalgamation of materials and soft light create a cocoon within which one can no longer keep track of time, and get transported away from the bustle of the city.

Masque, Mumbai

Wabi sabi, is a philosophy of life, and once you accept it, everything trickles down to it. I don’t make a special effort to bring it to my practice, but if you look at my spaces, you see that element of finished and unfinished. It is a tight rope you are walking, but you have to maintain that. Thus, asymmetry and asperity play a major role in my practice. I appreciate spaces that incorporate natural objects and processes and I try to maintain this principle in my own practice. Nothing is permanent, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.

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