Wabi Savvy: Serenity and the beauty of imperfection shine in a Singapore flat with a Japanese spirit

By Zaira Abbas
Mar 08, 2024

In Asia’s bustling modern cities, where innovation thrives and life proceeds at breakneck speed, there is a growing appreciation for the ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. This design concept celebrates a quiet beauty grounded in imperfection, authenticity and transiency. Serenity abounds in a Singapore apartment embracing the wabi-sabi worldview. Spanning just over 1,000 square feet, the tranquil living space belongs to a young working couple who envisioned a home where stillness and simplicity inform the aesthetic. Designed by Max Lee of SG Interior, it encapsulates a distinctive Asian style with grace and elegance.

Stepping into the flat, you are greeted by a minimalist foyer that sets the tone for the wabi-sabi experience. The walls are adorned with textured wallpaper in earth tones, reminiscent of natural elements. A simple wooden bench invites you to take off your shoes and immerse yourself in a world of calmness and peace.

An absence of excessive furniture and clutter is noticeable when moving into the living area, where rattan chairs and rattan planters evoke a soft, gentle vibe. The highlight of the room is an irregular-shaped niche where shelving shows the beauty of natural imperfections. The wooden shelves house a number of intriguing sculptures, which in turn are mostly uneven in form, as well as a few books, a clock and photo frames. They diffuse a warm light that accentuates the irregularity of the recess and draws attention to the objects placed within it.

Positioned beside this niche, an oversized sofa provides a cosy and inviting spot for relaxation. Carefully selected artworks decorate the walls, their muted colours and organic shapes reflecting the simplicity and serenity of wabi-sabi. A feature wall behind the dining area has a rustic design with large, rough strokes forming an abstract pattern, and a large window lets in abundant light, brightening the space.

Despite the size limitations of this home, the owners wanted a fully functional wet and dry kitchen. Indeed, both the kitchen and the dining area seamlessly blend functionality with aesthetics. The kitchen cabinets are made of reclaimed wood, showcasing a succession of unique grain patterns and knots that tell stories of their own. Handmade ceramic bowls and plates dot the countertops, each displaying charming irregularities. A rustic wooden dining table paired with rattan chairs creates an intimate space for shared meals, encouraging a sense of togetherness and an appreciation of the present moment.

The master bedroom is synonymous with the art of repose. By removing a wall, Lee succeeded in altering the original layout to extend its size and ensure sufficient space for the couple’s belongings. Once the proposal was approved, the entire renovation took about three months.

Dressed in linens of earth tones, the bed is placed on a high platform – a simple step that not only highlights its importance but also provides the optimum vantage point from which to reflect upon the surrounding aesthetics.

Walls are painted in soothing neutral hues that enhance the natural light filtering into the bedroom. A light-coloured rug offers a contrast to the dark wooden floor and matching wardrobes that maximise storage on the wall opposite the bed. A wooden ceiling fan with irregular wings echoes the non-uniform spirit of the apartment. Ceilings throughout the apartment are kept plain, and in the absence of false ceilings instil an airy feeling of additional height.

Even the bathroom embodies the wabi-sabi philosophy. The walls are adorned with handcrafted tiles that proudly show their individuality through imperfections and irregularities. A shower area invites you to indulge in prolonged rejuvenation, while soft, warm lighting conjures a sense of serenity to encourage restfulness and self-care.

A major challenge for the design studio was disguising the plethora of plumbing pipes so that they meld with the prevailing aesthetic. This home is a haven of natural tranquillity amid the frenetic urban environment. From the minimalist entrance to the understated bedroom and the placidity of the bathroom, every corner of the apartment exudes quietude and balance. Embracing its wabi-sabi spirit allows those dwelling within to appreciate the beauty of imperfection and impermanence, to find solace in simplicity, and to cultivate a deeper connection with the passage of time.

Photos: SG Interior Studio