Have you ever worried about how to arrange the furniture in your house before a big party? Ever agonized over where exactly to position the desk in your office?
There are many directions one might turn to seek advice on such matters, but an increasingly trendy source of wisdom can be found in the principles of Feng Shui (pronounced fung shway), an ancient theory about the relationship between people and places - there are even professional Feng Shui consultants who are waiting to help you out.
What is Feng Shui?
Feng Shui started in China more than 6,000 years ago, and it was the early inspiration for the design of temples and other sacred places—including the Great Wall of China itself! Over time, it has become synonymous with building with respect for nature and for the earth in general.
Feng Shui is based on the belief that there is a continuous flow of energy between humans and their physical surroundings.
The name is derived from the Chinese symbols for wind and water. A balance between the energy represented by the wind and the calmness represented by water creates harmony among people and between people and their surroundings, and this harmony promotes success, health, and a sense of community.
Feng Shui principles can be applied to interior spaces such as offices and living rooms, as well as to outdoor spaces such as gardens. The proper configuration of the objects and space around us is said to maximize the flow of the positive energy needed to sustain a happy life and an overall sense of well-being.
Basic Feng Shui Principles
The key to understanding Feng Shui is appreciating the role played by “Chi” (or “Qi”).
Chi is the positive energy that we wish to encourage in the places where we spend time, and it circulates best in spaces that contain soft objects with rounded edges. Irregular objects with sharp points or angles can block or disrupt to the flow of chi, resulting in “sha chi,” which is a negative energy that has a bad effect on both people and places.
To increase the flow of chi and to minimize the presence of sha chi, the five elements - water, earth, fire, wood, and metal - should be in balance with each other; you do not want to have too much or too little of any one of them.
Feng Shui as it is practiced today is actually a New-Age Westernized makeover of the ancient Chinese philosophy. It became popular in America in the 1970s about the same time that acupuncture, herbal medicine, and anything ancient and Chinese were all the rage. In many respects, Feng Shui has strayed far from its roots.
Feng Shui Tools & Decorating Tips
Practitioners of Feng Shui use color, sound, and lighting to create an ambiance, with the strategic use of artwork, plants, and flowers further modifying our moods. Water features such as fountains and aquariums and wind-sensitive objects such as wind chimes or flags can be included, often to dramatic effect.
In interior spaces, the size of the furniture should match the scale of the space, couches should be kept against walls, and configurations of furniture that make conversation difficult should be avoided; pathways between areas within rooms should remain open and uncluttered.
While a rectangular table can be fine in a dining room, circular or oval tables are preferred in living rooms, and a mix of shapes can create a nice effect. Mirrors, reflective metals, and crystal chandeliers can be used to make dark or small spaces seem larger and brighter.
In bedrooms, it is thought best to put the head of the bed against the wall farthest from the door, but do not line it up directly with the door, as this has come to be known as the “coffin position.”
Does Feng Shui Actually Work?
All of this sounds beautiful, but what does science have to say about the effectiveness of Feng Shui design?
Unfortunately, environmental psychologists who have studied Feng Shui (see attached file) have concluded that there is no evidence that following Feng Shui principles have any measurable effect on human beings. The main problem is that there is no reason to believe that “chi” even exists, and without Chi there can be no Feng Shui.
So for now, we must reluctantly conclude that there is no science behind Feng Shui, and if you are looking for a boost to your health, mental acuity, and career success by harnessing unseen forces through the arrangement of furniture, you will probably be disappointed.
Having said this, adhering to Feng Shui principles can still result in very attractive, inviting spaces and it may also inject a bit of fun into the design process—and what is the harm in that?
Author: Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D