As many of you will be aware, Feng Shui is the study and analysis of the interaction between people, buildings and the environment, and can be used to enhance our quality of life. According to Feng Shui experts, the atmosphere, or chi, of a building and its close surroundings have an influence upon our life patterns and outcomes. By getting the Feng Shui in our homes right, we are able to create a supportive environment that can help us to succeed and flourish in our homes and work spaces.
But how exactly does Feng Shui work and what is the best way to go about creating a happy, healthy and harmonious home using Feng Shui? In order to answer these questions we consulted Feng Shui Master Sarah McAllister, who founded the UK-based Feng Shui Agency back in 2003. Sarah has 14 years Feng Shui experience and a number of prestigious UK and international Feng Shui projects in her portfolio and is founder of the first Chue Feng Shui school to be accredited by the Feng Shui Society UK. She has been very influential in introducing Feng Shui to the more conventional and mainstream of society rather than the more new age audience that it is readily associated with.
Can you please start by telling us about the Feng Shui Agency?
SM. This is a unique company established by me in 2003, incorporated in 2005 with a dual focus on both Feng Shui design/consultancy and teaching. We are recognised as the first Feng Shui Interior Design and Feng Shui Architecture company in the UK and we are based in London and Oxford. We have clients from all over the world and increasingly work internationally including places like Moscow, Tokyo, Milan and Dubai to name but a few places we have projects. We have also established the Feng Shui Agency Chue Style School, which reflects the fact that we practice and teach mostly Chue Style Feng Shui, which has a lineage all the way back to the Imperial Courts of China.
I am the main Feng Shui consultant and work closely with other Feng Shui expert colleagues as demand requires. I have personally fully trained a few graduates to represent me on smaller jobs as required. I like to keep flexibility in the team, so I currently do not employ anyone.? But I do have a couple of great interior designers and architects who help me as the need arises on those projects requiring full architectural or interior design.
The business is highly mobile and once we have done the first site visit we can work from anywhere in the world, depending on the follow up requirements of each individual project. Some projects need regular site visits and other commissions can be carried out remotely.
You established the Agency in 2003, but how did you first become interested in Feng Shui?
SM. I first became interested in Feng Shui at the age of 14, possibly even earlier as I was always the kid lingering the longest in nature and zoning out in a meditative space. I used to regularly re-arrange my bedroom, trying out new positions for the bed and lighting etc. My father used to teach Judo in his spare time, so I was on the mats in the dojo from about age four and at home were plenty of books on Judo, Tai Chi and Karate. I also learned Wado Ryu Karate and Wing Chun Kung Fu as a hobby. I was immersed in Eastern principles from very young age.
What do the words Feng Shui actually mean and where does it originate from?
SM. Feng means wind and Shui means water and this relates to both the physical masses of water (lake, ocean, river etc) and the winds, but is also a metaphor for earth energy (water) and heaven energy (wind) moving on and around the planet we inhabit. Lets face it, the world is an organic being, not just a map which we walk, drive, eat and sleep upon!
I think the green movement has been wonderful for Feng Shui as people are realising now more than ever how the world is sentient and interconnected and how we treat our space directly affects us. The idea with Feng Shui is to gather the energy for our health and happiness and activate or disperse it gently with the wind. Where you find water you will find life and the heaven energy is also held by the water – wind slows down when contacting water.
Architects I have worked with have acknowledged the power of water as they understand how it emits negative ions, which attract the human energy field, and why many people feel happier after a shower, a thunder storm with rain etc as the water has a cleansing and revitalising effect.
Can you describe the purpose of Feng Shui?
SM. Originally Feng Shui was used primarily for health, as it is one of the 8 Brocades of Chinese Medicine including Acupuncture,? Meditation, Herbalism, Nutrition, Tuina Massage, Tai Chi & Chi Kung and Astrology.
Originating mostly in rural China by farmers who needed to understand nature to give them the best chance of? successful crops, the knowledge was then perceived by the travelling scholars who brought it back to the Imperial Courts of China where astrologers, astronomers and political advisors started to develop the rudimentary systems and sought to use it to help the Emperor’s rule.
