Feng shui is an ancient Chinese philosophy that focuses on finding balance and harmony between elements of wood, metal, earth, water, and fire; between the cardinal directions; and across a Bagua map. Doing so helps chi, or energy, flow around your home in a more positive way, promoting physical and mental health, success, and healthy relationships. The name itself represents the “flowing” elements found in the natural world: “feng” meaning “wind,” and “shui” meaning “water.”
Basically, feng shui puts purpose behind placement. It’s rejuvenating remodeling, if you will. There are two basic schools of feng shui: classical and Black Sect (also known as Black Hat or Western). The former is the traditional method of feng shui practiced in China and places much greater emphasis on astrology and the cardinal directions, creating an ultra-specific energy flow for an individual house. Western feng shui is more generalized — meaning it’s a lot easier to follow. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on Western feng shui.
Before you start throwing out couches and buying new area rugs, there are a few feng shui basics you’ll need to know to optimize the energy of your home’s living area.
First, get to know the five elements: wood, earth, metal, water, and fire.
The five elements of feng shui dictate specific areas of our lives and are represented by different types of colors, furniture, and other decorative elements.
- Wood: growth and vitality; plants, wooden furniture, and the color green
- Metal: logic, intelligence, knowledge, and mental sharpness; metal frames, sculptures, and metallic colors
- Fire: passion, energy, transformation, expansion, and vitality; candles, fireplaces, and warm hues like orange, red, and yellow
- Earth: stability, balance, and grounding; rocks, crystals, landscape imagery, and heavy objects like statues and sculptures
- Water: wisdom, serenity, clarity, and relaxation; mirrors, reflective surfaces, aquariums, and other water fixtures like fountains and waterfalls
Next, learn how to navigate your Bagua map.
A Bagua map shows the flow of energy throughout a specific floor plan. The map is arranged in a 3×3 grid, and each of the nine sections represents an important area of personal life. A Bagua map is read by laying the 3×3 grid over your home’s floor plan (if there are multiple floors, each level has its own Bagua map arrangement). In Western feng shui practice, the map is aligned so the front door is located at the bottom of the grid. The square grid is most easily read over square or rectangular floor plans, but you can still use a Bagua map on irregular or lopsided floor plans.
All nine quadrants are represented by one of the five feng shui elements and can be emphasized (or dampened) by including or avoiding certain furniture, colors, and other decorative elements. The basics of the nine Bagua sections are as follows:
- Wealth: this area should contain items that represent abundance and remind you to be grateful for what you have
- Fame: this area should highlight who you are as a person and the person you hope to become
- Love: this area should invite love and sensuality and encourages romantic relationships
- Family: this area of reflection of the happiness, growth, and transformation that family brings to our lives
- Health: this is the central area of the house around which all other areas are based; this area should be as balanced and clean as possible
- Children: this area is not only meant to awaken your inner child; it can also help you build your relationships with your children
- Wisdom: this area promotes the cultivation of knowledge and encourages strategic decision-making
- Career: this area supports the flow and evolution of your career and life journey
- Helpful people: this area is about recognizing and valuing the support of others and letting go of those who aren’t there for you or who don’t have your best interests in mind
Use the five elements and your Bagua map to promote healthy chi in your living room.
Because feng shui depends on the flow of energy based on your specific Bagua map, every house’s optimal living room arrangement, furniture, and decoration will be different. However, there are some general guidelines you can follow for prime energy flow in your house’s living room regardless of where it’s located on your Bagua map.
- Consider the primary function of your living room.
Does your family use the living room for leisure or entertainment? Is your WFH office actually your living room couch? Are dinners typically eaten in the living room? By determining your living rooms’ primary function, you can better fill the space with design elements that evoke what’s most needed for the living space: productivity, communication, sharp-mindedness, etc.
- Find a seating arrangement that’s both commanding and conducive to conversation.
Couches and sofas are often the biggest piece of furniture in the living room and should be arranged in a spot that offers a full vantage point of the front door. This keeps the residents of the home in a position of power over their dwelling. Additional seating should be easily accessible and arranged in a way that promotes conversation. (Be mindful of TV placement for the same reason — a living space with a television as the focal point inhibits the natural flow of conversation.)
- Double the energy and open the space with a medium to large mirror.
Mirrors double the energy of whatever it’s reflecting, so be sure to hang your mirrors mindfully. Avoid pointing your mirror towards clutter, bills, distracting (or stress-inducing) objects like televisions, or an annoying neighbor’s home. Instead, hang your mirror to reflect natural light, an expansive part of the space, or a nice view. If possible, opt for a mirror size that allows you to see your entire head, shoulders, and chest line to make sure it captures your full aura.
- Throw away negative symbolism and fill your living room with happy “energy anchors.”
It might seem obvious, but subconscious symbolism leaks into our living spaces more than we’d like to think. Evaluate challenges in your life and seek out potential symbols of those struggles in your living space (e.g. If your love life is lacking, look for mismatched or incomplete pairs. Go ahead and toss that mantle knick-knack your ex gave you, too.) Toss ’em out and fill your living space with happy “energy anchors.” These energy anchors should make you smile or feel a sense of accomplishment, curiosity, or adventure.
- Embrace the rainbow of feng shui.
Colors associated with the five elements and your Bagua map evoke certain energies, so don’t be afraid to include colors you might not have considered otherwise. You don’t have to go full monochromatic, either. Energy-driving colors can be felt in small pieces around the room like a piece of art, accent pillows, rugs, or light fixtures.
- Lighten your living room deliberately and generously.
Natural light provides bright, uplifting energy to any living space. Use sheer window coverings that allow light to come in but prevents energy from escaping. If you don’t have very many windows in your living room, opt for energy-efficient lightbulbs that mimic natural lighting. And if you’re deadset on drape-less windows, try placing a plant near the window. The plant will soak up and recycle energy moving towards the bare window back into the room. Speaking of…
- Liven things up — literally.
Forget crazy cat ladies — this year, we’re crazy plant ladies. For good reason, too; houseplants add life force energy, purify the air, recycle moving energy, and provide a splash of unique texture to your room. If you do still have furry friends though, make sure the houseplants you choose are cat- or dog-friendly.
- Clean up the clutter.
We know — this one is groundbreaking, right? Tidying up the house seems like a given feng shui or no feng shui, and it’s been scientifically proven that clutter can have negative effects on mental and physical health. But that clutter also acts as a roadblock for the energy swirling around your house, and no amount of mirrors, houseplants, or throw pillows can fix that. If you feel like you’re drowning in stuff, check out this comprehensive decluttering guide and breakdown of Swedish death cleaning.