Home Decor

A Guide to Feng Shui in the Kitchen, Courtesy of TikTok’s Favorite Architect

Distilling an ancient Chinese philosophy for a largely Gen Z audience may seem like a radical proposition, but Cliff Tan has it covered.

February 12, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

“How do you furnish a 7 sq-ft room?"

In a 30-second TikTok video, architect Cliff Tan, also known as @dearmodern, uses tiny furniture figurines to propose a solution. With over 35.4 million views, it’s safe to assume that many were grappling with a similar question—or just curious to see his response.

Since launching his TikTok account in 2020, the Singapore-born, London-based architect has amassed over 1.6 million followers. His videos tackle different rooms and design issues, but #fengshui is the through-line. Distilling an ancient Chinese philosophy for a largely Gen Z audience may seem like a radical proposition, but according to Tan, his advice appeals to common sense. “There is a logical reason behind every feng shui principle,” he writes in his new book Feng Shui Modern. “As long as we understand those principles, and apply them meaningfully to our spaces, feng shui will feel natural and instinctive.”

In his book, which will be released in the US this month, Tan breaks down the foundations of feng shui, like chi (flow and energy, collectively) and the five symbolic elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire (balance is key). Tan also lays out how to apply feng shui principles room-by-room, addressing common dilemmas like tiny bedrooms and irregularly shaped kitchens.

Kitchens, in general, present a unique challenge. “Traditionally, kitchens were considered a service room, not part of the home,” said Tan on a recent video call from Singapore, where he was promoting his book. But, of course, both society and the role of the kitchen have evolved, and, according to Tan, feng shui needs to catch up.

If you’re like me, the kitchen is the heart of your home—the place where your guests inevitably gravitate and where you spend the bulk of your time, by choice. Cultivating good chi in the kitchen can improve the quality of daily life, not to mention, daily cooking.

Here, a guide to applying the principles of feng shui to your kitchen, gleaned from Feng Shui Modern, my recent conversation with Tan and, of course, his brilliant TikTok account.

1. Find the command position

A recurring theme in feng shui is the command position. “It’s the position where you feel most comfortable,” explained Tan. “The place where you feel secure, not vulnerable.” In his book, he gives the example of entering a busy cafe—how you instinctively assess the space and choose the best place to sit: close to the window, with your back to the wall, and a good view of the entire room.

When planning your kitchen, the first thing you’ll want to do is locate the command position, which depends on how you cook—the appliance you plan to use most. For example, if you ask a Chinese family, it’s all about the wok and the stove; they don’t use the oven as much,” said Tan.

Once you identify your preferred cooking appliance, you place it in the command position—the most prominent spot, where you feel comfortable using it. Maybe that’s in the center of a large wall opposite the entrance; or maybe you’re more comfortable cooking on an island, facing the entrance, so you can see who’s coming and going. “Let how you feel be your ultimate guide,” writes Tan.

2. Control the fire element

Feng shui experts may have conflicting opinions on how to treat the modern kitchen, but one thing’s settled: you must control the fire element. Tan explained, “Energy comes from growth, from the wood elements, but not from fire. Fire is stronger. You can have it in limited amounts to balance the other elements, but not a big open flame in your living space.”

So, how do you control the fire element? Once you place your preferred cooking appliance in the command position, organize your other appliances, like the refrigerator, freezer and sink, around it. As these are water elements, it’s important to place barriers, like counters or cabinets, between them and the fire element.

Be mindful of how your decor interacts with the fire element. Said Tan, “Don’t have mirrors reflecting the fire. This is starting to sound very ‘woo woo’ (laughs), but basically, you want the kitchen to feel like a space where if the fire gets out of control it’s not going to go everywhere.”

And finally, if your kitchen is near the entrance, try to keep the main cooking appliance, like the stove, out of sight from the front door. Otherwise, you risk burning away good chi entering your home.

3. Optimize your performance

“Feng shui gives you the right environment in which to optimize your own performance to achieve your goals,” writes Tan. While it can’t guarantee a specific outcome—that you’ll stick the landing on your first attempt at chicken lollipops—designing a cooking space where you want to spend time can certainly help.

Aside from designating the command position and arranging the water elements, Tan recommends maximizing counter space. “Of course, storage is important, but people underestimate the importance of actual counter space. So what if your kitchen has so much storage? If you can’t use it, you can’t prepare meals,” he said.

“That’s why I always tell people that if you can, try to use low cabinets, because you can use the tops as counter space. Try to store appliances away to give yourself space to work; and if you don't have enough counter space, you can work on your dining table—have it nearby, in a way that can support you.”

4. Curb aggression

Open shelves and magnetic knife holders seem like attractive design trends, but the sharp angles and cluttered surfaces risk creating an aggressive chi in your kitchen.

Said Tan, “Open shelves are popular on social media and glossy magazines. They look nice because they are well curated; they become a platform for display. But many people don’t realize how curated these things are. The thing is, they’re not really functional. They look nice but it’s hard to keep them looking nice in your own home. That’s when it becomes a bit troublesome.”

As a rule of thumb, he says, function takes priority over form.

It’s important to note, however, that “clutter” is subjective—having many objects on a surface isn’t inherently bad. Said Tan, “There are people who need to see their things in order to function. It’s about how these things affect you. If they affect you negatively, they’re in the wrong place. If they support you, like if you have a messy desk but everything is in its place, that’s not considered clutter.”

5. Remember to compromise

Because feng shui is rooted in one’s subjective experience of a space, it’s important to take into account each person’s preferences when designing your kitchen. Take, for example, the increasingly common open kitchen that doubles as a living room.

“If you put the kitchen in the best place in the room, and say, [your partner] wants to watch TV, maybe they’re not able to be in the command position while watching TV, so that might require a sacrifice.”

Just as no person exists in a vacuum, no room does either, and it’s important to consider the feel and function of each distinct space; to not prioritize the design or placement of one to the total detriment of the other. Said Tan, “We all have compromises to be made.”

Have you found ways to bring feng shui principles into your home? We'd love to know more.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Linda Robinson
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    Connie Wilkin
Caitlin is a Paris-based writer. She wrote about food and wine while living in Madrid after college, and had a brief career as a lawyer before moving back to Spain to work in restaurants and attend culinary courses at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. She has worked or staged at Mina, Nerua and Septime. Caitlin is currently working on her first memoir about working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Bilbao. Follow her on Insta at @caitlinrauxgunther


Linda R. April 16, 2022
There is a huge difference between the "7 sq ft room" in the "How to furnish..." query and the "7 ft square room" shown in the diagram -- 42 sq ft, in fact! The first is the equivalent of a 1 ft x 7 ft space; the second, a space that is 7 ft x 7 ft. Proof reading is vital.
Connie W. April 16, 2022
Where can I find the rug in the Rocky Luten picture? (2nd shot from the top). It is not on the linked website. Thank you!