Feng Shui & Tiny Buildings

My home library’s selection of tiny-home titles. (I unfortunately returned the beautiful Nomadic Homes book before I remembered ask Steve to take this photo!)

I’ve been writing a series of articles on large buildings, and it seems appropriate to interject an article on small buildings—as yin/yang balance. It’s easier for a small building to have good feng shui than it is for a large building—especially homes.

Tiny homes are quite trendy now. There’s something very practical about them, and they certainly force you to deal with your clutter (which regular blog readers know I am firmly against). I used to live in a very tiny home. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s I lived in an old smokehouse in Hotrock, Tennessee. (It was called Hotrock because years ago, a certain big flat rock on the nearby Elk River was used for gambling.) Hotrock is about 30 miles from Huntsville, Alabama, where I had founded my second bookstore, Books as Seeds. The building I was living in was about was about nine feet by eleven feet. The thing that made it very livable was the bed I built, which folded into a wall, with a built-in bookcase. The room never felt like a bedroom until just before I crawled into bed.

We have three books on tiny buildings in our own home library, and I checked out another from the library system. The book from the library is fairly new and it’s called Nomadic Homes—and it’s from Taschen. (Need I say more?) I had looked at the Taschen Publishing catalog (which does not look like a regular catalog at all) hoping that a certain three-volume set on Art Nouveau architecture in Europe was in the library system, but alas—no. So I settled for Nomadic Homes which was in the same catalog. Truthfully, there’s no such thing as “settling for” when it comes to a book published by Taschen. The book is huge and packed full of innovative ideas and stunning pictures. (Interlibrary loan is totally free in Hawaii, within the state—so rush on down to your local library to pick it up. You can easily request it online on the state website).

A Hut of One’s Own: Life Outside the Circle of Architecture by Ann Cline could not be a more different kind of book. The Taschen book is yang and this little book with black and white photos is quite yin. It’s from MIT and those folks really know how to make interesting architecture books. This one feels very meditative.

Small Buildings by Mike Cadwell is another small size book with B&W photos, and it’s mostly photos, whereas the previous book was mostly words. The buildings are simple, chunky, arty buildings, and it’s in the “pamphlet” series from Princeton Architectural Press.

Micro: Very Small Buildings by Ruth Slavid is from Lawrence King Publishing, and even though I didn’t know of that publisher before, I immediately respect them. The book has a nicely innovative binding of two very hard and thick cardboard boards that are the natural wood pulp color of unbleached paper. That’s the first thing everyone says about this book—how nice it feels. And it turns out to be a major study of small buildings worldwide, with lots of color photos.

As far as feng shui is concerned, a tiny home is like a multivitamin pill—a lot of umpf in a very small space. If you get your feng shui right (especially emphasizing the bagua areas that you want to work on) you will know about it in your life. And the caution is: that if you get the feng shui wrong—like putting the bathroom in the Wealth Corner—you’ll also know about it.


Feng Shui Outside — Reviews of Feng Shui Garden Books

The area outside of your home is as important as what’s inside your home—it’s what people notice first, before they step inside your home. Your yard and garden can invite good energy into your home, they can balance the energy around your home, and they can protect your home from harsh energy. Those three things are the big deal outside your home.

What about applying the bagua to your yard? While the bagua is justly famous for being effective inside a building, it has no history in China of being used in a yard or garden—that use is strictly Western and is about two decades old. The bagua is an important part of my feng shui practice inside a home. I don’t much use it on a client’s property however because nobody lives in the yard. The only times I use it outside are to accentuate the Wealth & Relationship Corners is the back yard. And, if a person needs fame in their career, I recommend a red glass pyramid in the back middle of the back yard. (I have one client, a politician, who credits that to his election in a very close race.)

After I wrote Feng Shui for Hawaii Gardens I compared it to the other feng shui garden books on the market and realized that it’s really the best book out there on the subject of feng shui outside. You can ignore Hawaii in the title—the principles apply anywhere. The recommendations of individual plants are mostly for warm climates, but you can ask any nursery person in your area which plants can be substituted in your climate.

Angi Ma Wong’s set is packaged with smart origami. There’s the separate little book at the top.