Over the years it then became popular in business and politics and no one can argue about the enormous success of Hong Kong as a financial capital, and this is very much based on Feng Shui.
Although, Feng Shui originated in China, it is universally applicable and does not require people to understand Chinese folklore, in fact, there is still a group of Feng Shui consultants throughout the East that perpetuate superstitious nonsense because they haven’t had the right training. They don’t help the public relations of the industry and of course the press love to pick up on the failings of these people.
How can incorporating the principles of Feng Shui into our homes help us to live a better life?
SM. Feng Shui is not just about techniques to try to master a situation and improve your fortune, but at a deeper level it is also about your soul and its journey. It isn’t just about how to maximise your luck all the time for your own gain, but it is also about asking yourself how you can contribute to the world. For example, it could be that a high ranking official asks my advice on his or her horoscope and I say that actually they would be happier as a yoga instructor or whatever the situation – that is a stereotypical example!
If clients can engage with the deeper thread of what is being offered then I can support them and their families over years rather than one off consultations. This is my preferred business model as it rewards me for being extra committed to them and it rewards the client because they have access to wonderful knowledge and our able to implement the knowledge more often in their lives.
Your services can help people create a space that is entirely customised to their own unique energy constitution, from the colours on the walls to the layouts of the rooms, materials and orientation of beds, desks, sofas etc. How do you go about discerning somebody’s energy constitution? And how does this relate to the layout and colour scheme of their house?
SM. Each one of us has a unique blueprint and there are many factors that go into an assessment, but it is primarily the year, month, date and hour of birth, which creates the Ba Zi Four Pillars horoscope. This provides astonishingly accurate detail on a person’s ability to marry, conceive, have a good career, be healthy and wealthy, have personal and official power etc.
Most of life’s issues and concerns can be seen in the horoscope through the interplay of the Five Elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. We then take this information and where possible combine it with the Feng Shui readings, so that the clients sleep in the best room, face the best way when working from home etc. This is a good place to point out that many people can and will do well whatever position they sleep or work in, and Feng Shui must not be considered the be all and end all!
It is simply a tool to use if a client wishes to maintain or improve upon their existing success by tapping in to this wisdom. Or it can help someone who seeks our advice because life isn’t going how they want it and they? keep on having persistent bad luck, bad health or they are unhappy – in this case we look to alleviate unnecessary suffering by figuring out if their Feng Shui is hindering them or not.
I make it very clear from the point of enquiry that Feng Shui accounts for approx 30% influence on your overall luck levels and that it isn’t a cure all and I don’t profess unrealistic benefits. I also adopt a very supportive coaching style so that the clients don’t feel neurotic about their space! Many have contacted me as they have read a few books and I quite often reassure them about certain aspects of their home. It goes to show that reading a book can turn people into armchair practitioners for whom a little knowledge is dangerous!
Your company offers a consultation service giving practical advice helping people to improve the Feng Shui in their homes. What analysis methods do you use during your consultation process and what are the most common problems that you come across?
SM. We start outside, having a look around the immediate area for problematic or supportive features in the nearby environment such as pylons/power plants/excessively tall trees etc and figure out if these are affecting the client’s property and if a cure needs to be put in place, which would then be worked out in conjunction with other exterior techniques – I aim to achieve one action for three reasons or one suggestion for three results because Feng Shui takes a truly holistic look at the property.
Then we move inside and meet the client, having already figured out how the physical form is affecting the property. Following a quick chat with client during which we reestablish their goals and how I can help, I start at the back of property and look again at exterior influences as these are 60% of the influence on a property with a garden.
Only once I have received an instinctive impression of the property and the client will I then proceed to the measurements taken with the Chinese Lopan Compass – like any other compass it aligns to magnetic north, and is much more accurate than a mobile phone app compass. The orientation of the property tells us certain information based on specialist techniques.
