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How Feng Shui Can Bring Balance to Your Space (& Life)

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Feng Shui: Most know the term, few know the intricacies. But in the spirit of the Chinese New Year, I believe the time is nigh for this philosophical approach to one's environment to make a comeback in modern, Western society. True, certain Feng Shui motifs that are thought to bring positive results might not jive with everyone's personal aesthetic: Buddha statues, the Chinese symbol of your birth year, and wind chimes (though maybe every home would be happier with a wind chime).

However, some of the larger, overarching assertions of Feng Shui are universally in line with what our stressed-out, unbalanced society is longing for: Increase natural light as much as possible, decrease all clutter, and take meticulous care of each of your possessions. In short, live in harmony with your environment and your life will be better.

Photo by Pierre Yovanovitch

Feng Shui is based on the premise that every entity in the universe possesses energy, and that energy, known as qi (pronounced chee), can be positive, negative, or neutral. Your home has “house qui” generated from every item, living or non, within the home. The end goal of Feng Shui is to lay out and design your environment so that positive qi flows freely. When this is achieved, your life will be blessed and measurably improved.

Below I’ve outlined some larger tenets of Feng Shui, from the application of yin and yang to the five essential elements. There is much more where this comes from (think intricate diagrams and special compasses), but don’t let that intimidate you. Understanding how to apply Feng Shui to your home and reap the benefits is very straight-forward.

Left: A clean space with loads of natural light. Right: When in doubt, focus on bringing the natural world indoors. Photos by Ábaton Arquitectura (via Moco Loco), Blood & Champagne (via Lovely Quarters)


Yin and Yang

Much of Chinese philosophy comes back to the concept of yin and yang, which states that two diametrically opposing forces are in reality interdependent. What is dark without light? Summer without winter? Oprah without Stedman? To have proper qi in your home, it is essential to have a yin/yang balance.

Of course, anyone who came of age in the 90’s is familiar with the yin/yang symbol. Yin is the feminine influence, represented by black, while yang is the masculine, white side of the circle. The feminine yin is “passive” energy, while masculine yang is “active” energy (not exactly breaking down gender stereotypes, but this was centuries before Lean In).

Your bedroom and bathroom should have a strong yin presence: soothing respites, away from all stressors. Whereas, your home office and kitchen are ideal spaces to bring in the yang (this will cultivate activity and passion in your work and gatherings).

Don’t go too crazy, however, separating yin and yang within your household; they should never be in complete isolation. Always make sure to add a little calm to your areas of activity and vice versa.

The Five Elements of Feng Shui

Feng Shui is said to bring financial success, creativity, passion, strong familial ties, and good communication to those who observe it in their homes—and all these blessings are represented by five elements (metal, wood, fire, earth, water) that can be applied through furnishings and decor.

Here, too, it’s important to keep in mind yin/yang: No one blessing is more important than the others, so too much of one element can be detrimental. A little of each in strategic locations will do the trick.

Small Oval Pewter Tray

Small Oval Pewter Tray

Rectangular Domestic Wood Serving & Cutting Board

Rectangular Domestic Wood Serving & Cutting Board



In Feng Shui, having metal in your household represents financial success and clarity of thought. And as with all the elements, the representation of this material need not be literal—even if you use the color silver or a material with a metallic sheen, that will do the trick.

A metal sphere in a living space, and a mirrored bathroom wall. Photos by Sande Beck Design, Decor Pad

The shape associated with metal is round, so decorating with round metal or metallic objects is double the good qi. And if you want to take your Feng Shui to the next level, concentrate metal in the western corner of your household. (Mirrored surfaces can also work as metallic ones, though they do come with their own set of rules so be sure to do your research.)


Wood is the Feng Shui element that probably seems easiest to use given current design trends. If you already have an apartment that looks like a Dwell cover story, you are on your way to channeling creativity and inspiration in your life. The wood element will push you towards personal growth.

Wood is symbolized by the rectangular shape and is best utilized in the Eastern corner of your home. Photos by Quintessence, Paris Forino

Think of a tree that is strongly rooted, but also reaching upwards—you can use green, as well as brown to represent wood in your home.


Fire represents passion and intensity in Feng Shui. Of all the elements, fire is the one that should be used carefully and be thoughtfully balanced; a little fire will keep you warm, but too much fire can burn down the house. It's represented by the color red, which will work in lieu of actual flames, and a triangular shape.

Left: A hearth. Right: Diana Vreeland, a famously passionate woman and perhaps even more so in her red room she deemed a “garden in hell." Photos by Anouska Hempel Design, House Beautiful

And if you don't have a whole fireplace to rev up when it's cold, nor is red your best color, candles are another great way to easily bring fire to the home.


To bring earth elements into your household, think in terms of items made of the earth—like clay and ceramics.

Ceramics aren’t limited to dishware, as the porcelain artworks by Fenella Elms more than prove.
Ceramics aren’t limited to dishware, as the porcelain artworks by Fenella Elms more than prove. Photo by Fenella Elms

Earth tones—like orange, yellow, and brown—will also get the job done, as will actual plants. These elements bring about strong familial ties and are best suited for the center of the household. The earth’s shape is (counter-intuitively) the square.

If it’s in your wheelhouse, you can literally bring earth to the center of your home.
If it’s in your wheelhouse, you can literally bring earth to the center of your home. Photo by Design to Inspire


In contrast to fire, water elements can be used liberally throughout the house—though doing so is most potent in the northern area. Water represents a good “flow” of communication, particularly with others living in the house. And if you want to be literal, waterfalls and aquariums are good choices (if you do get an aquarium, nine yellow goldfish and one black are quite an auspicious combination).

Photo by Ong & Ong (via Archiphile)

For the aquarium-averse, the colors blue and black and a “wave” shape also represent water, as would motifs associated with marine life. Who can say no to this koi wallpaper (below), by Voutsa?

go fish 🐟🐠 #newwallpaper

A photo posted by blue print store (@blue_print_store) on

In the interest of full disclosure, while sitting in my room reading and writing about Feng Shui, I have never felt more out of harmony with my surroundings. A recent move, busy work schedule, and out of town travel all combined have caused my room to look like a bomb went off in it—which can, of course, happen to your bedroom even if you don't have any excuses. But in remembering what Feng Shui is about, I repeatedly found myself internally shouting “Yes! This is what I need in my life!”

If you’re in the same boat and would like to learn more about channeling the good chi, below are some excellent resources to guide the way.

Have you ever tried Feng Shui? Share your experiences in the comments!

Tags: feng shui, chinese, design, decor, home