An Introduction to Feng Shui

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The ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui is a much-debated subject in interior design: is it science or is it fiction?  Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Sway in Putonghua and literally meaning wind and water) gained popularity in the West in the 1970’s when people wanted to understand more about foreign cultures. In a post-Vietnam America, different religions, peoples and philosophies were being embraced to show tolerance and acceptance. During this time acupuncture, martial arts, yoga and Feng Shui were all being embraced by pop culture throughout the western world.

Since then, there has been much confusion about what Feng Shui really is, with many self-proclaimed masters on the subject teaching and writing about it. Instead of delving into the many different opinions then, let’s look at the facts.

feng shui

Fact or Fiction?

Feng Shui was developed in ancient China as far back as 2700 years ago with the invention of the magnetic compass by the Yellow Emperor. The first known formal writings on the subject, the Book Of Burial by Kwok Po, date to 250 AD. Initially it was intended as a guide for burial, but it was soon realized that these same forces influence the living and can be harnessed to enhance one’s life.

These writings on Feng Shui were then further developed to help understand how a person’s environment has a direct impact on his wellbeing, especially in terms of his prosperity, harmony and health. Because its influence is so far-reaching in human existence, Feng Shui also incorporates a vast knowledge of Chinese philosophies and studies: the concept of Ying and Yang, Chinese medicine, the 5 basic elements (wood, metal, fire, water and earth) and the ancient trigrams all form part of the study and practice of Feng Shui.


Feng Shui Introduction

Photo credit Germarie Bruwer

It’s all about energy flow

Simply put: energy, or chi, is in everything and can never be dissipated. This energy moves around in a person’s body, between people, in the spaces they occupy and in nature. By understanding this flow of energy, you can attract positive chi to enhance your life and avoid negative chi to prevent misfortune.

Since its origin, Feng Shui has developed into many different schools of thought: there are the Black Hat Sect, Form School, Compass School, Flying Star and many more. Many of these schools use the Feng Shui Compass, or Lo Pan, and the intricacies of Chinese astrology to analyze an environment.

The Lo Pan is different from a standard compass: it reads the directions anti-clockwise instead of clockwise and also shows Kua numbers, hexagrams, the Lo Shu diagram and more. Not all disciplines require a compass, however, so let’s look at the most popular and simplest one, Form School. 


feng shui

Photo credit Germarie Bruwer

Form School Feng Shui

Form School Feng Shui is based on the placement of objects to redirect chi. Many of the principles in Form School come down to common sense and good design, so it’s easy to remember and implement in interior design. Let’s look at a few Feng Shui guides and how it translates into a modern Western interpretation.

Feng Shui guide #1:

Regular Layout: The first thing to look at is the floor plan. Regular shapes are more highly favoured than odd shapes and corners. Awkward corners created by odd shapes are almost always filled with stagnant energy.

Western interpretation:

Awkward corners are just that: awkward! There is rarely a good way to utilize them and they are really difficult to keep clean.

Feng Shui guide #2:

Wooden Arrow: When an entrance door opens directly into a passage, leading to a room at the end of it, it is expected that it will create a sudden a direct rush of negative energy to that room.

Western interpretation:

It’s just never a good idea to have some stand at your front door and be able to look directly into the bedroom at the end of the passage. A barrier of some sorts – a screen, wall or even an indoor plant, is always a good idea in this case.

 Feng Shui guide #3:

Stove Facing Out: A stove is seen as a source of prosperous energy. Always ensure that the knobs and stove door face inward, toward the house, to prevent this energy from being directed away from the house.

Western interpretation:

Before electricity, the chimney stack of an oven or stove would have to be situated on the outside wall of a home. While the stove isn’t the heart of the home anymore, originally these stoves would have been an important source of central heating as well, hence the requirement to face inward. 

Feng Shui guide #4:

Desk facing an entrance: an entrance door can allow for a strong rush of chi. The appropriate position for a desk is to the left or right across from the door, facing the door.

Western interpretation:

This is especially relevant in an office set-up: the inhabitant of the room should be able to see who is coming, but still retain some privacy when someone is standing in the door.

