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Most of us spend our days racing about like the proverbial beheaded clucker, feathers flying as we tackle lists of tasks. Recently, Atlanta-based design consultant Cristin Zegers met me for coffee and we chuckled at our mutually breathless entry, both rattled from a week of just such Sisyphean efforts.

Reducing the chaos in our lives quickly became the topic of conversation, with Cristin praising the benefits of feng shui as a method of creating harmony and balance in the home environment. She offered to show me the basics in my house and suggested I have a little feng shui soiree, inviting over some friends who might be interested in learning more about this ancient Chinese practice. “We’re all too flustered, placing too many demands on ourselves. We need to exhale and be gracious with one another,” she said. So, I cordially invited a dozen ladies to witness my chaos over brunch.

I decide to bypass my usual Martha Stewart-esque whirlwind. When people asked if they could bring something for the brunch… I said “Yes, Please do!”

Food For Thought

Entertaining (big or small) often spins me into a dizzying frenzy of planning, prepping, cooking and cleaning, where I end up in an exhausted haze. This time, I let it all go. All of it. I straightened up the room where we’d be eating, but left most of house as-is, including the areas where clutter collected. I provided beverages for the brunch, but asked each guest to bring a simple dish to share — a very easy request that immediately left me unburdened, and my friends happy to help. (I’m trying to learn that when friends ask what they can bring, I really can take them up on the offer. But I digress …)

Atlanta-based design consultant, Cristin Zegers, asked us to reflect on what the energy felt like in our homes. Then taught us the basics of feng shui principles using the Bagua map.

Cristin started her presentation by asking us to ponder some heavy questions about whether we were truly living each day in gratitude. Most of us already have everything we need, but we’re not allowing ourselves the privilege of enjoying everyday blessings. We make resolutions to get organized, but can’t seem to make it happen. According to Cristin, it’s really not about clutterless closets or organized pantries, it’s about finding intention and focus. Feng shui, as a practice, requires paying attention to the flow and balance of energy, or chi, that’s in our homes, as well as noticing what we bring into our space and what’s reflected back into our lives. Cristin explained that feng shui honors the human spirit as part of nature — everything is alive, everything is connected, and everything is constantly changing. The nature and energy around us, balances with the nature and energy within us. (Think of yin/yang, karma, and all those laws of matter and energy you learned in high school physics class.) Incorporating feng shui principles into interior design involves establishing intention, following a Bagua map to understand the chi and incorporating the 5 natural elements.

Bagua Basics

Cristin used the floor plan of my home to create a Bagua Map, a grid that determines how energy flows within eight specific zones surrounding a center. The term bagua translates from the Chinese word ba,or 8, and gua, meaning divinatory symbol — each square on the map represents an aspect of life impacting the balance of that center. Viewing the spacial relationships of the entire house shows all the opportunities to bring positive intentions into each part of the home and can reveal certain areas that need attention. As shown below, the map gives an aerial view of the space, orienting the front of the house to align with the bottom edge of the Bagua and positioning the sectors around the center. The Bagua can also be used in each individual room, as well as placed over an entire property, but the orientation remains the same. Cristin gave us this Bagua showing not only the life energy zones, but also some of the natural elements and color tones that can elevate power of the space, as well as a suggested mantra word to help name your intentions.

A simplified example of the Bagua Map used in feng shui to show the way energy flows within a space.

A simplified example of the Bagua Map used in feng shui to show the way energy flows within a space. Each section corresponds to a particular life energy kept in balance with the center and with nature itself. Certain elements of nature and color tones elevate the power within those sectors, and a mantra word can offer help in establishing intention.

