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Thank you for visiting my blog!

I give very thorough advice in my books, lectures and consultations, but I encounter new feng shui problems all the time. Here, I’ll be sharing new solutions I come across and answering questions you might have.

If you have a question that you can’t find the answer to (please use the search box at the bottom of this page to see if I’ve covered the subject before), leave a comment here and I’ll consider writing a future blog post about it.

Feng Shui and Architectural Digest

I have design indigestion. I’ve been looking at too many copies of Architectural Digest in a short period of time. Some friends of ours subscribe to it and, every few years, they give us their copies. I actually quite enjoy the magazine, but often not for the reasons the publishers intend. I’ve probably seen just about every issue since the 1960’s—all my bookstores carried it.

I rarely read the articles all the way through—usually I just look at the pictures, and maybe read the captions. They have a new editor, and lately they’ve taken to doing something they didn’t used to do—for their photos of celebrities, they note who the designer is for the clothes that the people are wearing—as if it were a fashion magazine. That’s one of the things that I laugh at that the publishers don’t intend to be funny. The other things are some of the outrageously ridiculous objects and interiors that (some) wealthy people think are cool. My phrase for that is people with more dollars than sense.


Oh yuck, yucca. You couldn’t call this a friendly plant. It’s definitely not suited for indoors. Photo by: Susan Barnum [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the dining tables had a huge yucca-type plant in the middle. You couldn’t see over it, and the people around the table would be within inches of very sharp, stiff pointed leaves—like swords. Wouldn’t want to eat there—don’t care how good the food might be!

The ads can also be a great source of laughs. One of Michael Amini’s ads is for a bulky, overdone bed (called Grand Masterpiece) with lights built into the top and every square inch of the bed surface is covered with decorative pillows (complete with karate chop). Karate-chop pillows, which are thankfully becoming out-of-date, are rarely (if ever) seen in the photos of the articles, but Jane Seymour (who designs for Amini) hasn’t been told that, so the nice lines of her couches are often obscured by a plethora of karate chop pillows.

So much for the laughter—I actually learn a lot from the magazine. I’m a much better consultant because of my decades of looking at Architectural Digest. I’ve gotten great ideas, and very often the designers say something that’s spot-on for good feng shui. “Consistency of materials results in a more peaceful experience.” So says Jill Dienst from Manhattan. “I really need order at home. It gives me such a sense of peace.” That from the late Franca Sozzani who used to be the editor of Italian Vogue. Here are a couple more nice quotes from her: “I’m sick of all these decorators! They’re too decorative. I love talking to architects.” And: “The only things I buy and really care about now are books and art.”

Which brings me to the libraries that are pictured in the magazine. It’s so obvious when the books were simply bought for their decorative covers (and never read) or when the resident has books that are thoughtfully chosen, cherished, and read. There does seem to be a current fad in some homes of stacking books on top of each other instead of putting them side by side, as is traditional. That’s fine for coffee tables and side tables, but on shelves, it’s better to put them side by side—that says the information is more accessible.

A few more quotes: “I like to keep things simple. Furniture decorates a room, so you don’t need a lot of colorful fabrics.” That’s from John Rosselli. And this from Bunny Williams, “I get so upset when people ask, ‘What’s new in decorating?’ Just take what you have and make it look new.” Which reminds me—I looked around our home for items that were bought new. Besides the three sinks, toilet, refrigerator, and stove, there are just the pads under the rugs (A pad under a rug adds hundreds of years to the life of the rug.) and the fabric that my husband used to make the curtains between the library and the living room. Maybe there are one or two other items (like a globe and a small rug) but we’re just not big consumers of newly made items.

Something else I like about Architectural Digest is that it was one of the first publications to picture the homes of gay couples and to identify the people (usually men) as couples. This was way before marriage equality came about.

What I’m Reading Now


I’ve read Volumes 1 and 4, and now I’m on Volume 2.

