- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Following feng shui principles is easy when designing a home from scratch. Simply ask the contractors to make sure every doorway, hall and staircase adheres to the ancient Chinese traditions upon which feng shui is based.

But how many homeowners are in the position to do that?

Tweaking existing homes using feng shui — the Chinese art of placement — is an art unto itself.

Most homes will feature some design element that runs counter to feng shui ideals, but area experts contend there’s hope for seemingly hopeless interiors.

Strict practitioners of feng shui, which literally means “wind and water,” claim the proper positioning of furniture and the right balance of colors can boost one’s love life and lead to greater wealth and overall happiness. Others simply appreciate its design manifestos, which yield gentle, pleasing environments.

Feng shui is concerned with the ebb and flow of chi, which refers to the energies around us. It’s a resource feng shui experts try to harness for the homeowner’s well-being. This flow reacts to color, light, sound, temperature, smell and movement, which makes it harder to measure, but easier to manipulate.

Feng shui dates back thousands of years to China where people first used it to find the most appropriate and honorable places to bury the dead. Today, it’s embraced in both original and Westernized forms. The latter has a more pragmatic, less spiritual approach to the practice. The belief in and understanding of chi unites the disparate schools of thought.

Maryland-based feng shui practitioner Patricia Lee says too many town houses offer floor plans that let chi in — and out — of the home.

“When you open the door, there’s a straight beeline to the back door. … You have no chance to benefit from it,” Ms. Lee says.

One way to stop the runaway chi is to hang decor on or near the path in question and use rugs to impede some of the energy flow.

“Try to hang things along the wall or even from the ceiling, a faceted crystal, for example, anything that slows down the chi… even a wind chime,” she says.

Sara Schroerlucke, a feng shui practitioner in Alexandria, says according to Asian philosophies, where the chi goes, the money will follow.

“The main door of the house is considered where the chi comes in, it’s associated with prosperity and financial wealth,” Ms. Schroerlucke says. “You don’t want it to go out.”

Improperly aligned hallways are just one problem homeowners hoping for feng shui tranquility must conquer.

Sloping back yards pose a similar chi problem, she says, and it will take more than a wall hanging to correct it.

“Trees help, but not really. When the leaves go, you still see the slope. I recommend a fence,” says Ms. Schroerlucke, who occasionally works with local contractors to guide them on proper feng shui principles.

Ms. Schroerlucke faced her own feng shui crisis when she moved into her home in Alexandria a few years ago. A stairwell sat right in front of the main door, another avenue for chi to flee.

“Initially, I found a hall tree with a mirror and put that on the side so it faced the other side of the room,” she says, adding some feng shui experts might also recommend hanging a crystal in the entrance or placing emperor coins under the threshold. The coins symbolize wealth, prosperity and abundance.

Some problems can be massaged without significant effort — or cost.

Ms. Lee says a basic feng shui tenet is placing one’s key furniture in a room’s command position, “the position of the greatest power in the room.”

“You can see the greatest view of the room from where you sit or sleep,” she says. The wall behind this position shouldn’t be interrupted by a window or door frame. If the former is the case, she recommends installing thick curtain over the space, especially if the command position in question is the homeowner’s bed.

And try not to put a desk in front of a door frame.

“If you have your back to a door, you miss opportunities,” she says.

Silver Spring resident Wendy McAllister used feng shui principles to bring balance to her kitchen. Ms. McAllister couldn’t do much about the location of her stove and microwave, so Ms. Lee suggested using black accents to bring harmony to the room. Black represents water, while the stove and microwave equate to fire, Ms. McAllister says.

To that end, she added black handles to her kitchen cabinets and hung curtains with black in them along the room’s windows.

Ms. Lee also suggested adding a fire pit in Ms. McAllister’s back yard to balance out the pool, a more obvious water source.

Cindy Stroup of Arlington hired Ms. Schroerlucke in 2000 to renovate her brick home.

Ms. Stroup says her home also had a stairwell in an inappropriate place for feng shui concerns, and Ms. Schroerlucke helped her work around it.

The homeowner replaced the front door bell with a mechanical model connected to a brass bell on the inside.

“It helps reflect the good energy back into the house,” Ms. Stroup says of the decorative piece. She also hung a brass chime nearby to the same effect.

Ms. Schroerlucke also suggested she group family photographs in one area of the home — similar objects draw strength from each other, the consultant told her.

Ms. Stroup is delighted with the results. She just can’t say exactly why.

“This created an emotional quiet in that area that wasn’t there before. … It just feels better to me. It’s hard to describe,” she says. “I knew there were problems in my home intuitively, but I didn’t know how to fix them.”

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