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Feng shui is not just an interior design trend, though it can inform your interior decor in many ways. You can certainly just adopt some concrete tips, but if you really want to take advantage of what feng shui has to offer, you can dig into the wealth of information available to read or consult a feng shui expert. It would take a whole book to go into detail about feng shui, but here's a capsule version, followed by some practical feng shui living room ideas.
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese system of philosophy that is based on the idea that you can better your life by adjusting your surroundings to attract the energies and outcomes you want to manifest. It's not a religion, though it is often associated with Taoism. Though feng shui has been around for thousands of years, the basic principles and practices actually line up pretty well with many modern design standards — and many are correlated with what scientists have learned about environmental psychology and sustainable design.
How Do You Pronounce Feng Shui?
It may look like it should be pronounced "feng shooey," but most English-speaking practitioners pronounce it as "fung shway" or "foong shway." It's actually a little more complicated than that — much like feng shui itself. The pronunciation of the words — which mean "wind water" — can differ from one region of China to another. You can read more about it in this article — but basically, if you say "fung shway," you're okay.
The underlying principles of feng shui have to do with creating an optimal balance of elements and flow of energy (qi, or life force) through a space. Feng shui teaches practitioners how to choose and arrange elements in a room in a way that attracts the energies you need in your life, and promotes them to flow properly through and within the space. It involves materials, colors, positioning and more. It can take years to understand all the nuances — what works in my living room may be entirely wrong in yours because so many of the suggestions are tailored to your unique living space and needs. Many of the principles, however, have a lot in common with good, healthy design and will be useful anywhere.
The Five Elements
Western philosophers usually acknowledge four elements — earth, air, fire and water. In Chinese philosophy — and thus in feng shui — there are five: earth, metal, wood, fire and water. Each of the elements is associated with a particular kind of energy, colors, shapes and emotions. By using colors and materials associated with the different elements, feng shui suggests that you are inviting the energies and emotions associated with them into your life. For reference, here's how each of the elements hooks up with colors and shapes.
- Earth: browns and yellows — squares and rectangles
- Water: dark blues, dark grays, black — undulating and curvy shapes
- Fire: reds and oranges — triangles
- Wood: greens, medium blues, teal — columnar shapes
- Metal: white, silver, gray — circles and spheres
Imagine there's a path through your house that leads from the front door to the back door. Feng shui presupposes that this is how energy moves through your house. Where and how you place furniture, color and other decor can help direct the flow of energy where you want it to go — and either keep it there or hurry it on through to shoo it out the back door. If you think about it, that's very similar to using functional design principles to affect traffic flow through your house, except you're talking about energy instead of people. The beauty of it is, the same principles work beautifully for managing how people move around your house, too.
Now that you know a little about the basic working parts and principles behind feng shui design, let's take a look at ten practical ways you can incorporate feng shui in your living room to make it the haven you want it to be.
1. Choose the Best Space for Your Living Room
If you're house hunting — or if you're lucky enough to have more than one potential living room space — put some thought into choosing the optimal location for you, your guests, and family to hang out. Think about traffic flow, natural light, air flow and noise level in relation to how you plan to use your living room, then choose the space that best suits your lifestyle.
We know that most people don't get to choose where they're going to put their living room, so the rest of these tips will focus on using feng shui to enhance the living room you already have.
2. Declutter Your Space
Feng shui and modern environmental psychology share a basic principle: clutter steals your energy. One of the first steps you can take to feng shui your living room is to eliminate clutter. Store blankets and extra things in ottomans. Arrange your shelves and entertainment center so they're a pleasure to look at. Make sure that everything in your living room serves a purpose. If it doesn't, move it or store it.
3. Consider Function
The way you use your living room will help you identify nearly every other design element, from the flooring to the colors to the decor. Is it a space primarily for entertaining? Is it a family room? An entertainment room? Your answers to those questions will help you decide what kind of furniture and accessories you need, as well the most suitable colors and textures to include in your decor.
4. Place Your Primary Seating in the "Commanding Position"
The "commanding position" is the position where you place the most important pieces of furniture in a room. In the living room, that's your sofa or primary seating group. Someone seated on the sofa should be able to see anyone who enters or leaves the room — or even better — have a good view of the entire room.
5. Arrange Furniture to Encourage Flow and Conversation
Take a minute to sit in each seat in your living room. Can you see every other seat in the room? Can you see the TV (if you have one in your living room)? Can you easily get to the front door or another room — the bathroom, for example? Position furniture so that it's easy for everyone to converse and see each other, and make sure that there are clear paths from each seat to all entrances and exits.
6. Use the Five Elements to Encourage Balance
Balance of elements doesn't necessarily mean that you should use the five elements in equal proportions. Instead, think of it as a balance within your life. If you spend your days in a very intense workplace where emotions run high, you might choose to focus on grounding, structure and calm in your home environment. That could mean choosing a muted palette drawn from earth, water and metal colors that is sparked with a few touches of orange and red for warmth as well as plants to inspire growth and energy. Likewise, if you need more inspiration and warmth in your life, you could make warm reds and oranges the dominant colors in your living room, and furnish with wood, metal and plants.
7. Use Plants
Speaking of plants, yes. Plants represent rising, thriving energy and creativity. They connect us with nature, which has many beneficial effects. Depending on the plants you choose and where you place them, they can attract the eye upward, or serve as a comfortable resting place for your attention. There's considerable evidence that plants can help the air quality in a room. And honestly, they look good, which is more than enough reason to include them in any living room decor.
8. Embrace Windows and Doors — or Don't
In general, when placing furniture, design around windows and doors rather than blocking them, even partially. Your mileage may vary, or course. If that window looks out on an ugly view or lets in cold drafts and street noises, blocking it with a piece of furniture or screen may be the ideal solution. Just be sure to account for the change in natural light.
9. The Most Essential Feng Shui Living Room Tip
If you're starting to get the idea that feng shui rules are adaptable to different circumstances, you're getting the idea. That's why a professional feng shui consultation starts with interviewing you and surveying your home. You may not be a feng shui professional — or have the funds to hire one — but you can use the principles of organization, minimal clutter, balanced elements, and proper flow to enhance your living room and make it more functional and beautiful.
If you enjoyed these tips, check out some of our other design blog pieces about decorating and interior design: