Apply this ancient Chinese practice to create balance and harmony in your space.

By Jessica Bennett
March 15, 2021
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Your home's design can have a significant impact on your overall happiness. A space that makes you feel good reflects positively on other aspects of your life, and the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui has been applied with this aim for thousands of years. "Feng shui is really an art that celebrates science," says Gabrielle Santiago, a Los Angeles-based interior designer and feng shui expert. "Its purpose is to achieve harmony and balance between humans and their environment."

Feng shui, which translates literally to "wind and water," was historically used to select favorable places and times for building homes, growing crops, and other life-sustaining activities, Santiago says. The philosophy is based around the elements of earth, metal, water, wood, and fire, which can all be represented through various shapes, colors, and materials throughout a home. The right balance helps cultivate happy, organized spaces that support our well-being and daily lives.

Neutral living room with Scandinavian style
Credit: Victoria Pearson

One of the most important feng shui factors is the chi, or energy, in a room. Joanna Lily Wong, feng shui expert and principal of Ennate Design & Development, suggests thinking of chi like the flow of water, which can range from still to rapid. "In a large room where there's not a lot of furniture, the energy rushes in like a flood, which can make you feel lost with nowhere to go," Wong says. Conversely, a small space that's packed with too many furnishings doesn't give the energy enough room to move, resulting in a stagnant feeling.

"[Feng shui] is rooted in the idea that you find positive energy not by crossing your fingers and hoping for it, but by seeking it," Santiago says. To foster a harmonious feeling in your own home, try these simple ways to incorporate feng shui.

renovated neutral-colored living room with pink and blue accent pieces
Credit: Lisa Romerein

1. Clear away clutter.

According to the philosophy, excessive clutter can impede the flow of energy in your home. "If you're feeling tired, depressed, unmotivated, or claustrophobic, the chi in your home is probably too slow," Santiago says. Employ organizing solutions that help you minimize clutter, especially around passageways like doors and hallways. Remove any obstacles that stand in your path as you move through your home, and let go of unnecessary or unwanted items that are taking up valuable space.

2. Open up the traffic flow.

Choose furniture arrangements that allow for open pathways into and around rooms. Blocked traffic flow results in blocked chi, Wong says. In the living room, for example, avoid layouts that place the back of the sofa toward the entrance of the room, and consider swapping your square coffee table for a circular one. "Rounded corners are preferable to sharp edges because they allow for a smoother traffic flow," she says. Think about how you move through a room and make sure your route is smooth and clear.

white entryway bold rug
Credit: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

3. Design a welcoming entryway.

"The reaction that you have when entering your house is the energy you're going to bring into the rest of the home," Wong says. Create a positive first impression with a tidy entryway that feels bright and inviting. Incorporate plants inside the entryway and around your front door to foster a welcoming atmosphere. Fix doors that stick or finicky locks that cause frustration when you arrive home, and add plenty of lighting so you're not immediately walking into a dark room.

4. Bring in plants.

Plants provide a literal connection to nature within our homes, lending energy and freshness. Decorate rooms with plenty of plant life, taking care to choose varieties that are appropriate for your home's light conditions and your ability to care for them. However, beware of those with spiky or pointy leaves. "Plants with rounder, softer leaves help ensure you're not subconsciously on edge," Wong says.

Bedroom with geometric throw blanket and artwork
Credit: Helen Elizabeth Norman

5. Utilize the command position.

The command position refers to where a piece of furniture is located in relation to the door. When lying in bed or sitting at your desk, for example, you should ideally be able to see the door without being directly in line with it. The best spot is often located diagonally from the door with a solid wall behind you. This represents your ability to effectively handle opportunities or threats that come into your life, and the reasoning can be traced back to our animal instincts, Wong explains. "You want to be able to see who's entering your private space, but positioning yourself directly in front of the door puts you in a vulnerable spot," she says.

white living room with patterned chairs
Credit: David Tsay

6. Create balance with color.

Depending on the shade, color can ground or uplift a room. Wong recommends keeping darker colors lower to the floor to provide a solid foundation. Then apply light colors on walls and ceilings for a balanced, open effect. The opposite application (light-colored floors with dark walls) can lead to an imbalanced feeling.

Remember: The goal isn't to achieve perfect feng shui. Focus on small changes that help you feel more relaxed and content. "Your home is a reflection of yourself," Santiago says. "The positive changes you make to your home are positively and beneficially reflected in your life."

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