The most surprising thing I discovered when I carefully looked over the existing feng shui garden books is that, besides Gill Hale, I am the only author on the list who practices feng shui full time. Many of the books on the list use vast amounts of what I consider to be filler—information completely unrelated to feng shui. It’s almost as if the authors are just using “feng shui” as a phrase to sell a book (the same as some authors use “Zen and the art of…” to sell their book). I see this as a sign of an author who doesn’t know the subject deeply. There’s plenty to say about the exterior from a feng shui point of view. I love gardeners and you folks deserve to be warned away for certain books that would just be a waste of time. That being said, I’ll start with the better books and end with a short review of my own book.

Angi Ma Wong’s Feng Shui Garden Design Kit by Angi Ma Wong, 2000, Pacific Heritage Books. The book itself is a small spiral bound jobbie designed to sit up and you flip over the small, thick pages—all 25 of them. The great thing that you do get with this kit is a very large bagua on stiff pager with an actual compass in the middle. Yes, it’s a Compass School book, but anyone familiar with Wong’s books knows that she puts in information that is applicable to all feng shui schools, such as yin/yang. The very cool thing about this book is that it’s a different book when read back to front (on the odd numbered pages). The book, read in reverse, is designed to sit at the edge of each area of the large bagua and gives information on that area—I love the care that’s put into this kit. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find.

The Feng Shui Garden by Gill Hale, 1998, Storey Publications, 128 pages. Gill Hale is a very well respected British feng shui consultant, a prolific author, and obviously a passionate gardener. The publisher has taken great care with lots of charts, drawings, and plenty of color photographs throughout. The subject of feng shui permeates the entire book—no “filler” material—hurrah! She is a Compass School practitioner, but is kindly diplomatic when discussing other schools.

Feng Shui Your Garden for Dummies by Jennifer Lawler and Holly Ziegler, 2004, Wiley Publishing, 268 pages. This is one of the few in-print book that originates from North America. Both authors have written other “for Dummies” books. There is an insert of 8 pages in the middle of the book with 17 color photographs—otherwise there are some black and white photos in the book. There are several charts and sidebars, but only two drawings. The bagua and the Five Elements are covered. There is a large amount of material unrelated to feng shui. The authors follow the Black Sect because, as they say, “…it emphasizes concepts such as: Intention: Stating what you want and, The Mouth of Chi: The position of entrances into an environment.”

Feng Shui Garden Design: Creating Serenity by Antonia Beattie, 2003, Periplus Editions, 112 pages. This slender hardback is a Compass School book from Australia. Beattie is a new age writer, not a feng shui expert. The book has many color photographs and is lovely to look at, but the plants in the pictures are rarely identified. The author’s lack of experience is sometimes glaring, as when she illustrates a circular plot of land as if it were as common as rectangular plots. (There is no such thing as a circular plot of land—it would be a nightmare to try to survey, and such plots wouldn’t fit together well. Curved borders on properties mostly occur where they meet roads or bodies of water.)

Feng Shui for Gardeners by Lillian Too, Element Books Ltd. (British copyright 2002), 224 pages. Lillian Too is feng shui’s most prolific author, owning her own publishing company and writing over 100 books. Every year she publishes at least 12 more—one for each of the Chinese zodiac signs with predictions for that year. Too readily admits that she is not a feng shui consultant. The majority of this book is strictly Compass School. The photographs are obviously of British gardens. This is exactly the same book as her Feng Shui for Gardens which is copyrighted 1998, and that is mentioned on the copyright page of the Feng Shui for Gardeners book.

Feng Shui for Gardens by Lillian Too, (British copyright 1998), Element Books Ltd., 224 pages. Mentioned above.

Lillian Too’s Little Book of Feng Shui for the Garden by Lillian Too, 2008, Konsep Lagenda Sdn Bhd. Many of Lillian Too’s books are available in concise, very small editions—this is one of them. It is a Compass School book.

Feng Shui in the Garden by Richard Webster, 1999, Llewellyn Publications, 148 pages. There are a few black and white drawings. The author is from New Zealand and writes on various subjects. He is not a feng shui expert as is apparent when the feng shui bagua is presented in both the Compass School and Form School styles with no indication of how to integrate the two in one garden. (They are two very different schools and the integration of both of them on one property is not considered possible or advisable.)

Feng Shui in the Garden by Nancilee Wydra, 1997, Contemporary Books, 175 pages. There’s one page of color inserted in the middle of the book, otherwise there are quite a few black and white drawings. The first half of the book dwells heavily on color and plant symbolism, in fact I can’t think of any book that does a better job on that score. The actual feng shui part is an application of the bagua to the lot. The second part of the book concerns different theme gardens: Power, Meditation, Fertility, Retirement, Healing, etc.

