Feng Shui, The Atkins Diet, Scientology. Just three of an endless list of fads and self help crazes that have been promoted by celebrities like Cameron Diaz or Cher, gaining notoriety whether they are based on scientific fact and study or not. As you may know, Feng Shui is an eastern philosophy originating thousands of years ago in ancient China, well before Cameron Diaz was even born though we’re not sure about Cher. Changes in what is decided as fashionable taste affect a huge array of aspects of how we live our lives, much more than the type of shoes we wear or how tight our jeans are. It affects the sports we do, what you eat, what you drink (even what your car drinks). But what exactly is it and how does it relate to western interior design?
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away...
Feng Shui, literally translates as ‘Wind-Water’. It is linked to Chinese astrology and was primarily used to determine how the axis settlements should be positioned along in coordination with the sun, moon and other celestial bodies. Some of the earliest capital cities in China followed the rules of Feng Shui for their layout and design and it is claimed that the magnetic compass was invented for the benefit of implementing Feng Shui during town planning. One of the fundamental cornerstones of the philosophy is Qi, pronounced “Chee”, which is a changeable positive or negative ‘life force’ some may recognise from marial arts. Qi is about a ‘sensed energy’ that when used in regard to interior design focuses on objects and how they relate to each other in terms of orientation, structure, age and the surrounding environment.
There have been fashion trends in home design since Fred Flintstone chose a round window over a square one but most fashion vogues are simple shallow cosmetic adjustments. Rarely do changes in taste and fashion inspire a whole new way of life. Early western advocates of Feng Shui proposed it was exactly that, a new way of living not a shallow change in colour schemes like other ‘revolutions’ in home design. This is because it attempted to improve the natural balance of positive energy in the home by the coordination of different factors. Doors, windows, plants, surrounding noises all have the part to play. Obviously we can’t move the doorways in our homes but we can change the objects in their path as we move from one room to another.
A well known aspect of interior design Feng Shui is the position of the bed in relation to the doors and walls as it is considered ‘poor Feng Shui’ to have the door open directly towards the bed or for the bed not to be directly up against a wall. Indeed doors play a large part in the way Qi flows from one room to the next. Some rooms can have their energy shared between them with the simple use of internal door windows. These allow the activities of other areas of the house, say the kitchen to be visually shared but the sounds and smells, which may be less desirable, are kept separate. In other cases good Feng Shui determines that areas of the home used for distinctly different purposes (e.g. living or resting) should be clearly defined and so internal door windows would not be recommended.
Critics of western Feng Shui aren’t really criticising Feng Shui itself, more the poor application or exploitation of it. Much of the general rules for it, when successfully applied to interior design, feel entirely natural which in essence is how it should be. However, the message has become diluted if not lost altogether when there are single items of furniture advertised as “improving Feng Shui”. Nothing on its own can single handedly improve Feng Shui, each item, like the internal door with a window must be considered in the context of its situation and its overall effect on the flow of Qi in the home.