Converse: Julie Pointer Adams on Wabi-Sabi Welcome / by Elise Joseph

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A Conversation With JULIE POINTER ADAMS on WABI-SABI WELCOME

I met Julie on my very first visit to Portland, Oregon, where I was staying with a close friend named Laura Dart. Laura lived in the apartment above Julie, and the two of them remain dear friends and kindred spirits. It didn’t take long before I decided to extend my stay for six weeks, in large part due to the incredible sense of community and hospitality I experienced from these two, and so many others in Portland. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Julie Pointer Adams currently lives in Santa Barbara, California with her husband Ryan. She runs a floral design studio called Olivetta, and her past work includes writing, styling and producing for Kinfolk Magazine. She released her first book titled Wabi-Sabi Welcome through Artisan Books earlier this summer. It quickly became a favorite around here (my husband even read it cover to cover) and is available through my shop, Goodwin, as well as other booksellers. Julie’s thoughtfulness and peaceful, kind spirit radiate in everything she touches—from this book to her art direction, prop styling and gatherings in her own home.

Wabi-Sabi Welcome celebrates coming together, in our homes and in our lives, perfectly imperfect as we are. Each chapter marks a different place where Julie has encountered the wabi-sabi spirit: Japan, Denmark, California, France and Italy. Here she shares a visual peek into her own life and west coast home, and answers a few of my questions.


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What are the key ingredients to wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is a far-reaching and elusive concept so it’s difficult to boil it into just a few pithy ideas. However, I think one of the easiest ways to understand it is to look at the two Japanese words that were conjoined long ago to become something new. Wabi means simplicity, living in tune with nature, being content with what you have and always moving towards having less. Sabi is more about transience, beauty, and the authenticity of age—accepting that people, nature, moments and objects are always fleeting, and moving towards decay.

Together, the two words describe a type of beauty and a way of life that embraces imperfection and simple living, clinging to what is humble, mysterious and unassuming.

When did the elements of wabi-sabi really begin to take hold for you? Was it a case of a name being given to something you were already doing naturally?

When I first learned about wabi-sabi from a professor in graduate school, it felt like finally learning the name of an old friend—someone and something I had always felt deeply acquainted with but never knew how to articulate. I have always been drawn to a kind of simple, homely, and worn beauty, like an old and fading quilt from a great-grandmother, or a ramshackle barn in the middle of an open field. It’s an aesthetic I have always adopted in my own home, but once I learned about the concept as a whole, I began to slowly try and shift my entire way of thinking around it as well.

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How much of hosting is driven by innate personality traits (i.e. extroversion) versus learning skills?

This is a great question, as I think hosting in general can seem overwhelming or intimidating for people of all personality types, primarily because of what we’ve made out entertaining to be in our minds. A big part of why I wanted to create this book was to show that hospitality can be practiced and learned through very simple, practical actions, and that “entertaining” can come in many shapes and sizes. I’m extremely introverted, in the sense that I generally prefer smaller groups, get my energy from being alone, and when I’m in larger crowds I tend to move towards the outside so I can mostly just listen to and observe everyone else. But I also love being with people and bringing old and new friends together; I’ve learned to balance these two seemingly opposite traits by finding ways to host that feel comfortable for me. Whether that means just having one or two friends over at a time, or “hosting” a party by simply inviting everyone to meet for a potluck picnic at the park or beach—I think the important thing is to allow hosting others and extending hospitality to take the form of whatever feels most comfortable and natural to you, rather than conforming to what we’ve been told entertaining should be. 

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What are some common mistakes people make when hosting?

I suppose the biggest “mistake” would simply be that so many of us (myself included, probably being the worst offender) tend to overthink and fret too much about hosting, driving ourselves into a froth just trying to get everything tidy and perfect before people come over. Just the stress of this prevents many of us from ever inviting anyone over in the first place! Of course for some people the intense preparation and elaborate ritual of getting ready to entertain is a joy, but for the rest of us, I think we need to let go of the burden of expected perfection.

The real point of having people in our homes is to simply show up and be available to our friends and family, not to show off—which is what I think we are so often consumed with. A woman recently shared an anecdote with me about her experience with entertaining that I love. She said, “The first time I entertained in my house I went crazy—I cleaned the entire house, polished the silver, wiped the baseboards, vacuumed everything. The second time I entertained I just cleaned the downstairs. The third time I entertained I lit candles.” To me this is the perfect example of learning to let go and realizing that hosting is really about simply making a warm, welcoming moment for your guests to step into, not overhauling your whole home to show what a good housecleaner you are.

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There seems to be a bigger-picture element of people returning to craftsmanship, ethically sourced materials, fewer more quality pieces versus mass-produced quantity, which seems in line with the wabi-sabi approach. Do you have any thoughts on why people are looking to that more and more?

I think people are deeply craving objects with this real quality to them as a reaction against several decades of big-box stores and the rise of cheaply-produced, mass-marketed items. That includes everything from furniture to dishware to clothes to food! After having lived with the fake versions of certain things for a long time (I recall in particular a huge particle-board desk made to look like wood that I was extremely excited to get in junior high), it’s refreshing to re-experience how lovely and tactile the real thing can be, whether it’s wood, ceramic, linen, wool, or what have you. Finding quality items made from true materials doesn’t require having loads of money, either. With a careful and patient eye, you can find beautiful, long-lasting items at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets to fill your whole home. For the things you can’t find secondhand, it’s so rewarding to save up for something special that you really want, even if it means sacrificing several other opportunities for instant gratification and a fuller closet, living room, patio, etcetera. I think it has also become more exciting and appealing to surround ourselves with things that have histories attached to them, like a table from a grandparent, or a bowl from a local ceramist. People want these deep stories again after an age of anonymity attached to our things.

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What do you hope readers take away from the book?

The whole time I was working on the book, from the writing to the photographs to the layout, I kept thinking about how I wanted it to be a healing and freeing experience for people to look through and read, like a breath of fresh air or a weight off your back. So many things we’re confronted with throughout the day give us a sense of anxiety because of perceived perfection—it always feels like someone else is doing “it” better… more artfully, more creatively, more healthfully, more intentionally. This cycle of thinking becomes crushing because it never allows us to be content with what we have. My hope with this book is to give a feeling a freedom from all that, liberating people to realize that there can be so many different versions of a beautiful, hospitable life.

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+Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease is available now at Goodwin. All imagery was taken by Julie and her husband, Ryan J. Adams.