Homewood House gets a feng shui checkup

When viewed from an Eastern perspective, stunning JHU building must find balance

Inspirations

November 06, 2005|By STEPHANIE SHAPIRO | STEPHANIE SHAPIRO,SUN REPORTER

By classical standards, Homewood House, completed early in the 19th century on what became the Johns Hopkins University campus, is a masterpiece.

If you apply the ancient principles of feng shui to its interior, it is also a beautiful home, but one that, facing south and southeast, admits an excess of "fire energy." For Homewood's ill-fated builder, Charles Carroll Jr., who spent profligately on his house and struggled with alcoholism, that energy may have been too much of a good thing.

On Friday and Saturday, as part of the symposium "The West and East of Homewood's Design: Palladianism and Feng Shui Considered," consultant Hope Karan Gerecht will address how the National Historic Landmark both succeeds and fails to achieve a sense of balance as defined by feng shui - the Chinese art of positioning objects and buildings for optimal chi, "the vital force or energy inherent in all things."

"If we are not balanced in our own personal energy, an excess of fire can lead to excesses in behavior," Gerecht says. In her book, Healing Design: Practical Feng Shui for Healthy and Gracious Living, Gerecht writes that the "emotional energies of the Fire element are inspiration, passion, radiance, assertiveness and awareness."

The same fire energy that fueled Carroll's intemperance led as well to the creation of a home that has become "a legend," Gerecht says. Even as construction costs skyrocketed 400 percent over budget, "He could not let go of this vision," she says.

With its round columns, bright colors, tall ceilings and symmetrical rooms, Homewood's interior does appear to follow certain feng shui tenets. Gerecht finds, for example, the "feeling of support and inspiration at the same time." The villa "captures that beautifully," she says.

But without the library table that stands in the expansive reception hall and back hall that divide Homewood House, "it would be hard to keep chi in the home," says Gerecht. She also notes other feng shui no-nos, such as the inherently cluttered feel of the master bedchamber, a source of "negative energy" and perhaps an indirect cause of Carroll's failed marriage to the charming Harriet Chew.

Naturally, Homewood House, now a museum, was not built with feng shui in mind. It was influenced in part by the theories of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Jeffry Klee, an architectural historian with Colonial Williamsburg, will open Friday's program with a "Palladian analysis" and tour of Homewood House.

Then, Gerecht will provide a feng shui perspective in a talk that may yield surprising parallels between the principles of balance found in both Palladian architecture and the ancient Chinese art of spatial organization.

The talks and tours take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Homewood House Museum, 3400 N. Charles St. The presentations will be followed by a Madeira reception in Homewood's wine cellar. Admission: $20 for nonmembers; $12 for members. Advance registration required. 410-516-5589.

stephanie.shapiro@baltsun.com

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--Lori Sears

The Inspirations page will rotate among four weekly themes: fashion, gardening, home decor and body. Send suggestions to harry.merritt@baltsun.com.

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