Living Well

Writer Zoe Louise Cronk | March 14, 2019

We all have our ways of staying calm and centred, from yoga to meditation or a candlelit bath. But how about the spaces that surround you – do they help bring well-being into balance? Textures, furniture placement and the colour of decor can all impact how you feel and behave. Here we look into the elements of your home and workspace that play the biggest part and how to ensure they promote positivity.

A philosophy dating back thousands of years, the ancient Chinese discipline of feng shui is about channelling and harnessing positive life energy, or qi, to inspire a feeling of vibrancy and harmony in your home. The concept is that much of our happiness is in response to our environment and that by choosing our furniture carefully, and placing certain items in specific locations around the space, each room can have the ideal characteristics for success. Here are a few simple steps to home enlightenment to get you started.

HANGING IN THE BALANCE

The first step is to declutter. Nothing drains the mind of positivity like a jumbled space. We’ve all experienced that latent panic as we glance around a messy room, which is why organisation is the way to a feng shui-friendly home. Start by culling possessions, which either haven’t been used in the last year, or that hold no sentimental value. The remaining items should benefit your life – be it a practical use or evoking a fond memory – and should be easily tidied away.

Once you’re feeling organised, turn your attention to balancing the five natural elements in your home: wood, fire, metal, earth and water. According to feng shui, each one is associated with a different area of life. Wood and water, for example, are thought to represent personal growth and prosperity, particularly when located in the south-eastern corner of your home. If a small water feature isn’t feasible, choose wooden ornaments or furniture, and keep them balanced with metal fittings and fixtures to instill strength. Non-toxic candles are an obvious choice for the fire element, while plants tick the boxes for earth – the element associated with health. And that’s not the only reason to bring the outside in. Choosing the right foliage can support your well-being in ways other than feng shui.   

Natural environments are seen as restorative and having plant life in your home or workplace can improve both the air quality and your mental health. As well as looking lovely, peace lilies and rubber plants in particular absorb toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, leaving cleaner air for you to breathe. But that’s not all. Having greenery around has also been shown to help reduce stress, improve mood and increase concentration. Orchids are ideal for your bedroom, as unlike most other plants, they release oxygen overnight as well as during the day. Got a shrub-shaped gap on your desk? Getting a succulent with broad leaves will help to regulate humidity and create a calm aura. It could be just the breath of fresh air your office needs.

Other feng shui decorative advice places emphasis on the bedroom. The space in which you spend the majority of your time at rest, it’s important to consider your sleeping location. Supposedly the space most conducive to improved well-being is diagonally across from your bedroom door, not opposite a bathroom or under any low-hanging lights. This will enable positive energy flow and will help you awake with a strong, calm and controlled outlook on life.

Keep in mind too that mirrors reflect qi, so it’s best not to place them opposite doors or windows as it channels optimism away from your home. Another simple tip is to rearrange your living room every month to keep energy from becoming stagnant.

CREATE SPACE

If you have the luxury of designing your own space or are hunting for a new home, there are a few architectural points fundamental for good feng shui. Starting at the front door, keep an eye out for houses with broad, spacious entryways. This is where positive energy is beckoned inside, so keeping hallways free from chaos is key to enabling qi to flow seamlessly into your abode. Avoid putting any dividers or partition walls in front of the door too as this may deflect the energy you’re looking to harness.   

Next, head to the north-east corner of your home. The Hindu system of architecture known as vastu shastra states that creating a living space where love and happiness can be nurtured and expressed begins with striking a balance in your decor. In this case, between masculine and feminine, with the latter located in the north-east. The feminine symbolises stability, sentiment and reflection, and can be channelled via the element of water; much like feng shui. To utilise its full potential, remove any barriers or fierce-looking art in this area and decorate instead with a vase of clean water and fresh flowers. Another notion that vastu shastra and feng shui share is the concept of energy. Homes with an east, north or north-east facing entrance are thought to have a naturally more positive, feminine energy. However prickly plants like cactuses and furniture with sharp edges can have a contradictory effect.

Are you still deciding if a potential new apartment is for you? Or looking at blueprints of your dream house design? Consider brightness. It will come as no surprise that in the home and the workplace, natural light trumps most else. Studies show the positive psychological and physiological effects of natural light, which is why homes with large picture windows are considered most desirable. Light is important in theories on improve well-being, including feng shui and vastu shastra. But if an abundance of natural light isn’t an option, think instead about your interior lighting.