The most common problems that I’m brought in to help with are relationship issues, bickering, kids and adults sleeping poorly, feeling drained, career confusion, lack of clients, poor health, or kids getting into trouble at school with authority figures or peers.
Also people like to get me involved when they move to a new house or office with our Property Selection Service and when they are building a new building or refurbishing/extending an existing one. They want to get off on the right foot and if spending ?100,000+ on a refurbishment, of course they want to make sure the colours and layouts and landscaping are Feng Shui optimised so they don’t have to redo everything. Businesses also contact me to seek advice on finding a good new office premises.
Are there any rooms in the house that are more important to get right and if so why?
SM. Realistically, you need only concern yourself with spaces where you or your family spend a significant amount of time like the bedrooms, home study and kitchen. I am a strong believer that Feng Shui needs to be practical in its application and I seek to support clients in understanding the important solutions and recommendations and that they need not worry about every last tiny detail of a space.
Can you please tell us about a project you have worked on recently that you considered to be most interesting and why was that?
SM. In November I started advising on an Ecobulid project near Bath in Wiltshire in the UK, which was quite challenging because the designs had already been approved by local planners and even though I proposed some changes to see if the designs could be approved, it would have involved a lot of architectural re-drawing, so the client just accepted that I would try to fix any problems without too much upheaval to the design.
I worked hard to find solutions that could be implemented to improve the Feng Shui. The site was on a level plateau, which then sloped away quite steeply so I suggested a Flowform water feature to help keep the chi from dropping away and also to activate a good double mountain as we call it in terms of directions. I also had to find places for the extensive external art collection of the client ranging from ironcast lions to coloured glass panels and a Degas ballet dancer. I also advised placing an uplit Buddha towards the rear of the property.
Internally, I managed to get the front door changed to a better angle and changed from double doors to single and to get the right colours in the interiors – white or white with hint of green. I also insisted on changes to the shape of the artist studio outhouse which would otherwise have been very detrimental to the woman wanting to work in it.
I also helped design the reflection pool just outside the living area, which will look stunning and suit a Feng Shui purpose too.
It was an interesting project because it challenged me to be creative in my solutions to what was quite a fixed situation and it was gratifying that the clients, interior designer and architect, who were all very open and positive about Feng Shui. Ideally I would have been commissioned at the very outset, but some positive changes are better than none at all – I am an optimist essentially.
For people living in rental accommodation where drastically modifying the layout of the house is not an option, how else can the principles of Feng Shui be used to create a positive environment within the house?
SM. People renting can commission a property selection service so that they are signing up for a property that suits them from a Feng Shui perspective – if this is the case then what they do inside is less important because the main frame of the accommodation suits them. They can also position freestanding items such as lights, statues (if appropriate, not in case of Muslim clients), plants, beds, desks etc, so that they are at least benefiting as much as possible even if they can’t repaint the room or afix things to walls etc. Obviously they are more limited than homeowners but can still benefit from the advice of an expert. I don’t advocate DIY Feng Shui as it is potentially? dangerous.
Not everybody can afford to hire a Feng Shui Consultant or get advice from a professional such as yourself. What can people do to learn more about the benefits of Feng Shui and how it can help improve both their homes and their lives?
SM. Feng Shui is not a self-help or DIY topic, as it is so deep and complex, so people can gain only very limited skill through reading a few books in their free time. More often than not, books cause people confusion and despair! The heart of Feng Shui is mastering natural energies, therefore it is exceptionally powerful, which is why the best professionals train for many years to master the skill and are continually learning more. There is both a scientific and method based aspect and also intuition that develops and refines over years of experience.
If people can afford holidays, nice handbags etc then they can save towards a consultation, it is just a question of priorities and their ranking of values. For those in genuine financial hardship, we offer student consultations where I visit a home or office with my students to allow them practical experience in a real life situation. The host benefits from the feedback from the students plus I give some more advanced advice if I deem it necessary to help them.
What are your top Feng Shui dos and don’ts?
