|Futon Life Feature Story
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by Andrea Mainardi
Feng Shui - Creating Harmony In The Home
In search of balance, health, and good fortune, Westerners are looking to the East, embracing the ancient promises and decorating principles of Feng Shui. And for some futon retailers, these old ideas mean new opportunities.
Did you ever visit someone’s home or office and get the sense that the space just didn’t feel right? Perhaps it was the layout, you mused. Or the décor. Hard to put a finger on it.
Maybe you just chalked it up to bad taste. Or maybe you’re one of a growing number of folks who recognize the place as having bad “Feng Shui” (pronounced fung schway.) In other words, maybe you realized that the “bad vibe” you felt was the result of blocked energy caused by the shape of the room, the placement of furniture, or the misuse of color, light, or materials.
Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Feng Shui was imported from the East within the last few years by a subculture of New Agers in search of personal growth, connection with the natural world, and harmonious relationships. But now there’s no ignoring it - Feng Shui is going mainstream. In fact, in some urban areas, it is so popular that Feng Shui has become a colloquial expression for home and interior design that is simple, natural, and open.
But in reality, Feng Shui is neither simple nor new. The Chinese art and science of arranging one’s home in accordance with the forces of nature is at least 7000 years old and is based on a complex system of related philosophical, scientific, and artistic principles.
It was the first Feng Shui practitioners who identified the ways in which energy, or chi (pronounced chee) behaved - and how it affected people’s lives. They recognized that this benevolent energy naturally included “wind and water,” the literal meaning of Feng Shui. But they also realized that it included the visible and invisible energies which became the practitioners’ tools: the earth, shapes, color, magnetism, time, and change.
And just like you wouldn’t sail a boat without paying attention the direction of the wind or the flow of the water, Feng Shui practitioners believe that you can’t create a balanced, energized, or auspicious place without paying attention to the flow of similar elements in life. The goal of Feng Shui is to position a building, arrange its furniture and contents, and work with color and space in ways which put human habitats and activities in harmony with these subtle energies. Doing so is not believed to be just an issue of avoiding bad luck. Some Feng Shui practioners believe it can actually tip the scales of fate in one’s favor.
Decorating and Design Principles
So just how do you align your habitat with these life forces in order to change your life?
From the perspective of a true Feng Shui practitioner, there are no hard and fixed rules. Instead, Feng Shui relies on a deep understanding of the patterns of energy in the universe and interaction of these energies with each individual. A dedicated practitioner blends Feng Shui fundamentals with the details of a person’s life circumstances before making precise recommendations.
That being said, there are several general guidelines which are understood as vital for the propitious channeling of the chi flow. And despite the fact that the conceptual foundations of Feng Shui are esoteric to many Western minds, several of these maxims ring true with common sense. For example, the ancients came to regard south facing buildings as auspicious. This is not surprising considering that dwellings facing north do not capture the warmth of the sun and often bear the brunt of noxious storms. Isolated buildings are also discouraged, which, again, makes sense considering that people cannot thrive outside of a community.
When it comes to furniture design and placement, the basic idea is to keep the flow of chi unobstructed through the judicious use of open space and rounded shapes. Straight lines can hasten the flow of energy, and sharp edges can block it. Tall furniture or hanging objects can also inhibit energy, and mirrors can amplify it.
House design is also critical. For example, symmetric houses and rooms are preferable since energy can become trapped in odd angles or inlets. But front and rear entrances should not line up since chi will rush right through without delivering its benefits to the rest of the house.
Fact or Fiction?
These are just a few basic guidelines. Feng Shui’s design principles are complex and sometimes ambiguous. In fact, serious students of Feng Shui often study ancient texts for years before practicing.
But to the skeptic the real question is, does it work? Can mindful placement and optimal energy flow really create good fortune?
Carolina Siegal, co-owner of Feng Shui Sleep, has no doubt that Feng Shui can be an integral part of people’s healing. In addition to being a Feng Shui consultant, Siegal and her husband design and distribute innerspring futon mattresses that conform to Feng Shui principles. She has seen first hand how people’s lives can be changed by bringing their surroundings into metaphysical harmony.
“One woman we worked with had suffered for over ten years with insomnia and depression. Sleeping pills hadn’t helped at all. After learning about her life and examining her home, we recommended that she simply change the position of her bed and a few other things in her bedroom. Within six months, she was cured.”
Feng Shui, she believes, created that link between energy flow and her good fortune. “Feng Shui creates a positive energy flow which in turn creates positive thoughts. These thoughts usher in health and prosperity.”
Siegal also emphasizes the distinction between Feng Shui and good decorating. From her perspective, the difference between the two is similar to the difference between religion and spirituality. “Decorating is about making things look good. Feng Shui is about making things feel good.”
Feng Shui is a trend worthy of a futon retailer’s mettle, she points out, not just because it works but because of its increasing popularity – and changing demographics. “Donald Trump had to change the materials and design of his front lobbies,” she explains. “Before he did, he couldn’t get anyone of Asian descent to stay in his hotels.” She points out that Feng Shui remains a deep and abiding part of Chinese culture, a belief practiced still by rich and poor alike – and often carried by immigrants into the New World.
Feng Shui and the Futon
But what does Feng Shui mean for the futon retailer? For some, nothing. Yet, when asked, just about half of the futon store owners interviewed for this article were familiar with Feng Shui and had taken note of customers’ recent interest in it. Several pointed to changing buying habits that have resulted from the growing trend.
“Customers embrace Feng Shui as a way to simplify and unclutter their lives,” says Sandra Codette, owner of Celestial Futons in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I would say most of the customers who are interested in it are middle aged men. They tell us they are looking for furniture and décor which will create a good energy flow.”
And, as mentioned, shape plays a big part in creating this flow. Ann Brailsford of Futon Designs in Asheville, North Carolina has seen an increase in softer, rounded shapes as a result of customers’ interest in Feng Shui. These preferences often result in special order designs. “In the past six months to a year, I’ve seen more and more customers who are looking to create a dynamic air flow which feels right. These are level headed people who are looking to feel good through the use of natural shapes, colors, and fibers.”
“About forty percent of our customers are interested in creating a good flow in the room, regardless of what they call it,” explains Jenine Argenti, Manager of Depth of Field outside of Minneapolis. “And futons seem to be a part of these customers’ interest in natural, neutral, and minimalist décor.”
Charley Thompson of Futon Factory Outlet agrees that Feng Shui has grown to be a surprisingly democratic trend and is happy to report that futons seem to conform to these newer design principles. “One of our customers had her whole house reworked after meeting with a Feng Shui consultant. Based on their advice, she no longer wanted the metal of an innerspring futon mattress. Plus, she also liked the simple, natural wood futon frame.”
According to Brad Fortney of Fortney’s in Austin, Texas, customers interested in Feng Shui are more interested in arrangement than design. At the same time, they’re looking for natural decorative elements such as water fountains and plants. “It all makes sense to me,” he adds. “I think the better your house makes you feel, the better you are able to cope with the world around you.”
Amen. Even if you chalk it all up to superstition, it’s hard to argue with the objectives of Feng Shui: Serenity. Harmony with nature. Balance. Healthy living. Timeless values even after 7000 years. An increasingly elusive theme in this complex age of change.