Quick, think number 13 and black cats. Unlucky? If that's the first thing you thought of, chances are you're not sure why you did. For many North Americans, even ones who don't consider themselves particularly superstitious or religious, it's simply a familiar, engrained part of cultural lore.
Here in Metro Vancouver, where immigration and offshore purchases continue to be a significant driver in residential construction and sales, a similar phenomenon is gaining increasing acceptance. A combination of the words for wind (air) and water the two most basic needs for humans to survive feng shui has long been a fundamental design component throughout Asia. And today, many savvy developers are taking note whether they believe feng shui to be valid or merely superstition.
"Even 15 or 20 years ago, some Asian buyers would walk away from a sale rather than purchase a home with bad feng shui," says Manuela Mirecki, senior vice president of marketing and design at Ledingham McAlister. "If you're a builder or developer, I believe it's naive not to take it into consideration when designing a new project."
One of the main aspects of feng shui is the flow of "chi" energy through the home. Furniture orientation and placement of key features such as doors, windows and fireplaces are crucial in ensuring good chi. These are considerations that can be built into a development at the design stage. And for sales of existing homes, chi can be improved with minor renovations or simply careful staging (see "Tips and Tricks" below).
But some properties have fundamental problems, such as site orientation or even street or floor numbering, which can be harder to overcome. Living on the fourth floor, for example, is considered unlucky because if the word "four" is mispronounced, it sounds like the word for "death." Mirecki says she recently saw a house that had gone through rezoning just to change its official street number so instead of ending in four, the last digit is now eight.
Like all science and art, mastering the intricacies of feng shui require years of committed study, but most of the broad strokes are all about good design plain and simple.
"There's a lot of pure common sense involved," says Bill Szeto, president of Otezs Project Marketing Group. "For example, if you live in a house that's at the end of a T-street, every time a car comes down that street at night, the lights will shine directly into your living room. Whether you call it a dragon or not, it's still distracting and uncomfortable."
He adds that one example from the commercial world is HSBC (the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), a company that spends hundreds of millions of dollars ensuring their branches incorporate correct feng shui. "It's not unusual for HSBC to spend $1 million just to redesign the front door after they purchase an existing building."
Feng shui master Jerry King of White Dragon Consulting stresses it's important to incorporate feng shui early in the process. "Feng shui isn't just about placement of furniture, so if one waits too long, till after foundation and floor plans are finalized, the violations may be impossible to fix. And remember that truly creating proper feng shui means analyzing details like one's birth details and apply remedies that directly address not only their strengths and weaknesses but their specific life energies."
Oh, and about that black cat? The most popular supposition is that these creatures became associated with the evils of black witchcraft. However, in some cultures including Japan they're considered lucky. And rumour has it that in Scotland, if a black cat arrives at your door it signals new prosperity. Go figure.
Feng Shui Tips and Tricks
- The five feng shui elements are fire, wood, earth, water and metal.
- Two doors that face each other will create conflict as the energy from both rooms competes for prominence.
- If the back door is visible from the front door, good luck will enter and then run through your home and right out the back. In an apartment building, your front door should not face either the elevator or a long corridor.
- Screens, furniture, plants or even sculptures and other art pieces are excellent ways to slow or redirect the flow of chi throughout a home.
- Two of the biggest feng shui taboos are a mirror facing the front door (it pushes good chi out before it can enter your home) and a mirror facing a bed (it reflects and amplifies sounds or other disturbances that can interrupt your sleep). Can't remove the offending reflective surfaces? Get creative with washable paints, stick-on murals or faux stained glass, even curtains just keep the fabrics subtle and flowing.
- A south wall is the best location for a fireplace because south relates to fire energy, but northeast and southwest are also fine. Beware corner fireplaces because they create an unbalanced ambiance, and exercise caution with bedroom fireplaces since they can increase the heat of passion or cause heated arguments. Leafy plants or water features can mitigate the negative effects of an incorrectly located fireplace even pictures will suffice.
- Always leave outdoor lights on because fortune doesn't visit a dark house but burglars do. Just ask any security company.
- Water features or pools not only look and sound pretty, but can also, according to the laws of feng shui, reduce the negative energy of being on the flight path of a busy airport.