- Do consult with a Feng Shui expert BEFORE applying for planning permission or working with an architect as only minor changes can be made once planning has been approved.
- Do keep your front garden clear of debris and keep seasonal flowers in tubs year-round. The front of a property is the face – keep it pretty.
- Keep the front door of a building shiny and new – polish door furniture to a shine – the door is the mouth of chi so it needs to be well maintained.
- When looking for a new home try to find one with a good view at the front and a quiet settled energy at the back – there are exceptions to this but it is a good start.
- Do use full spectrum bulbs in work areas and kitchens as their light is so much healthier.
- Don’t ignore the characteristics of the surrounding area when designing a new build.
- Don’t consider Feng Shui as only applying to interiors. It is mostly about the exterior and the shape of house. The interiors come second once the shape and orientation has been considered properly.
- Don’t use too much black and red together as an interior theme as it can cause male/female arguments.
- Avoid overly stimulating colours in a bedroom such as red and orange as these are not conducive to sleep and relaxation. If you need spice in the bedroom, go to a Las Vegas hotel for a weekend!
- Don’t place large amounts of water in your design (internal or external) without consulting a Feng Shui expert.
What would you say to the sceptics who believe that Feng Shui is a load of nonsense?
SM. Don’t ridicule something that you haven’t tried or haven’t studied in depth. They would be advised to remember that quantum physicists are proving time and time again that the ancient beliefs from many indigenous peoples that were previously considered superstitious or primitive, are now being shown to be very sophisticated and correct. It is actually astoundingly simple – the world is simply an arrangement of energy, whether human, animal, mineral, physical, energetic, emotional, mental etc. The environmental energy surrounding us is linked to our own psyche and energy field and can affect us for good or for bad – Feng Shui seeks to combine the human with nature and help to create a supportive environment.
In 2007 I did a diploma in Environmental Psychology at Birkbeck College in London as I wanted to learn whether the principles of Feng Shui could be explained with the more westernised language of Environmental Psychology and there are many parallels. Of course our environment affects us or why would we be interested in aesthetics or certain colour palettes or art of opera? Sound, music, colour, space – it all works together to form our environment, influencing our perception and therefore our feelings and thoughts which have a significant impact on our ability to be healthy, harmonious and wealthy. The macro environment of our homes, offices etc affects the micro environment of our own body and mind.
If you were to give one tip to Freshome readers for something that they could try at home, which would allow them to test the benefits of Feng Shui, what would it be?
SM. There isn’t really one tip to apply to all situations as depending on the sickness a different remedy is prescribed. Reducing Feng Shui to tips is like asking a brain surgeon to give their top tip on how to remove a clot on the brain – it is impossible without the audience having gone through medical school!
Similarly with Feng Shui, the layperson simply hasn’t had the training required to understand the more powerful techniques of Feng Shui, so the tips inevitably end up sounding rather simplistic and do not do the subject justice. In fact, some tips can be dangerous which is why I try to keep mine on my blog as generic as possible and will not tell people anything they can’t handle, as it is not responsible and could potentially damage someone.
But one piece of advice that everyone can put into practice and is safe to use is to make sure you have a nice high headboard behind your bed. You’d be amazed how many people move in to a house and forget to buy the headboard. It creates an important stability to the bed that is psychologically reassuring even if mostly subconscious. Yes you can get by without one, but it is far nicer and far more supportive to have one.
For those of you who wish to learn more, Sarah McAllister is running an Introduction Course on March 31st / April 1st at Regents College in London.
Freshome would like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah for answering our questions and sharing her extensive knowledge with us. Sarah would like to offer 10 lucky readers the opportunity to have a 20 minute telephone consultation with her to discuss whether Feng Shui interior design could help you to create a happier, healthier and more harmonious home or office. To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, simply head on over to Sarah’s website – The Feng Shui Agency – and use the contact form to leave her a message clearly stating that you have just read her interview on Freshome and would like to be considered for the telephone consultation. Good luck everyone!