Feature Friday: The Wabi House, A New Kind of Simplicity

I recently stumbled across the Wabi House in the September Issue of Dwell. At first look, I was shocked to find such an unusual modern home sitting among typical California track homes. The charred cedar house, designed by architect, Sebastian Mariscal is truly a fascinating case study. In the article, Homowners, Shino and Ken Mori sum up the meaning of the design of their home with a calligraphy hanging in their entry alcove. "We don't have much, but friends are welcome." To which Shino adds, "This house is empty, that's why you can get smarter. "If you don't have things, you have to think to accomplish things," Ken explains. "Basically, you don't have to have much." These wise thoughts are what challenged Mariscal to create a home that could capture and cultivate such philosophical ideas. Marsical played with the ideas of opposites. In the article, he says, "For instance, from the street you don't see any windows, but once you go inside, it's almost all open." Perhaps for Mariscal, this house became an artistic display of "don't judge a book by its cover."

The charred cedar facade has cut outs which allow an old pine tree in the backyard to coexist with the home. "The unique detail imbues the home with a spirit of wabi-sabi - or beauty through imperfection."

A beautiful wood plank walkway connects to the garage and laundry areas.

The floor of the house appears to be floating and is emphasized by warm illumination underneath. The floor and ceiling are a beautiful ipe wood, providing unity and contrast to the charred cedar. Ken explains that he loves the simplicity of the single bedroom and open living areas because in other large homes, the spare rooms end up as storage space and you may not enter them for several months. "Here you go through everything every day. It's all livable space." Can you imagine! Living and having only the items that you actually need and use everyday? What a concept!

The couple's furniture is kept at a low height to reflect the style of traditional Japanese furniture. They requested that no upper cabinets be placed in the kitchen because Shino cannot reach them. Talk about custom designing your house!

The Sub-Zero fridge is clad in the charred cedar, providing uninterrupted design and function within the large open living area.

The backyard was meant to be "no maintenance, not low maintenance. However, Shino finds herself tending to Carlsbad's largest public bathroom for cats (otherwise known as their Japancese-style rock garden) about once a month."

"A custom-tailored mechanism allows six floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors to open along the entire width of the living space, creating a seamless transition from indoors to out."

"The limestone-clad volume at the east end of the house extends to the second story, housing Shino and Ken's master suite, which opens onto the planted roof deck."

The shower and sunken tub is one of my favorite bathrooms I've ever seen. Between the windows, the rocks, the wood floor and ceiling, I don't think I'd ever leave.

The entrance to the home has a chiseled cast-concrete footbridge, which floats above a koi pond.

Mariscal says, "They didn't want a show-off house; they wanted somewhere they could live forever." Indeed, I believe that this what Mariscal has accomplished. There are so many unusual yet simple thoughts and design ideas to be learned here. It's a grand thing to have architecture provoke zen-like thoughts.

Source: Dwell


  1. I wasn't sure I was going to like this. I was captivated though and the more I saw, the more I wanted to see. I didn't want the pictures to end. Fascinating concept and beautiful execution.

  2. How did you treated charred cedar for interior use, what did you use to stabilize structure. We did some treatment of charred wood and had good result with it, if you do not mind I would like to hear about your way of doing this. My work could be seen on www.BuyaMantel.com

  3. Hi Constantine, I didn't design this home but I find it absolutely gorgeous! Sorry I can't help you with the wood treatment questions.