Imperfect, impermanent, incomplete: words often used to define the Japanese ideal of wabi-sabi, a paradigm connoting “wisdom in natural simplicity,” Embracing the beauty arising from flaws occurring in the natural world. It is with this standard that the Wabi Sabi House was constructed—a two-structure compound dreamed up by Hall Architects, left forever in process, exalting the use of materials set in their un-perfected, un-refined state. Bare masonry exposes the air pockets, discolorations and nicks in raw concrete; cypress ceilings and plywood floors hold on to their mother-tree’s divots and knots, a testament to the world au naturel. Each interior space connects to and lives in tandem with the outside, barely shielding the occupants from the flora and fauna that pervades the property.

Photo courtesy of Hall Architects.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HALL ARCHITECTS.

As potters, the owners of the home envisioned a space reflecting the hands that built it, wanting to see the fingermarks on their vessel plainly as a “captured process”—the wabi-sabi underpinnings showing through in the quirks and anomalies that come about during constructing—choosing not to deal in the ways of paint or varnish. “The feeling of being grounded was very important to the clients, since what their life is about is the process of making and a human connection,” says Glenn Darling, the architect handling the project. “Pottery records the movements of your body and makes it into something functional. We wanted to capture that same message in the design of the house, because sometimes modern architecture lacks that human element. We think it’s because you can’t see the process and the hand that made things. When you can see that, it makes the house feel closer to you.”

Photo courtesy of Hall Architects.

All concrete blocks remain unfinished, the framework of the elevated, narrow structures left exposed, wood grain floors and sliding doors raw and susceptible to wear. Galvalume siding throws a sheen of crystalline aluminum onto the outside walls, demarking a sense of impermanence. Broken up into spaces marked as “live” and “work,” the two structures both exist autonomously, yet speak to one another through mirrored design, aligning materials and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Photo courtesy of Hall Architects.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HALL ARCHITECTS.

Originating from Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi can take on a meditative meaning; not only do flaws make objects more interesting, but by surrounding oneself in an imperfect, changing habitat, you can also more easily cast away the bonds of material distractions and become in tune with the natural world. This notion thrives in the home, the three-quarter-acre property a study in blending the built with the native. Cabbage palms, Australian pines and the two structures themselves are pushed to the outer edges of the lot, creating a rolling field of emerald green grass bounded by both the man-made constructions and the existing creek that laps at its feet. At no place within both the spaces is one cut off from the expanse of living jade—the “live” and “work” spaces forming a half moon cupping the lawn, the walls that face it made of nothing but glass and light.

Photo courtesy of Hall Architects.

While stark, the home is abundantly livable and workable, leaving open spaces and long lanes ideal for hosting guests or playing indoor fetch with dogs. The landscaped front of the house opens into the “live” side of the plot, with an atrium full of greenery in full sight through the entryway vestibule. Turn right and you’ll find the dining, living and kitchen areas—the bones of the original miniscule 1950s home that was the catalyst for the project visible in the funky L-shaped kitchen and low-hanging cottage ceilings, a slope in the ceiling demarking where the add-on found its sprawl. Turn left and you’ll see the products of FEMA’s 50 percent rule—two parallel concrete walls meld into one, the narrow wooden staircase up to the bedroom partitioned into an elevated separate structure despite it’s ground-floor connection. Gaze 45 degrees upwards and ascend the stairway to heaven, the darkly lit deep wood and concrete chute opening up above into a blaze of light and caramel cypress.

While not enormous, the master suite hangs in the balance between outdoor and indoor, earning extra feet from the abounding view. The front slice of the room dominated by the bed facing out over the expanse of land, much of the room’s footage spent in an open-air balcony almost equal in size to the sleeping zone. The thick overhang shades the hanging patio, reaching out over the length of the building. The high, wood-paneled ceiling looks down onto an ipe wood deck lined with metal railings untethered to the columns supporting the exoskeleton—the effect is one of both transience and stability, begetting a sense of being embraced by the warm, sturdy arms of the home, or possibly floating into the ether beyond.

Trace the low, continuous built-in cabinetry along the east wall of the upper level from the bedroom to the powder room and find another instance of being both inside and out. The bathroom’s back glass door opens into a concealed terrace, high-walled enough to discourage peeping neighbors, but low enough to welcome morning and midday rays of sunlight over the outdoor shower nook and into the house proper. Back on the ground, a path winds from “live” to “work,” a miniature campground of sorts making an appearance on the way, sheltered under a circle of towering pines. Climb up a level and enter a Brooklyn loft-style encampment, complete with unfinished cork and plywood floors that audibly bend and give as you pad along, a massive stilted workbench in the center piled high with potters’ tools and clay spatters and built-in wraparound shelving, providing a pedestal for cherished fired works. A true working studio, the light-drenched space houses a kiln room ready to finish off the next piece of art.

Through a short hallway, the front of the studio emerges with the same characteristics as the master bedroom on a smaller scale—the ipe/concrete deck overhang peeks out from the indoor roost, overlooking the two-person bench below at the river’s bank. The genius lies in the sliding barn door partitions; two thick-as-a-fist wooden doors hang in waiting, hiding within the walls until needed, gliding silently on either side of the glass entry door—slide the far door out to hide the front office and direct people toward the workspace; pull the near door across to hide the workspace and direct guests toward the studio for parties, openings and anything in between.

While imperfections and irregularities could devalue an object or even an idea, the tiny deviations are what made this project whole, leaving room for the inhabitants to take stock of the labor that went into creating it. Darling reminisces on how he had to high tail it to the property during construction to make sure the contractors didn’t sand away the indents and pockets occurring on the concrete’s surface. “The process of making is one where the human makes an imprint, and that imprint is where the beauty is,” he says. Wabi Sabi, then, leaves its own imprint on each person who walks its halls and lounges on its decks, allowing every footfall to wear it down just a fraction more, becoming more beautifully flawed with each step.