Using the Bagua Map encourages thoughtful choices, but it doesn’t demand rearranging the entire house (though many people use a Bagua when building a new property.) The Bagua division lines probably don’t fall exactly on certain walls, meaning there could be a bathroom that straddles the Knowledge and Career areas. For example, on the main floor of my home, the kitchen starts in our Center and spans through Children/Creativity sector, while the Love & Marriage lines fit squarely over our breakfast room. Sharing our family meals together, unhurried and in conversation, has always been a big focus of intention in our marriage, so we are in full alignment here. The same area upstairs, however, belongs to a teenage boy who would consider his chi damaged irreparably by a pink room. Yet, we definitely feel the importance of  “Receptivity” as a guiding word for managing any adolescent turmoil.

Walking through my house revealed a few “black holes” of bad chi, and strangely enough, those are also the parts of my life creating the most anxiety for me.

Checking the Chi

Thankfully, Cristin only found two “black holes” in my house, both of which we’d already hoped to change. However, these two areas on the Bagua directly correspond to facets of my life generating my greatest anxiety. Conversely, the aspects of my life about which I am most encouraged and confident are already almost perfectly aligned with the feng shui principles right down to the colors. This was a full on Twilight Zone moment for me seeing this unfold … maybe I’m more in tune with Mother Nature than I realized.

The Elemental Five

Cristin reiterated that recognizing the importance of nature enhances the balance feng shui strives to achieve. The presence of all five natural elements in the home, in some form, stimulates motivation, creativity, stability and abundance, but it’s not necessary to put a fountain and a fireplace in every room. These concepts don’t have to be quite so literal in practice, and some symbolism may be surprising:

  • FIRE: Red spectrum of colors (red, pink, orange); triangular and cone shapes; animal prints; candles; fireplaces; lamps/lanterns; people and animals (real or images)
  • EARTH: Yellow and earth tones; squares; horizontal and flat objects; dirt/soil/sand; pottery/ceramics; brick/tile; art depicting earthly landscapes (desert, fields, mountains, etc.)
  • METAL: White and pastel colors; circles and ovals; arches; all types of metals; rocks and stone; natural crystals and gemstones; art/sculpture of  metal or stone
  • WATER: Black and dark-tone colors; free-form and asymmetrical shapes; water features of all kinds; mirrors and other reflective surfaces; glass and crystal.
  • WOOD: Greens and blues; columnar shapes (including stripes); anything made of wood; plants/trees/flowers (real, artificial, or images); plant-based textiles

Out on the back deck (one of the spots that needs a boost), Cristin reiterated the importance of bringing elements of nature into every room.

Tips and Tools

Cristin emphasizes that deciding to live with intention does not require an expensive interior design overhaul. In fact, honoring your space through these feng shui principles ignites a rediscovery the treasures already in your possession. She’s seen clients move one chair and completely shift their view of a room. A few quick tricks can be resolved in a day:

  • Front Door: This is the mouth of chi. Use it daily, at least once. Keep it clear and clean. This is your first impression, ask yourself what you want people to feel as they enter.
  • Drains & Leaks: Keep your toilet seats down! If applicable, stop the drains in your tubs and sinks when not in use. Fix all leaks immediately or you’ll start seeing things “go down the drain.”
  • Power Position: When sitting behind your desk, lying in bed, or relaxing in your favorite spot on the sofa, try to ensure you have a clear view to the entrance of that room. This helps you feel protected and in a seat of power in your home.
  • Clear Clutter: A cluttered home equals a cluttered life. Start with one junk drawer and attack it a little bit at a time. Live with what you love and let the rest go to make room for wonderful new energy.
  • Stove = Money: Take a peek at your stove or range. Is it functioning properly? Is it clean? This appliance represents finances so care for it as if it were made of gold.

Everyone left with some notes and information from Cristin, and a whole new approach to looking at their own homes.

Even this basic information has me looking at each room in a whole new way — framing and hanging those prints, adding plants and candles, thinking about different colors. There’s so much more for me to learn and I’m beyond curious now.

For more about feng shui, resources abound, and Cristin includes additional information on her website

Thanks to Ashby Webber Photography for capturing images of our chi-changing journey.



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