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Successful design is measured by how well we live in our spaces. Feng shui focuses on chi, or the life force that flows throughout. In holistic design theory, that force is considered our personal energy force. It needs to be nurtured, enhanced, and encouraged to flow freely in order to bring health and well-being to us through our surroundings.
Flow is encouraged in a number of simple ways. First, we must remove obstacles or distractions that prevent chi from flowing freely. There should be multiple pathways into a house as one enters, not just a stairway running up and away from the central living spaces of the home. Placing mirrors to reflect and draw energy into other parts of the home is one solution. Chi also likes smooth, rounded surfaces. Soft treatments, rounded table edges, and softened corners in our rooms all help the flow of energy throughout the home. Chi is personal; it travels with us and is unique to each one of us. Finding balance for each of us in our living space brings a sense of balance and well-being to our lives.
Katherine Kaess, founder of Soulspaces International, is a traditionally trained interior designer who has come to embrace the power and energy of space and its impact on our lives. “I help people better understand their relationship with their space,” Kaess says of her holistic approach to design.”Mine is a very intuitive approach,” she says. Her goal is to empower people to trust their instinct and design their living spaces accordingly. “My biggest role is as a facilitator, not as a designer. I talk people through their own space.” Kaess applies many tools when helping homeowners and architects to design interior space, including feng shui, color theory, architectural theory, and ergonomics. The result is “holistic design, design from all aspects,” Kaess says.
“It’s all about balance,” Kaess says when describing how to think about space and design for the individual. In today’s homes we must balance the personal and the technological, the acting and the resting self, the community and the individual, the outgoing and the reflective. Kaess begins by giving her clients a questionnaire to discover what is currently going on in their lives and homes, how they’ve related to past homes, and their hopes for themselves and their space. Kaess then applies traditional design principles; color; elements like water, earth, fire, and air; and a bagua, or feng shui map, that shows the domains (or zones) of the house. “The goal is to pull together something harmonious” that is unique to the homeowners but guided by ancient spiritual principles.
Balance includes maintaining the natural in our lives, so holistic design often minimizes the glaring presence of technology, softening its role by enclosing it in cabinets, draping it in colorful fabrics, or placing it behind screens. As an antidote to the depersonalization of our culture, holistic design encourages conversational groupings in which chairs face one another and create conversational spots. Couches face each other with a table in between. Seating does not face toward the television, but at an angle to it.
Natural materials are also favored, including natural fabrics, stone, wood, and metal. In most holistic design, there is an attempt to steer away from chemically-treated, unnatural products to the greatest extent possible. “I’m a big proponent of using as many natural materials as possible,” Kaess says. “It’s all about awareness of the impact of your house on you and you on the earth.”
True holistic design seeks to put things and activities in their proper places. While much of this can be determined intuitively based on where and when things feel right to us, feng shui uses the bagua to determine the domains of the home and their connections to our lives. According to the bagua, there are nine distinct domains of the home. How the bagua is placed over the floor plan of the home depends on which approach is taken. The bagua may be placed strictly according to cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) and the astrology of the homeowners, or with the lower edge aligning with the front facade of the home. The rooms then coincide with the different centers of our lives, including prosperity, travel, health, ancestors, and others.
The bagua is used to help homeowners determine which activities and which objects are best suited to a given space. Kaess tells the story of one person who moved a treasured family portrait to another wall within the same room but in the ancestral domain as determined by the bagua. She had an immediate sense of harmony, of things falling into place. This, Kaess stresses, is the goal of holistic design, no matter which tools are employed to help us get there. Our spaces should feel good to us. They should enhance our sense of well-being; they should sustain and rejuvenate us.
Kaess does offer some practical tips for improving our home environments. In the kitchen, she urges homeowners to keep the elements separate from one another whenever possible. The stove, or fire, should not be adjacent to the sink, or water, or directly next to the refrigerator. Mirrors can be placed throughout the home to encourage the flow of chi. Clutter should be reduced wherever possible because it stalls the flow of chi and bogs us down. Kaess encourages clients to walk themselves through a meditation of their homes. Lie down, relax, and close your eyes. Walk through each room and notice how you feel and what you see, what you are attracted to and what you are weighted by. This will be your first sign of how to proceed.
“We can do this with what we have,” Kaess says of a holistic approach to design. “It doesn’t cost anything. It’s about awareness of our space and our relationship with that space.”