Practical Feng Shui
Debunking the myths and finding out what we can actually learn from the ancients
by Joey Lewitin
Most of the information that is available concerning Feng Shui is highly over-simplified. It often comes in the form of out-of-context eastern principals, mixed in with basic interior design horse sense from the west, to form a hybrid which many professional
Feng Shui analysts agree can be as harmful as it is helpful. Feng Shui is more than just choosing certain colors, or "getting rid of clutter", as many books and articles will have you believe. It is actually an extremely complex system of mathematical formulas that give highly specific advice based on the type of home, its layout, and its time of construction. There are no simple answers in Feng Shui, however there is something we can learn from the methods the ancients used to derive these principals.
Real Feng Shui is a system that has been evolving over thousands of years. The concept behind this design form is the idea that energy or "chi" flows through everything. Feng Shui is an attempt to maximize the flow of positive chi through a space to benefit the lives of the people within that setting. Feng Shui is originally based on the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text of mystical origins. Over the years successive schools of thought have come to dominate this decorative philosophy. As each new movement came to power, they refined the formulas and functions of previous schools. In this ongoing process of refinement, every possible arrangement of objects was tested against numerous people’s emotional and spiritual reaction to them over thousands of years. These reactions allowed the ancients to slowly improve their diagrams for the placement of objects.
This ancient mathematical formula for laying out the design of a setting does seem to be a sound method for improving the quality of a room’s décor. While this may be due to the ancients having determined the way chi flows, their real accomplishment might instead have been to develop a systemized mathematical representation of a wide scale, long term psychological study. While trying to determine the flow of energy, they may have instead determined the basic principals of design that elicit positive responses in humans, by experimentally testing and recording peoples reactions to different object settings.
Real Feng Shui is extraordinarily specific, and complex. The only way to do real Feng Shui is either to become a student of this art, and painstakingly learn the many principals and subtleties it requires, or to hire a professional to do an analysis and work over of your home. Either way, use of this design style requires a large sacrifice, and is outside the realm of most people’s time and money budget.
However, Feng Shui does teach us something that is very useful when decorating your home. The ancient thinkers who developed this idea derived it by simply paying attention to the feeling of objects in different spaces. This is a process that every person has it within their power to do. Everyone has taste, everyone has feelings. By simply getting in touch with your inner critic, you can become the source for your own personal Feng Shui. No matter how specific they were, a Philosopher from a thousand years ago is not going to understand the spiritual and emotional nuances of you, your family, and your home as well as you do. By using the strategy rather than the formula of Feng Shui, you can develop a highly personalized design that is a true expression of yourself.
Walk into a room, and see how it makes you feel. Notice the colors, the objects, and their placement. What do they evoke in you? Is the room comfortable? Is it calming or invigorating? Maybe there is something wrong in the room, even if you can’t tell exactly what it is, register that feeling. If you are attentive, you will start to get sensitive to the psychological influences that placement and design have on your own mind.
Colors have very strong and individual effects on people. Different shades will have radically different results on people’s mental behavior. Dark colors can either be relaxing or depressing, light colors can be uplifting or annoying, and extreme colors can be exhilarating or aggravating. Pay attention to how these colors make you feel. When you visit other peoples homes, or even their shops or offices, pay attention to the effect that walking into a room has on you. Sometimes you will enter a space and feel naturally relaxed. Other places can have a negative effect, making you feel uncomfortable or agitated for no apparent reason. Remember the colors and the shades of these rooms, especially if you have a particularly strong response to one.
Colors also affect the nature of interactions, and when you enter a new space you should always pay attention to the way people behave to one another. If there is a room in your home where people tend to get into arguments, reassess the colors in that room. Bright or extreme colors can irritate people’s eyes and increase their metabolism, making them more likely to fight. Darker rooms can put people in a bad mood and make them lethargic. Color and placement are not the only things that influence interactions, but by paying attention you may be able to understand the subtle influence it can have.
In traditional Feng Shui, the goal is to maximize the flow of positive chi in an area. While you will probably not be able to detect the essence of the energy of a space, you can increase the feeling of flow in a room by paying attention to the way people and objects move through the space.
The flow you want to achieve is in the essence of the room. You want there to be easy access for people moving through the room, as well as in and out of it. You want objects to be able to move from their storage, into use, and back without adding to clutter. This kind of flow is a mixture of organization and design that focuses on removing blockages and allowing easy movement through every area.
You will be able to feel whether a room has flow just by walking into it. There are tiny currents of air that run through every space. We do not generally notice these currents, however using your intuition you can just barely perceive this air. The difference between greater and lesser currents will be translated into your mind as greater or lesser flow. As always, make yourself sensitive to the subtleties of the space.
It is important to allow yourself to be wrong. If you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn anything. Pay attention to emotional variations you feel from placing different decorations and colors in different spaces. At a certain point, stop and simply exist in the room, remaining attentive to the feel of the space. Occasionally, make small changes, and observe the emotional and interactive differences.
If you don’t have the time or strength to constantly move furnishings and furniture around, then try visualizing different scenarios. Sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and imagine the room in a different style. Imagine yourself in the room, and try to incorporate every detail in the room into the setting. Feel how your emotions respond to such a setting. Pay attention to any problems you may feel. Allow yourself access to the subconscious of your mind, and trust its natural inclinations, as it will pick up on problems and solutions that you won’t consciously understand. Use color charts and pictures to help with the imagination process.
Feng Shui is a very respectable form of interior decorating with a long and rich history. However, it was originally based on simple trial and error, as ancient Chinese thinkers explored the many different ways that positioning and design can affect the most subtle workings of the human mind. Today you can try to recreate that method, by experimenting with yourself and your surroundings to produce a room that will affect you and your family in a positive way. While you probably won’t achieve the accuracy of the ancients in your first attempt, each try will educate you as to the style and design that suites you best as well as the way it affects you. Exploring this further can allow you a creative outlet enabling you to get in touch with the very basic nature of art that exists within you.
Joey Lewitin has vast experience in interiors and design, and is a pioneer in the design of unique home furnishings made from natural stone. His newest designs can be seen at: Pebblez.com - The Rustic Stone Home Décor Store