When I tell people what I’m reading now, the reaction is pretty universal, “I hope you don’t expect me to read that!” or something of that order. No, I don’t expect hardly anyone would enjoy what I’m finding to be fascinating—A History of Book Publishing in the United States by John Tebbel. It’s a massive four volume set and I’m a little more than halfway through with it.

Years ago, I had read Tebbel’s Between Covers: The Rise and Transformation of Book Publishing in America which is his one-volume condensation of the set, and I loved it. And then I found a super cheap copy of volume four of the entire set on eBay, and I got it thinking that I’d just read the chapter on the 1970’s since I opened my first bookstore in 1971. Well, that chapter was so good that I went to page one and read the whole volume. Then I got this bug that maybe I wanted to read the whole set so I checked the Hawaii State Library System, and indeed they have the set, but you can’t check it out (and I bet nobody reads it, consequently). So I checked the internet, and found that the set could be gotten quite cheaply. (I guess there’s not much demand.) So I got the whole set, and since I then had two copies of volume four, I gave one to my publisher George Engebretson, and last I saw it’s in his office looking nicely official.


These are the three books I’m reading in tandem. Together they give a fuller picture of the times.

It took me many months to get through volume one and now I’m about 30 pages into volume two. I only read a few pages at night—just before I go to sleep. Oh, I guess you could say it puts me to sleep, but that’s not really accurate. I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before—read three books in tandem. The other two books are: The Popular Book: A History of America’s Literary Taste by James D. Hart and Golden Multitudes” The Story of Best Sellers in the United States by Frank Luther Mott. The former book is one I read in the 1980’s so it seems new to me now, and the latter book is one I found out about by reading Tebbel’s references. I’m finding that reading all three together is very enriching, since each book has a different take on the subject.

Back to Tebbel’s big four volume set—since I’m from Alabama, one of the things I found most interesting was that the South, before the Civil War, repressed both reading and publishing. The white landowners figured (accurately) that, if people were educated, they wouldn’t favor slavery. “In Tennessee, Webster’s dictionary was virtually boycotted because it defined a slave as ‘a person subject to the will of another, a drudge.’” Tebbel goes on to say, “…publishing in the South was bound in chains as strong a slavery itself…” So when you hear about ignorant Southerners—well, it was planned that way!

The Psychology & Physiology of Clutter

Conquer your clutter!

When two different people send me the same New York Times article, I figure I better read it. This one’s on clutter, and it reports the results of several scientific studies regarding the connection between clutter and stress. The authors of the study done at DePaul University in Chicago define clutter as “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaos and disorderly living spaces.” That’s a darn good definition!

In my experience as a consultant, I’ve found that women complain about their husband’s clutter much more frequently than the other way round. A California researcher’s studies support that by measuring the cortisol (a stress hormone) levels of people living in cluttered houses. But it’s more complicated than gender—anyone who feels responsible for the cleanliness and neatness of the home (which is often the wife in straight marriages) is likely to have elevated cortisol levels in a cluttered home.

One of the most interesting things in the article was that one researcher discovered that when people are decluttering, they can do a more thorough job of it if someone else is the person who is actually picking up and touching the items to be evaluated. The mere act of touching the item heightens the attachment—or as the study says, “over-attachment.”

There a a good many books on clutter, but I keep recommending the same one over and over—Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. It really is the classic book on the subject.

Feng Shui & Candles

Here’s what NOT TO DO—Don’t ever keep candles on display in places where, if they were lit, they would be dangerous.

I’ve lived large chucks of my life without electricity. Our bedroom is a separate structure from the rest of our house, and we deliberately didn’t put any electrical wiring in that room. I much prefer candles to oil lamps.

But one thing I can’t stand at all is fake candles—those pillar-shaped, LED bulb, fake candles are cheap plastic junk. You can quote me on this: “Fake candles have wretched feng shui.” The glory of a candle from a feng shui point of view is that it’s real fire, not just a representation of that element. That’s why gas stoves are preferred over electric stoves in kitchens.

