The wabi of Great Chalfield

©Emile de Bruijn

As I was previously writing a post about Great Chalfield Manor and its canine mistress, it struck me how much this house and its garden embody the Japanese concept of wabi.

©Emile de Bruijn

Wabi stands for a humble beauty, the look of objects showing the signs of wear and patina. 

©Emile de Bruijn

Wabi can express a sense of melancholy, of sobriety and spareness.

©Emile de Bruijn

But by stripping away the more obvious trappings of beauty, wabi also exposes the fundamental vitality hidden in natural materials.

©Emile de Bruijn

Major Robert Fuller and his architect Sir Harold Brakspear seem to have had a very similar ideal in mind when they restored Great Chalfield in the late nineteenth century.

©Emile de Bruijn

And today Patsy Floyd maintains the garden in the same spirit, with flowers emerging from between flagstones and lush greenery contrasting with lichen-covered stonework. 

©Emile de Bruijn

It would be interesting to find out if Japanese visitors experience Great Chalfield in this way, or whether they see it as exotically ‘English’.

7 Responses to “The wabi of Great Chalfield”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Thanks for sharing that glimpse of your days in Japan. I will never get there, so if you would just expose us to that mindset every now & again, it would be greatly appreciated.

    BTW, the rector has asked for a meeting. Oh dear…

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I will certainly try, Barbara. I think ‘Japan’ can potentially be anywhere. Similarly, the most perfect English afternoon tea I ever had was in a smart hotel in Kyoto.

    Good to hear your rector is keen to communicate face-to-face :)

  3. robert - innatestyle Says:

    Emile and Barbara, A small book I’ve read over and over again, and gifted or lent and lost many times is a small volume called ‘Wabi Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers,’ by Leonard Koren. I’m sorry we can’ offer this volume to Major Fuller or Sir Harold, but surely you’ll enjoy and appreciate, having touched upon it so brilliantly here. Please read this slowly, quietly, meditatively, as if you were in Great Chatfield’s quiet garden, or Kyoto or Nara themselves. Cheers!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, yes that is a great little book, isn’t it – I have it myself – it is beautifully produced with tactile paper and grainy photographs. A good introduction for westerners into this subtle and perplexing concept. Thanks for mentioning it.

    I suppose Fuller and Brakspear were working on Great Chalfield at a time when Japanese aesthetics were becoming more widely known in the west, so in theory they could have been influenced by them. Or maybe it is just wishful thinking on my part :)

  5. Janet Says:

    Well, I think the English and the Japanese both do wabi exceptionally well. However, I think each puts their own cultural stamp on it. Which is as it should be. Loved reading this post. I hope we Americans can practice a little more wabi. . .

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Well, Janet, you certainly do in your posts – you could do ‘The wabi of Charleston’ for instance.

    I was just reading about Jean-Michel Frank, the between-the-wars French designer, in the latest issue of Apollo magazine: he was pretty wabi too, using bare scrubbed wood and plain parchment and sober whites and beiges. Perhaps he represents French wabi – in which case the stress should probably be on the i!

  7. Janet Says:

    If any American city has wabi, it is Charleston!

    We always get our issue of Apollo a few weeks later here than there, so I look forward to reading the Frank article.

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