"Shibui" is a Japanese word used to describe a design aesthetic that values simple, unadorned minimalism. It is related to the concept of wabi-sabi, which is the celebration of the imperfect and transitory nature of objects in the world. The seven key components of shibui design are simplicity, implicitness, modesty, silence, naturalness, everydayness, and imperfection.
In August of 1960, House Beautiful published one of its most popular issues of all time, with a front page that read “Discover Shibui: The word for the highest level in beauty." Elizabeth Gordon, the editor the magazine, wrote about shibui, saying it “describes a profound, unassuming, quiet feeling. It is unobtrusive and unostentatious. It may have hidden attainments but they are not paraded or displayed. The form is simple and must have been arrived at with an economy of means. Shibui is never complicated or contrived.” The Smithsonian Archive calls the issue “one of the most influential ever by a design magazine."
The influence of shibui on the Western design world can be seen in areas from residential homes to furniture. Below are a few projects and products we feel exemplify the grace and humility of shibui.
This simple seat was made by cutting a single board into thirds and then notching the pieces, fitting them together to make a chair. The chair is fabricated from weathered cypress, its imperfections adding to the aesthetic.
30 Orchar, New York City, USA
The raw steel façade of 30 Orchard allows for nature to take its course, and with time, rust has complemented the beauty of the building.
La Muna, Aspen, USA
Built with reclaimed wood and stone from the Colorado area, the design of this home truly embraces the beauty of imperfection. The windows of the house frame the mountain views in such a way as to foster "satori," the Japanese word for moments of clarity and insight into the true nature of the world.
Maleny House, Maleny, Australia
This house finds perfection in the transcience of wood and stone, materials that will change with age, as well as in the constantly changing vistas seen through the many glass walls and large windows.
Simple and uncomplicated, these stools and desks function with minimal adornment.
House S, Breda, Netherlands
The House S is humble by design, the exterior monochromatic and unadorned, quietly fulfilling the function of a home.
Povoação Municipal Pools, Povoação, Portugal
Barbosa & Guimarães Architects
Brutalist in design, this sports complex celebrates the beauty inherent in unadorned materials, in this case basalt and concrete.
Fidar Beach House, Fidar, Lebanon
The house pays homage to the rock cliff below with a simple façade that is similar in color and effect.
House EVTM, Belgium
ISM House, Chiba, Japan
The shibui values of simplicity, honesty and silence are distilled in this singular structure.