Treat candles with respect—one little candle could destroy your home if it’s carelessly neglected. That lesson came home to me in the 1990s when I was living with my roommate, Mavine. She loved to take candle-lit soak baths, and one evening I walked by the bathroom and smelled something burning. Our cotton shower curtain had caught on fire from a candle! Mavine was famous for being a very responsible person, and I realized that if she could make that mistake, it must be a very easy mistake for people. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of putting a candle anywhere near fabric—it’s just ingrained in me from so many decades of having them as my only source of light.

A hurricane shade can protect a candle in gusty areas, and looks quite elegant, too.

A few other things about candles:

  • Don’t use scented candles unless you are sure that it’s a natural scent, not a chemical scent. With a chemical scent, you are simple creating nice-smelling air pollution in your home. Sadly, a manufacturer can say “all natural” when it’s really all chemical. There is no legal definition of the word “natural,” so buyer beware. I only use unscented candles. (There is a legal definition of “organic,” so that’s a word you can trust if you see it as an ingredient.)
  • Don’t put a candle on display in a room in a place where it could not be safely lit. That’s common sense if anything ever was!
  • Watch out for soot-producing candles. If a wick is flickering, it’s either too breezy in its location, and you need a hurricane shade, or the wick is too long and should be trimmed. Candles in tall glass jars (such as many “religious” candles) are almost guaranteed to produce soot. The technical name for these candles is “filled candles.”
  • Pillar candles usually need to have the excess wax trimmed off, so the wick remains visible. This is best done while the wax is still warm from burning. What I’ve found is that instead of trimming a pillar candle, I can bend the soft wax toward the center and avoid having the wick be too low. This makes the candles burn a lot longer because they burn all their wax.
  • Votive candles (different from tea candles, which are shorter) can break their glass holder if the candle is put out and then relit later. The way a votive glass is meant to work safely is for the candles to burn all the way down to nothing in one go. The glass holder heats slowly and evenly and won’t crack or break. If a votive is relit, it won’t have heated the glass slowly enough by the time it gets to the bottom, and SNAP—there’s that sound of a votive holder cracking.

As far as placement in your home from a feng shui standpoint, candles are best anywhere you would add the fire element—your fame and reputation area, especially.

Winston Churchill, Feng Shui and Dining Chairs

This American-made Victorian chair from the mid-1800s has a rounded back—representing the Turtle behind—and the two nicely padded arms represent the Tiger and Dragon. It originally had metal rollers, which made it look disconnected from the floor. We removed those, boxed, labeled and stored them away. If you can easily take an old chair (or couch) off its rollers, then do so. You’ll have a much more grounded piece of furniture.

Here’s a chair of ours that I love, which, although it is in our living room, meets the criteria Churchill lists. 

Ten years ago, I used to start my lectures with these words: “Winston Churchill said, ‘We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.’”

That was around the time that Feng Shui for Hawaii was published, and that quote is on page two of the book. I use it to express the universality and cross-culturalness of the understanding that the shape of buildings affects the occupants.

I recently came across a lengthier Churchill quote that’s spot-on for the feng shui take on dining chairs:

“The Dining Room has certain very marked requisites. First, it should be comfortable and give support to the body when sitting up straight: it should certainly have arms, which are an enormous comfort when sitting at meals. Second, it should be compact. One does not want the Dining Room chair spreading itself, or its legs, or its arms, as if it were a plant, but an essentially upright structure with the arms and the back almost perpendicularly over the legs. This enables the chairs to be put together if need be, which is often more sociable, while at the same time the arms prevent overcrowding and elbowing.”

I really like his phrase “enormous comfort” and the bit about being more sociable (no elbowing). And, once again, the main thing I get from all this is the universality (and common sense) of form school feng shui suggestions.