Updated: Oct 9, 2022
On September 8 I had the privilege to join Leslie Clagget on KBB’s From the Tap Podcast to talk about how Feng Shui informs wellness-focused interiors. After a lovely intro from Leslie, we got right into what Feng Shui is and how I incorporate it in my design.
What is Feng Shui?
Many people think of Feng Shui as both an art and a science. It is an ancient Chinese philosophy of placement, originating from the question of where a village should be placed, where you should put your house, and where it should face. Feng Shui uses the elements of the universe to program us in the most auspicious placements. The term Feng Shui translates to wind and water, so I think of Feng Shui as being one with nature. It has to do with placement, it has to do with elements, it has to do with wind and water, and all of these things are about being in the natural world.
How did you first learn about Feng Shui?
I think this has to go back when I was first out of design school. I’ll be honest and tell you, I’m a career changer. So I went back to design school and graduated in 2009. As I was graduating from school I had the opportunity to take a temporary position as the project manager of an interior design show house here in New York City, so that gave me the opportunity to become more indoctrinated with the design community and other designers. It was while I was there working with all of the teams that I met a designer who used the term Feng Shui for the first time. I really had never heard of it, and I didn’t know what it was or what it was all about. I was fascinated with the way it integrated with interior design as a part of the process. It just seemed so natural that this ancient art form was easily integrated with interior design. I made a promise to myself that after I finished this particular project that I was going to do some more research. Which is exactly what I did. Through my work I found a school not far from here on Long Island that integrated both the process of Feng Shui and interior design into their program. It was a licensed program with the state of New York, the educational board, and the International Feng Shui Guild so it was the perfect marriage of what I wanted to do.
What made you decide to incorporate it into your design practice?
I really do believe in the power of energy. I believe that it’s all around us and that it affects us. So the idea that we could decorate our homes with intent and create living spaces that can nurture and support us from that energetic level was really fascinating to me.
How do you break down your practice when designing a space?
It’s honestly a layering effect, Feng Shui itself. The way that I apply it goes back to what is called the five transformations of the known world, or the five element theory. This process from ancient China divided almost everything in our universe into one of the five elements. Fire, Water, Earth, Metal, and Wood.
Everything is made up of one of these elements or some combination of them, and that is because energy moves and is in constant flux. It’s that wind and water concept again. They affect one another so the ability to apply them in certain ways in our environment is a balancing act in harmony. You can apply this to anything. Your home, a room, a desktop, even the human face! These different energies have different flavors, if you will. They manifest themselves in different ways and affect one another so it’s a matter of layering them on top of one another.
How do you incorporate Feng Shui in your kitchen and bathroom designs?
The requirements of each of those rooms are somewhat different, however, from an element perspective, Water is what’s most represented in the kitchen and bathroom. The idea of creating harmony and balance within the elements brings us to the question of how can we mitigate or balance out an overabundance of one element? In this case it’s Water, so the goal is to bring in other Elements to either control or to be nurtured by Water. For example, Metal is nurtured by Water, while Earth controls, or dampens it.
Another way to mitigate the overabundance of Water is to incorporate Fire Element. Water douses Fire, so within the process of adding Fire to our design, it balances out the existing Water Element. Some ways to achieve this balance is by using Earth colors such as sandy browns, oranges, and dusty yellows which are great to use in both kitchen and bathroom decor. Certain shapes like pyramids or stars, which are representatives of fire, are great ways to balance things out. The power of our intent is very important in Feng Shui.
What problems have you corrected using Feng Shui?
One of the things that happens when working in an urban environment like New York City is that most projects aren’t new construction. Instead of starting from scratch I’m actually functioning within a footprint that already exists. Most often the spaces are small and the buildings are often a century old or older, so there are restrictions that come with that. We then have to apply “cures” to mitigate things we can’t do anything about. Like the fact that there’s predecessor energy, or the energies of those that were there before us, and the events that occurred in those places before us. It sometimes requires mitigating before we even begin. Space clearing methodologies such as orange peel therapy, which is the process of putting in fresh scent, or smudging which is both a Native American and ancient Chinese practice.
Could you tell us more about living in place design?
One of the beautiful things about the study of Feng Shui and applying it to my work is that I truly feel that Feng Shui itself informed me and led me to living in place design. It had to do with my philosophy that our spaces should physically and emotionally support us, so the idea of creating spaces that were safer and more functional was a natural way of thinking for me.
How do you convey these ideas to your clients?
It’s an unfolding process that is ultimately up to the client. I have people who just want me to renovate their space, and there are others that really want my help in creating better energy. It unfolds in a way that is natural for the person who will be living in the space. If someone comes to me with an existing Feng Shui mindset then of course it will be easier. However, I’m going to apply Feng Shui as well as living in place design to anything I do. If I’m renovating a bathroom I’m going to make sure that we put grab bars in, and that the tile design has some sort of horizontal line in it because these are very important technical things that we can do to make people safer in a space.
I’m going to make sure that my furniture plan has the bed or the main seating area with command position taken into consideration in our process. That’s a Feng Shui cure or enhancement, if you will. Sometimes I just incorporate it into my work without telling the person who will be in that space to make it safer, supportive, and nurturing.
How would you suggest other designers educate themselves on this practice?
I’m a very active member of the International Feng Shui Guild and have achieved red ribbon professional status with them, so that’s a great place to start. I suggest looking for a practitioner in your local area, or an educational program online or in person. It really depends on what you’re interested in. Another great place to start is just reading about Feng Shui and how people write about it. There’s no wrong way to delve into the practice of Feng Shui.