Feng Shui, pronounced (fung schway) the literal Chinese translation is (Wind and Water) and is reportedly an actual belief system that involves a complex mixing of religious, geographical, philosophical, mathematical astrological and aesthetic concepts.
The ancient art of Feng Shui that includes these mystical elements of Chinese philosophy is not actually a decorating style but rather a discipline that has become associated with the modern architectural and decorating themes that are based upon its core tenants. To be considered to have good Feng Shui a design, layout or object must be in harmony with nature, and some people themselves are thought to influence these designs by adding or subtracting from their surrounding Feng shui.
People themselves however do not ‘have’ Feng shui – they simply assert their chi (inner energy and life force) upon their environments and as such can affect the surroundings.
Until the 20th century few westerners knew that the art of feng shui even existed. This was because until this time traditions and knowledge of these techniques were passed down mainly through oral methods or through so-called ‘common sense’ and what felt natural to the Chinese peoples. In the early 20th century however some books such as the belief systems attributed to Chui His’s writings from the Song dynasty and early Chinese philosophy began to be published which contained much of the common beliefs that were until now more or less tribal knowledge. Much as modern day city codes influence what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ so did feng shui work in Chinese culture – with disputes actually being managed by the legal system and courts in many cases.
When westerners were introduced to these philosophies they first were derogatory and skeptical but then became interested not so much in the belief system but in the logical and integrated approach to housing and layouts that following ‘good’ feng shui seemed to encourage. As with any good decorating style feng shui followed a theme – in this the general theory that nature herself has chi (or qi as the Chinese say) focused primarily in water and wind and that to properly attune oneself to the natural chi one must align dwellings, possessions, landscaping etc. to attune with the proper flow of nature’s chi.
Some common guidelines for proper feng shui include:
- Whether sitting at a desk or lying in bed you should have a clear line of sight to the door or entrance with as much a view of the room as possible.
- Straight lines and sharp corners should be avoided and should never ‘point’ to a sitting, sleeping or standing station.
- You should avoid clutter.
- Roadways should be curved purportedly to confuse evil spirits who are believed to only travel straight paths, but it is also interesting to note that modern road designers have found this prevents ‘road fatigue’ and keeps drivers alert and interested.
- Objects such as mirrors, crystals, pools of water and wind chimes can help in redirecting or shifting energy.
Modern western philosophy doesn’t hold a lot of faith in feng shui as a religion, but as a decorating theme it holds great interest. While belief in supernatural abilities of chimes, crystals, mirrored balls and fountains may raise eyebrows the soothing nature of their placement and the effect they can have on one’s mood are not open to debate. Other attributes such as being able to view most of a room from your primary workspace and facing entrances so you won’t be startled by unexpected visitors are just plain common sense, whether or not you attribute the positioning to a desire to blend with nature’s chi or just make the most of your useable space.
The decorating aspects of feng shui rely less on mystical attempts to fit in with nature and instead focus on the ideas of harmony and staying true to the nature of the space. Forcing early craftsman furniture into a log cabin for instance may not be a violation of feng shui as an art, but as decoration it is a violation! The concept is to engage as many of your senses as possible while staying true to the underlying theme and attributes of your room and / or space. Some common examples designers use to accomplish this include:
placing unique art or objects that are visually compelling in living rooms with relaxing and peaceful art in bedrooms while Kitchens may get nature themes.
Normally living and dining areas get a scent that is specific to the use of the room, such as eucalyptus for great rooms and video centers with lavender for reading and sleeping areas. The kitchen would have food-related scents such as spices and fruits.
Living areas should have thick pillows and plush blankets while bedrooms desire soft flannel, sateen or silk sheets. The kitchen is all hard glass and crystal.
Water or music, with a focus on classical or nature music in the bedroom and kitchen areas. Music in the kitchen and dining areas should be low enough to allow for normal conversation.
Fresh fruit or wine should be available in living areas or nearby, and chamomile tea in some form should be displayed or available in the bedroom. Obviously any food on display in the kitchen should represent love and care and not ‘fast’ food or convenience.
These concepts and basic tenants should help anyone understand the design philosophy of feng shui. The art however, may take a lifetime or two to perfect.