Then there’s my own book. Feng Shui for Hawaii Gardens is a straightforward, common-sense treatment based on Form School feng shui. Form School is concerned with the form of things—shape, layout, and color. Often called Landform Feng Shui, it is the oldest kind of feng shui and is widely practiced in North America. The three basic concepts of inviting good energy onto the property, nurturing that energy, and protecting from harsh energy are things I believe in and stand behind. They are things anyone can understand without huge leaps of faith. No other book takes this simple approach. It is an approach that I created to teach my classes on exterior feng shui. My book deals with symbolism—symbolism that is rooted in common sense. If something looks threatening, it’s probably having an adverse effect on you and it would be best to screen that view—simple problem, simple solution.

Feng Shui, Circles & Squares


Chinese coins—round with a square hole, representing heaven (circle) encompassing earth (square). Photo by Plismo, via Wikimedia Commons

The two most basic shapes in feng shui are circles and squares. The circle represents heaven and the square represents earth—that’s why round dining tables are considered to be better than square ones. That’s also why old Chinese coins are round with a square hole in the middle—heaven encompasses earth and is therefore greater than earth.

My husband loves math and I recently got him the book The Joy of Pi by David Slatner, but I was intrigued by its fun format, and I actually started reading it first. What I found supports the feng shui teaching quite nicely. So nicely, in fact, that I’m going to liberally quote from the book.

The Joy of Pi by David Blatner

“It’s not poetic or particularly pleasing to hear, but we humans are basically pattern recognition devices. Our eyes take in the world, but what we really see are intricate patterns of lines and curves and colors and brightness.”

“A raindrop in a pond produces perfect circles of waves that expand indefinitely until cancelled by the friction of the shore or by the perfect circles made by other raindrops. Planets and stars try to form circles and spheres in space, though gravity and spinning forces push and pull their pure mathematical curves into the complex forms that we see in nature.”

“Circles are everywhere in the natural world, and to the peoples of early civilization, the great circles of the moon and the sun looking down on them each day were sources of infinite power and mystery. Even before civilization began, people probably drew circles in the sand with a peg and a rope, building their own infinite forms. The earliest homes and sacred sites, dating back as far as 8000 B.C.E., were circular, owing perhaps to religions based on reverence for the Earth, the mother-goddess.

On the other hand you have a square—exquisitely formed with four equal sides and four equal angles. Since the earliest recorded history, the square has been the opposite, the antithesis, of the circle. Squares are found rarely in nature—perhaps only in the purest of crystalline structures. Where building a circle comes naturally, we have to measure and calculate to create a square. The simplest squares develop from circles: When you draw two perpendicular lines through the center of a circle, their ends form the corners of a square.

Squares have become symbolic of our human ability to measure, to solve, and to partition. Where circles denote the infinite, squares indicate the finite.”

There you have it—science and feng shui in complete agreement. Something to keep in mind when you’re on the hunt for your next table.

Feng Shui & Vintage Furniture

To be feng shui-friendly, furniture should have rounded vertical corners. The rounded corners will not cause “poison arrows” which are caused by right-angle vertical corners. The fastest way to find that kind of furniture is to look for vintage furniture. Rounded corners are common on vintage furniture.

A Heywood-Wakefield desk. Look at those remarkably curved drawers! View it here.

If I could afford it, every stick of furniture in our house would be Heywood-Wakefield Blond wood. It looks sleek and modern without looking harsh. It looks a little bit Art Deco and a bit Danish Modern, but mostly it looks comfortable.

Heywood-Wakefield started by manufacturing wicker furniture in the 1800s, and if that’s all they ever made, I wouldn’t have much interest in that brand. But when they started making their Blond furniture—magic happened.

Poison arrows can be unintentionally aimed right at us due to the way we position our furniture.

It’s sometimes called Champagne, and it’s known for its clean modern lines, with no fussy decoration, and no sharp angles anywhere. That’s Heywood-Wakefield! While most other companies were making modern furniture with sharp right angles (causing fierce poison arrows), Heywood-Wakefield always made rounded corners, and not just rounded, but well-rounded. You certainly don’t have to be psychic to feel quite comfortable around this fine furniture. Oh, and did I mention that it is well-made? Famously so!

Another furniture company that had an excellent reputation for sturdy, well-made furniture is Lloyd Loom.

Another Heywood-Wakefield example with lovely rounded corners. View it here.

