Feng shui finds a place in America


August 21, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Staff Writer

When you hire an interior designer you expect, at most, a stylish, comfortable home. When you hire an interior designer trained in feng shui, you may get a little more than you bargained for. Placing a mirror above your stove, say, might bring unexpected wealth.

Feng shui -- pronounced FUNG shway -- is the Chinese art of placement to achieve harmony and balance, which can lead to other good things (like health, wealth and an improved love life). It's been around for a few years -- 6,000 to be exact -- but only recently has feng shui gone mainstream in parts of this country.

Articles on it have appeared in national news and shelter magazines, and newspapers from the New York Times to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Books have been written to make the practice more accessible to Westerners. The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has for the past couple of years held seminars on feng shui at its national conventions.

You may not find more than a handful of designers in Baltimore knowledgeable about feng shui; but in cities with large Chinese populations such as Los Angeles and New York, architects, real estate agents and designers regularly consult them. A West Coast developer might bring in a practitioner to examine his plans before he builds. Many of his potential customers won't buy a house if it has bad feng shui.

Remember the old real estate saw about location, location, location? Feng shui brings a whole new dimension to the concept. A house facing south, for instance, is very lucky. On a smaller scale, the placement of your sofa can be extremely important.

An underlying aim of feng shui is to increase the flow of good ch'i (the energy, essence or spiritual force) throughout your home. This might be done by rearranging furniture, "unblocking" entrances, adding mirrors or hanging wind chimes.

While the superstitious aspect of feng shui turns off some Westerners, the idea of a spiritual dimension to making a home more inviting and comfortable is intriguing to many individuals and interior designers.

"The reason people go into design in the first place," says Phoenix consultant Johndennis Govert, "is because they are interested in how place affects people. The Chinese have made it into an empirical science or art."

Mr. Govert, a Zen priest with an MBA from Northwestern University, is the feng shui expert who holds seminars for ASID. He's also the author of the book "Feng Shui: Art and Harmony of Place" (Daikakuji Publications, Phoenix, 1993).

Locally, interior designer Sherry Cucchiella is self-taught through extensive reading. "I consider feng shui along with other elements when I design a room," she says. "Many of its principles designers do anyway." For instance, mirrors are used to bring in light and expand space. And both interior designers and feng shui practitioners would agree that blue and green can be calming colors.

Some designers versed in feng shui have found ways to make its tenets more understandable to Western clients. Robin Lennon of the New York-based firm Inner Designs has made a study of what she calls "theories of sacred placement" throughout the world. Every culture, she says, has them.

"Personally, I think feng shui is a bit superstitious," she says, "but it's very, very popular." What she's done is develop a "metaphysical interior design," which embraces many of the concepts of feng shui but avoids others, such as hanging red ribbons to "cure" certain ills of a house.

She holds workshops and correspondence courses, and her book "Creating a Home for Your Heart" is to be published by Bantam next spring.

But some American clients want traditional feng shui. When artist Lindsay McCrumb moved into her New York apartment, she says, "I never really bonded with it. I was having trouble connecting with friends, and there were money problems." She consulted feng shui expert Melanie Lewandowski, who works out of New Hope, Pa. They moved furniture and placed mirrors around the apartment, including cleaning up what the feng shui expert designated a "relationship corner."

Within a couple of days, Ms. McCrumb says, she had calls from several friends and two dealers who wanted to buy her paintings.

But does she like the apartment any better? "There was a stagnant quality to it," she says. "With the adjustments there's a flow to it now, clarity, energy."

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