Introduction to Feng Shui

Photo credit Germarie Bruwer

Feng Shui guide #5:

Mirror Facing Bed: A mirror should never directly face the people sleeping in bed. The mirror image of the body is considered yin and shouldn’t be exposed for long periods of time.

Western interpretation:

Anyone who has ever been frightened by their own image at night will understand why this is necessary. Also, avoid placing a bathroom mirror that indirectly faces the bed, especially in an en-suite.

 Feng Shui guide #6:

Overhead beams: a bed or desk should not be placed underneath an overhead beam, otherwise the person will experience pressure in their life.

Western interpretation:

You can image how in ancient China, with houses made of wood and clay, this was great advice when it came to an earthquake or high winds! But this is still relevant in some parts of the world today where natural disasters are common. Many people will also feel a certain amount of inexplicable discomfort when they sleep under a beam or even a ceiling fan.

Feng Shui guide #7:

Bed Facing an Entrance: the same guides apply for a bed as for a desk: it shouldn’t be placed directly in the flow of energy, but the person in bed should still be able to see the entrance to avoid a feeling of insecurity.

Western interpretation:

This is just really good common sense: you should definitely be able to see who is coming through the bedroom door!

Feng Shui guide #8:

Toilet facing the bed, with a closed lid: the toilet is considered bad energy and facing the bed is unhealthy. The open lid allows good energy to escape, especially prosperity.

Western interpretation:

This again is really great advice. A toilet should always be separated from a bedroom and keeping the lid closed is just good hygiene.

Feng Shui guide #9:

Sharp Corners: placing furniture with sharp edges facing each other can cause disharmony and misfortune.

Western interpretation:

In this case, disharmony and misfortune point to the injury of people walking into furniture. Common sense also dictates that if you place a coffee table and a chair too close to either other, someone will get hurt or at the least, aggravated. 

Feng Shui guide #10:

Mirror facing windows: mirrors can reflect bad energy into a home and bring harm to a family.

Western interpretation:

A mirror opposite a window can reflect very sharp light into a room which is always an undesirable effect, especially during sunrise or sunset. If additional light is necessary, place the mirror slightly off-center from the window.

These are just 10 examples of many Feng Shui Form School guides. From these examples, you can see that there are always logical explanations for some of the seemingly unusual requirements of Feng Shui, although these are really just the very basics.

Feng Shui

Photo credit Germarie Bruwer

Form School lacks in that it assumes that all spaces, people and environments are the same and are being influenced by the same chi. This generalization can be overcome by using Form School together with one of the other schools that utilize the compass and Chinese astrology as well.

When applied correctly and used to its full extent, Feng Shui is an incredibly rich tool that encompasses colour theory, furniture placement, layout directions and much more. It has been proven to solve many personal and business problems and has been used in projects ranging from large corporate environments to residential homes.

To learn more about the fascinating world of Feng Shui, you can explore the additional resources on this list.


Raymond Lo: Feng Shui Master and Destiny Consultant

Joey Yap: Feng Shui Master and Chinese Astrologer

Joseph Yu: Feng Shui Master and Chinese Astrologer

Feng Shui Research Centre


Lo, Raymond. Feng Shui Essentials.  Hong Kong: Feng Shui Lo, 2005.

Moran, Elizabeth; Yu, Master Joseph; Biktashev, Master Val. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feng Shui. New York: Alpha Books, 2005.



Germarie is an interior designer who turned to blogging as an outlet for her passion for writing. The blog soon took over and in 2013 she left her corporate design career behind to blog full time. Award-winning blog Homeology ( constitutes inspiring home décor and styling, DIY’s and tutorials as well as a home décor shop, e-books and many free resources to empower anyone to make their home into a haven. In 2015, she co-authored her first book Make Your Home (Random House Struik 2015) with childhood friend, Margaux Tait who is a regular contributor to the blog. The duo also launched their TV careers at the same time as décor and design presenters on DSTV channel Via’s Stylstryd.

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