Working, eating, exercising and sleeping indoors where there’s little natural light can play havoc with your circadian rhythm, spurring poor sleep and digestion. Overly bright and fluorescent lights should be avoided if you want to feel good, work efficiently and maintain creativity. Thankfully there’s a manmade alternative to support your mental health in spaces with little natural light. LEDs have been shown to improve concentration, lower stress and increase motivation possibly due to their even distribution of colour, and they won’t disrupt your slumber either.

Another architectural trait to note is ceiling height and room size. The concept of spatial cognition relates to how closed or restricted spaces can detrimentally affect our mindset – specifically our imagination and ability to focus. Creativity is thought to be blocked in this architectural set-up over long periods of time. Research suggests open-concept designs with high ceilings are the way forward, impacting our subconscious perception of space, and allowing us to maintain a better perspective of the world and draw inspiration from more channels.

Similarly, having areas of your home dedicated to different tasks, doing your taxes versus unwinding with a movie for example, is said to help unlock and relax your mind. The idea is that your brain will leave questions and problems related to one task in that room, so you can be free of its concerns until you re-enter the space, a theory that falls under the umbrella of environmental psychology.

Colour is also important. Many choose shades for interiors in line with trends and personal style, but it goes further than that. Over the last decade, studies in neuroscience and psychology have shown the effect that colour can have on our brains and hormones when impacting mood, emotion and behaviour. Feng shui and scientific research agree on many of the perceptions of different colours. Warm shades like reds, yellows and oranges, for example, are considered welcoming, passionate and stimulate energy and appetite. According to feng shui, these hues are linked to the natural element of fire, most dominant in the southern-most space of your home.

Moving onto the element of water, blues and soft greys are said to soothe mind and body, making them ideal for bathrooms where many of us retreat to for a hot bath and to unwind. Water is also a potent feng shui symbol of wealth and abundance, which may explain why these shades are often seen in offices. Pair these watery hues with either neutral beige and sandy colours, or dark greys and whites. The former represents the earth element, symbolising nourishment and stability, thought to have a grounding, supportive effect on your mindset. The latter is about clarity and preciseness. This representation of the metal element is often channelled to sustain calm, collected energy and help eliminate distractions.

And it’s not just the colour of your walls that can make a difference. Research shows gazing out at any kind of greenery or shimmering blue body if water can centre the mind so you’re equipped to tackle whatever the day throws at you. It’s an obvious one, but finding a spot to live or work with a view is ideal. Not possible? Art that reflects a similar image can have a comparable effect, particularly helpful for us city folk.

young woman sitting next to windows drinking coffee with tablet computer in hand in cafe.

PLEASING PROPORTIONS

Ready for a few final tips? The first comes from the theory of persuasive design, which uses decor and architecture to subconsciously influence human behaviour and mentality. An example for your home is to make the dining area comfortable, appealing and the centre of your living space to encourage yourself and those you live with to spend more time enjoying a meal and talking than engrossed in television. This shift can make a big difference to the level of communication and social interaction in our homes, which are both associated with enhanced well-being. Similarly, placing your most comfortable armchair next to a window means you’re more likely to curl up with a book or gaze at the view. In the workplace, high tables without chairs are recommended for meeting spaces to encourage employees to keep meetings succinct and on topic.

Finally, we return to the practice of feng shui in regards to symmetry. Just as a wonky picture on the wall can make us feel a little off-kilter, so too does a room out of balance. Symmetry is a straightforward way to achieve visual stability and bring a sense of order and harmony, achieved simply via adding items in pairs. Lamps and artwork are a good place to start.

Symmetry is also a key principle in environmental psychology, shown to have a positive, wholesome impact on the human psyche. Recent research has shown how specialised cells in the hippocampal area of our brains are more attuned to the geometry of the spaces we inhabit than previously thought. Decor that’s largely symmetrical can help to focus the mind. An interior styling choice particularly popular in Japanese design, it favours stark clean lines, minimalist decoration and balancing similarly weighted objects throughout the space.

There is however some benefit in bringing a little asymmetry in too, which can be useful in creating a dynamic working environment and provoking original thought. Art, for example, doesn’t need to be even. While it’s pleasing to the eye to hang frames in a symmetrical formation, bringing in a mix of artistic forms, colours and textures that are distinctly asymmetrical can be equally good in terms of well-being.