In celebration of The Chinese New Year of the Ox, we thought we’d do a deep dive into what Chinese culture means for interior design styles and what are the key guiding principles that determine the dos and don’ts. Today, we’re exploring the age-old concept of Feng Shui and how it aims to bring about harmony in your home and life.
What is Feng Shui?
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese philosophy that seeks to find balance and harmony between elements. Incorporating feng shui goes beyond Western design tenets of comfort or aesthetic. Often referred to as the art of placement, in the simplest of terms feng shui is about positioning different elements to optimize “Chi,” or energy. The term consists of two words: “feng,” meaning wind and “shui,” meaning water - two elements basic and vital to the existence of life on earth.
While the principles of feng shui apply to many elements of life, they are commonly used in interior design because the tools in feng shui analysis can most easily be applied in the context of a home.
Feng Shui Revolves Around Five Elements
The five important elements of feng shui are wood, metal, earth, water, and fire.
Graphic: Jurande via Canva
Their correct presence and placement in our space stimulates Chi and promotes our wellbeing. The optimal placement of the five elements is determined by the energy map of our space, called bagua (see below) in feng shui. Bagua tells us what part of our home needs which one of the five elements.
Wood symbolises growth and vitality. Placing wood items in your space encourages personal growth. Plants and wooden furniture are easy ways to add this element. It is expressed in green and brown colours. Decorative elements that add wood to your space are lush and healthy plants, green pillows or brown leather pouffes, green rugs, imagery of vegetation, and similar.
Feng shui decorating with 'wood' elements - as seen in knowfengshui.com
Metal symbolises logic and intelligence. Its colours are white and grey. Use it to balance out places that are overly warm and cosy. The décor that adds the metal element to your space includes white pillows and throws, grey walls or wall decorations, metal frames and bowls, and the like.
Earth symbolises stability and balance. The earth element is expressed in beige, sandy, and taupe colours, and it is particularly well suited for the bedroom. You can add this element through the use of pottery, beige rugs, light yellow pillows, photos and images of landscapes, and similar.
Water symbolises wisdom and serenity. As one of the most powerful elements, water brings the refreshing energy of ease and harmony, and it provides us with a sense of flow and renewal. It is also a symbol of abundance, often used in feng shui to cultivate wealth. The colours of the water element are blue and black. To add water to your space, use mirrors, fountains, images of water, blue rugs, and similar decorative pieces.
Fire symbolises passion and energy. Fire brings the energy of the sun, and with it a sense of joy and creativity. It is also an element of love, romance, and passion. Fire is represented in the shades of red, bright yellow, orange, pink, purple, and magenta. To add the element of fire to your space, use candles in one of the above colours, images of fire, yellow lampshades, or smaller red cushions.
Each element is expressed through a specific colour. This means that the presence of any given element can be brought into a space by introducing its corresponding colour. For example, if we wanted to bring more clarity to our space by adding the metal element, we wouldn’t necessarily need to include things made of metal per se. A grey lamp or a white rug would serve just as well, since white and grey are the expressions of the metal element itself.
What is The Bagua Map?
The most common tool in feng shui home design is the bagua map. The bagua map, or energy map of your space helps analyse the energy/vibe in a given space, and suggests what elements to bring into the space to enhance the flow of ‘chi’.
Each of the eight quadrants on the bagua map has an element and colour associated with it, which can help inform your décor. The eight quadrants are Wealth, Fame, Love, Family and Health, Children, Wisdom, Career, and Helpful People.
It shows which areas of your home are connected to which areas of your life. The classical feng shui divides your space into eight areas, defined by the compass direction of your front door. Each of these eight areas corresponds to one of the five elements.
For instance, to enhance wealth and prosperity through feng shui, you would need to use the bagua map to determine which area of your home is the wealth area, and then use its corresponding element to stimulate the energy of that area.
How To Determine The Bagua Map Of Your Home?
Before you jump into creating the bagua map of your space, it’s important to know that there are two approaches – Traditional and Western. The traditional approach uses a compass (as seen above) to determine the orientation of your house, whereas the Western (see below) only requires a piece of tracing paper and a pen. You can use either, but when you choose one, stick to it to avoid further confusion.
Colour is an essential element in interior design. Why is this important? Feng shui is all about energy (Chi) and how it flows through our space. Different colours are understood to carry different energy qualities, which correspond to the energy of the five elements. That’s why earlier, when discussing the elements, we also looked at what colour expresses each of them.
Colour is probably the easiest way to quickly change the energy of a space. And since colour is tied to the specific elements, and the elements are tied to the bagua areas, the application of colour will also depend on the eight areas of your space. See how it’s all coming together?
Therefore, in order to create good feng shui energy, you should choose colours that strengthen the element of the area you are decorating.
The Command Position
The command position within a room is the optimal position to be in that room in order to enjoy the best energy flow and to feel good. According to feng shui, this is the position that is diagonal from the door and furthest away from it, so this is where you should place the main pieces of furniture. Placing the furniture in the command position is particularly important in the bedroom and the living room, where you typically spend a lot of your time.
If the diagonal placement is not possible in your space, you should at least ensure that you can see the door from where you’re sitting, standing, or lying down.
What further strengthens the command position is a good backing behind you. This means that you don’t want to have your back to a large window when sitting or lying down. A headboard on your bed also acts as good backing and it keeps you protected and grounded.
In a nutshell, decorating with feng shui means knowing how to choose the right colours and decorative elements and use them in the specific areas of your home to bring about nourishing energy to your space and to the different areas of your life. You can, and should, do this so that it complements any existing decorative style inside your home and matches your personal aesthetic taste.
Therefore, feng shui is not an imposition of strict rules, because no strictness breeds a healthy flow of energy, which is what feng shui is all about. It is also not a simple practice of buying a bunch of feng shui symbols, such as wind chimes or crystals, and randomly placing them around your home. It’s about understanding how things in our environment are related to one another and to ourselves, and then taking the bits from that vast body of knowledge that work for you and applying them to your space with thought and care.
But before you rush off to buy a water fountain or a lucky bamboo, start with this one crucial first step – decluttering your space. No amount of feng-shui-ing will create a good flow of energy in a cluttered space. Good places to start are your wardrobe or your kitchen.
Don’t try to do too many things at once and give your entire place a major feng shui makeover. Start small, expand your knowledge through practice, and let your own experience show you what a powerful tool feng shui can be when it comes to adding a sense of safety, harmony, and stability to your home. We could all do with a bit of that right now.