Around the House, Circulating the Ch’i

Ever walk into a room or a house and it just seems depressed or even "dead"? I’ve experienced more than a few in my time as a Decorator. In some rooms the obvious cause is that they just plain haven’t been cared for; the upholstery is fraying, the drapes are faded and there is a dusty collection of time-worn memorabilia — the atmosphere is heavy and draining.

I’ve seen some rooms that are so cluttered it’s hard to breathe — but even empty spaces can have this lifeless quality. One of my client’s had purchased a large family house in Northern Westchester and when I first saw it, it seemed eerily unhappy to me. I found out later that they had purchased it at a tremendous bargain price from the builder who had gone bankrupt; his dashed hopes and mental anguish seemed to inhabit the place.

Some of the most lifeless rooms I visit are massive furniture showrooms — acres of staged furniture groupings augmented by fake flower arrangements, bogus accessories and poor reproduction art. Even if everything is brand new it’s often hard for a customer to get excited about anything because the atmosphere is so deadly. But take a perfectly nice piece of furniture out of that setting and put it in a room with great color, an interesting carpet, original artwork, good lighting, and bingo — it all comes alive! Well, you might guess, I’ve been revisiting my Feng Shui practice again — this time my inspiration is Marie Diamond, made famous by her appearance on the film "The Secret" which was wildly popular a few months back. Drawing from two traditional Chinese schools of Feng Shui, the "compass" and the "landscape" schools and by adding her own observations with a few references to theories of modern Physics, Diamond has developed a decidedly practical and slightly more western approach to Feng Shui.

According to Feng Shui, everything has Ch’i. It is the life-force that pervades the universe and everything that exists carries a measure of this life-force. The house we live in, the objects we surround ourselves with, the clothes we wear, the food we eat all have a measure of Ch’i. The most desirable state is to live with abundant Ch’i or high energy, and one way to support that goal is to lift the energy or "raise the Ch’i" of the home — something that fascinates me as an interior designer.

The Entry

To boost the energy of your home, start with the entrance which in Feng shui parlance is known as "the mouth of Ch’i." This is the primary portal where Ch’i enters the home. It should be clean, unobstructed (keep the boots and shoes in the closet), and well-lighted. Also, from the outside, it should be clear where the front door is. Have you ever been to a house where you’re not sure where to enter? Well apparently, if we are uncertain about where to enter, Ch’i is hesitant to enter also. Another tip — although many of us exclusively use the back door or the entrance from the garage, it’s best to utilize the front door. Doormats should be solid and simple. Feng Shui argues that it defeats the sentiment if you wipe your feet on the mat that proclaims "welcome."

Moving on…

Once you have welcomed that good energy in through the entrance, keep it flowing. Ch’i stagnates where there is disorder so the first and most fundamental step is to make sure all your rooms are clean and organized: no dust bunnies, no dried flowers, and keep everything neat and orderly. Ch’i flows best in a meandering curving pattern; if you feel it is racing straightaway down a long hallway it can be slowed by placing mirrors and artwork on opposing sides. It can be directed into a room with a bright color or a beautiful object. It’s a balancing act; you want a nice flow of Ch’i. If it’s moving too fast, place an obstacle in it’s path such as a piece of furniture; if it’s moving too slowly, speed it up with mirrors or lights.

Managing Your Chair and Bed

Wherever you sit the most, and especially in your workplace, sit on a solid, strong chair with a high back. You should feel like the Queen or King of your life and this is your "throne." It’s best to have a solid wall behind you as well. If you spend a lot of time working at a desk, the desk should be placed so that without being directly in line with the entrance to the room (the incoming Ch’i), you can see the door easily and be aware of incoming Ch’i without being surprised or disturbed by it. The same holds true for the bed: even if you sleep alone, sleep in a queen or king size bed and make sure that you can see the entrance to the room without being directly in line with the door.

The Chinese have devised a way to determine your best directions based on the cardinal points of the compass. Each person is assigned a Personal Energy Number that is determined by the year in which you were born. For example, if you were a man born between January 30, 1968 and Feb 16, 1969, your personal energy number is 5. Your most powerful energy direction would be Northeast so it would further enhance your personal success to face Northeast when working and to sleep with your head facing Northeast.


Finally, color is a huge influence in directing the energy of Ch’i. The traditional Feng Shui approach to color has always been a bit disappointing to me. There is an emphasis placed on the six True Colors which are, in their proper sequence: white, red, yellow, green, blue, and black. The application of these colors can be used in a general formulaic way or they can be used more creatively to correct unbalanced Ch’i. Colors are assigned to the major directions of the compass: North is blue and black, South is red, Southeast is green, brown and lilac, and so on. Using these colors in the corresponding directions in one’s home will enhance the flow of Ch’i. As an interior designer, I always found this a bit limiting.

Diamond’s approach to color expands on the traditional color theory to include 24 variations of hues with accompanying properties. A few examples: gold signifies abundance (not surprising), aqua blue signifies clarity, the color for harmony is magenta, color for tenderness is pink, and wisdom is yellow. These colors can be employed in your home to support the specific property that you want to focus on. For example, the general direction for health is East and the color for East is emerald green. So, to enhance the general health of your family, you could place an emerald green object or color in the Eastern part of your home to raise the Ch’i for health.

In addition, each personal energy number is associated with a natural element — fire, wood, water, metal or wood — and a corresponding color. So, to return to our example of the man with the personal energy number of 5 — this number is associated with the earth element and earthtone colors of yellow, red, orange, brown, rose, and beige. He would be wise to choose one of these colors for his bedroom.

Feng Shui is not a matter of applying a rote set of rules; it is an art that requires a sensitivity to energy and a quest for the right balance. That balance is not static but always changing, which is why what seemed so right for you and your space five or fifteen years ago may seem to have lost its energy or even died! If you’d like to know more about the Diamond approach to Feng Shui, go to to find out more about her course.

Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 37 Main St., Tarrytown, NY

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