Feng Shui – What’s that about?

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Interior Design Advice, What's That About? - collection

Mention the words “Feng Shui” and you will get a number of different reactions from people. A few will respond as if you have said you like to go to the forest and dance with fairies. Others as if you have just cracked the best code ever to creating amazing homes that are just blissful to be in.

When I started telling people that I have a holistic approach to interior design, the initial reply was often “is that like Feng Shui and stuff?”. “Noooo of course not” I would respond as if they had just accused ME of wanting to dance with fairies in a coppiced woodland. However, I started to think it was darn time I educated myself more about the ancient Chinese art and, heck, see if I could add it to my holistic design tool belt.

So what is it?

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system for arranging your home to help the flow of “Chi”, which is energy. It translates as Wind (Feng) and Water (Shui) in Chinese as these two elements are associated with good health. If you are someone who feels a little sceptical about “Chi”, then pop that bit to one side and think of it as a great set of guidelines to create flow throughout your home leading to harmonious and balanced spaces.

What are the Basic things to address to work with Feng Shui?

The true depths and nuances of Feng Shui are huge. My aim with this blog post is to break it down into its basic parts. Think of it like Feng Shui for beginners.

Bagua Map

Okay, this one can get a little complicated so bear with me while I talk you through it. The Bagua Map divides up into 9 distinct zones. Each zone represents different aspects of our lives. These are

  1. Prosperity, Wealth & Abundance
  2. Fame, Reputation & Illumination
  3. Relationship, Love & Marriage
  4. Family, Elders & Community
  5. Health, Unity & Well-being
  6. Creativity, Children & Projects
  7. Knowledge, Wisdom and Self-worth
  8. Career & Life Plan
  9. Travel, Helpful Friends & Compassion.

This grid is laid over the space you wish to work on which can be as large as your plot of land, your whole home or just a single room. In modern Feng Shui, to orientate the grid correctly you place the career zone on the wall where the main entrance to the space is. E.g. the door side of the kitchen. I popped it all in these handy graphics for you to check out.

Feng Shui Begua Map
Feng Shui Begua Map over floor plan of kitchen

Each zone has additional components which are significant to it. These are: one of the elements, specific colours and also the relationship with certain of your organs and body parts. So, the Family, Elders and Community zone’s element is wood, the colour is green, the organs are liver and gallbladder and the body part is feet.

Once you know where each zone is then you can work out your layout and decor to enhance those aspects of your life. So, let’s say that your relationship corner is looking a little barren and so is your actual love life. It might be time to turn this into a welcoming area with a “couple” of chairs, possibly with a pink cushion (as that is the relationship corner colour!) which should welcome love into your life.

The Elements (Balance)

One of the keys in Feng Shui is to balance the five elements. These are:

  • Fire
  • Water
  • Wood
  • Earth
  • Metal

Each has different “energies”, shapes, genders and things that can represent them within a space. Within that interior you need an equal balance of all five elements to create harmony. As a designer I think this is just a great way of creating interesting spaces that balance well together. Too much of one element or another makes a space feel wrong, flipping between stark or overwhelming. Too much stainless steel and glass can be stark; too much wood can be overwhelming.

Within these five elements there are those that “feed” others, so Fire feeds Earth, and those that “reduce” others, so Metal reduces Earth.  Finally, there are elements that “destroy” others – Fire melts Metal. Yet again, putting my designer head on I can see how this works. Reds from the Fire element and browns from the Earth element harmonise really well together for an Autumn palette. An earthy room would look odd with a stainless steel table from the Metal element in it and a deep red room would jar if filled with only metal occasional furniture. To help you identify all the components of the elements I have put this diagram together!

Yin & Yang

The Yin and Yang symbol shows that dark and light balance each other and each has a little bit of the other in it. But what is your Yin and Yang? Yin is Feminine and seen as medium to dark colours, floral, textured, cosy spaces, curved and soft. Yang is Masculine and seen as light or bold colours, open spaces, geometrics and angular lines and shapes. In Feng Shui, to have a great interior you need an equal amount of Yin and Yang and they need to be working together.


This breaks down in two ways. There is the use of Symbolism of the five elements. So instead of requiring actual water in the “Career & Life Plan” section of your house you can have pictures of it or use blue paint. But how that water is depicted is also significant. Crashing, raging rivers or dark storms are tempestuous and can bring discord to the calm of your interior as well as your personal mood, unlike paintings of calm seas or tranquil ponds which are just more relaxing. This is where the second half of Symbolism comes in. Is what you are looking at creating a “Vibe”? Is a picture of a speed boat encouraging you to speed through life and never be at rest? Having read about symbolism I am now slightly paranoid about my large collection of empty vases. Am I just an empty vessel waiting to be filled?

I should also add that what something means to you can evoke a personal reaction. Things can have good or bad memories attached to them. If you bought a chair while on an amazing weekend break with your other half, then that chair will be filled with joy for you. Did you buy another chair which was begrudgingly purchased after an almighty fight between you and your partner? Not such good feeling with that one. The history that comes with an item that comes into your possession can be a very powerful thing.

Positioning of Furniture

Layout of your furniture has more meaning beyond the functional. The best example to give to highlight this part is the “Desk” position. This is the symbol of Career & Life Plan. The power position is to have your back to the wall with the greatest view of the room. Especially important is to have your eyes on the entrance. This is a position of strength. Alternatively, if you have your back to the door while facing a wall, you are in a weak position.

For me, the idea of there being an optimum position for furniture makes complete sense. This taps very much into how we both function and feel in a space. We love to have the best view and have our back protected. I think this is ingrained in our hunter/prey DNA where we would have always been looking for the best position to hunt for food and not be surprised by an attack.

Continuity and Connectedness

You are what you see and your home is a reflection of who you are. Whether we believe in Feng Shui or not we do believe in this. When we see a house decorated in a striking confident way it often comes hand in hand with a confident home owner. If we go into an environment that feels scruffy and jumbled, then that is the feel we get inside. I often wonder how offices that look like a mismatched mess of furniture and paper can keep staff happy or sign new customers. You can’t help but be brought down by the surroundings and also form a judgement about the type of service you are going to receive.


Feng Shui is big on the idea of no clutter, saying that it can stagnate the flow of your Chi. I have a million other reasons why clutter can be detrimental to your home life which I have merrily talked about before. Piles of stuff that linger in your life looking for a purpose are hugely symbolic. As Regina Leeds says in her book “One Year to An Organized Life”, clutter is just unmade decisions. Feng Shui says that by holding onto unwanted stuff from the past we are holding ourselves back from the possibility of what the future can bring.

So, what do you do now?

I have tried to boil down a huge subject which has so much depth into a bite-sized blog. I have to admit that things like balancing Yin and Yang and the five elements in interiors, the positioning of furniture and the symbolism of what you surround yourself with, all make sense to me and are easy to get my head around. In fact, I suspect I’ve naturally been implementing them anyway. But I still have difficulty making the leap from theory to practise with the Begua Map without being too literal; wind chimes in your wealth area wouldn’t go down too well in our house. The other thing that I struggle with and I see others do the same is the element of mysticism. The “if I do this to my home, this will happen in my life” aspect.  Feng Shui isn’t magic. It’s about how we connect to what surrounds us, which is pretty similar to Biophilic and Wellness design. I think it might take an expert to 100% crack the code to a blissful home, but I think I’m getting there! 

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