Those are two words that I had never seen together—until I went to Hilo a couple of weeks ago. I was browsing in the “Collectibles” section of Hilo Bay Books and lo—there’s a book on the shelf with that exact title, Lloyd Loom by Lee Curtis. I had no idea what the book was about, but I saw from the spine that the publisher was Rizzoli, one of the top art publishers in the world! When I took it off the shelf, it looked like something you’d expect to see published by Schiffer or Collector Books. When I opened the book, I was transported into some very comfortable-looking interiors. And I realized why Rizzoli had published a book that (at first glance) had seemed to just be a book about a brand of collectible, vintage furniture. This book is so different from most books about collectible objects, because Rizzoli pumped plenty of money into its production and the result is a book with lush color pictures of room vignettes—vignettes from the company’s original publicity pictures. They’re fabulous, and—almost to the piece—with no feng shui flaws. Rounded corners galore, and when there’s a glass surface on a table, the glass never extends beyond the top of the table.

Here’s our Lloyd Loom table, along with my book discovery. The corners are all rounded by the way that they are woven. And, I will add, this is a very solid and sturdy piece of furniture. It’s also on my list of things to repaint—I’ll use a sage green, sort of like the color of the Roseville bookend tucked on the shelf.

The book is so much fun to browse; there are no catalog sections of just picture, name of design line, years, and value—that’s what most books about collectible objects look like. (I know because I have a lot of those kinds of books.) The layout of most books about collectibles is only going to interest people who collect (or wish they could collect) those kinds of objects. The layout of this book is exactly what you’d expect from Rizzoli—anything but boring. This Rizzoli book will interest anyone (I was amazed to see my husband reading it for days) because the writing is top notch and the amount of material covered is phenomenal! The book even carefully shows you how to repair this wicker-like furniture. Real wicker is made with twigs, and is not as sturdy as the furniture from Lloyd Loom which is made of paper coiled around steel wire.

It turns out, we have a small Lloyd Loom table and had no idea until I got this book. We got the table years ago to use as a bedside table, and have in recent years used it as an extra table for incidental items. I was never inclined to let it go because it felt so comfortable to be around. Now I’m so glad we kept it.

A big thanks to Hilo Bay Books, for having such a consistently interesting selection of books. They have the largest selection of books in Hilo, and the second-largest on Hawaii Island. The largest selection of books is at Kona Bay Books in Kailua.  It’s the west-side the sister store to Hilo Bay Books, and I try to go weekly if I can—it’s that good!

Feng Shui & Birds — Part 1: Wild Birds

This leiothrix (Peking or Chinese nightingale) is rather plain-looking but will light up your day when it starts singing.

In feng shui, birds have a heavenly connection. They are links between Heaven and Earth. Good feng shui consultants learn to become acutely aware of wild birds. My colleague, Susan Levitt, taught me that they can be used as an impromptu oracle. When discussing something, if you see a bird flying to your right it’s an affirmation, and if it’s flying to the left, it’s a negation.

Susan is also the person who informed me about the great feng shui master Baolin Wu. In his brilliant book, Lighting the Eye of the Dragon, he repeatedly refers to wild birds, considering them to be a barometer of the chi energy of the property: “Check for birds at dawn. If a lot of birds are out singing vigorously at dawn, it’s a good sign.” I consider Lighting the Eye of the Dragon to be the greatest feng shui book available in English. I had goose bumps by the end of the first paragraph!

In Feng Shui for Love & Money I tell this story:

I consulted for Hawai‘i Island artist Ira Ono, whose Fame Area was in his laundry room. I said, “Nobody will notice if this room is red.” He agreed, and made it red. A few weeks later he called early in the morning, “Have you seen today’s paper?” I said, “No, not yet.” He said, “I’m on the cover in color!” One of his ornaments was going to appear on the White House Christmas tree.

Artist Ira Ono’s stunning i‘iwi bird ornament.

The ornament featured the beautiful i‘iwi bird, one of Hawaii’s most beloved native birds. I don’t think it was a coincidence. The combination of red (fire) in Ira’s Fame Area and the good omen of the bird made for a very positive combination.

My strong suggestion to those who have a yard: Plant plenty of trees & shrubs—the birds need them! The lives of apartment dwellers, too, can often be enriched with wild birds by adding a bird feeder out a window. In the last apartment that we lived in in San Francisco, we had a finch feeder and a hummingbird feeder, and they were visited frequently, much to our delight.

My next post will be about pet birds—a topic suggested to me by Karen Anderson when she was visiting our kitchen—see my previous post.