Feng Shui & the Tabouret (or Tabourette)

This tabouret is in our living room. The lower shelf holds books and we always keep the top shelf clear so it’s available to set a beverage on.

I’d never seen or heard that word before—‘til I was browsing in an old 1923 Sears catalogue. There on page 609 was an etching of a small (17 inches high and less than a foot across the top) oak table. It was part of a seven-piece craftsman set of living room furniture, and its only description was that it was “a convenient article” and that it was a little over 11 inches wide. They’re convenient all right—we have two and they’re both in daily use. A tabouret is also (almost always) feng-shui friendly because the tops usually have eight sides—so no poison arrows. (Any angle larger than ninety degrees does not make a poison arrow.)

Not long ago I wrote about vintage furniture being excellent for not causing poison arrows. Well, that’s the tabouret and sometimes it’s not vintage—it’s often (becoming more often every year) an actual antique (over 100 years old).  But they’re frequently sold at yard sale prices—because sometimes even antique dealers don’t recognize them. We paid between five and ten dollars for ours. In the late 1800s, Moorish decor was in vogue in Europe and America and a tabouret is similar to a small inlaid Moorish table. (A tabouret is usually simpler). They make great plant stands and occasional tables, and since there’s almost always a lower shelf—they can even make a cute little bookcase.

The tabouret lives next to our lanai dining table (our only dining table) and it usually holds fresh produce. Here it is with our own mamey fruit. (Mamey tastes like sweet potato pie.) The upper pottery is vintage Catalina, and the lower one is modern from Berkeley.

I bought this humble tabouret at Discovery Antiques in Kealakekua a few years ago for $5 or $10. It was probably made between 1910 and 1930, and it could have been someone’s furniture-making project.

Carlo Bugatti, the great Italian designer, created a Moorish-looking set of furniture, including a tabouret that was anything but simple. It looked like it had died and gone to heaven! (To see examples of the set of furniture, search Google Images for “Bugatti furniture art nouveau.” But I think the only time I ever saw a photo of his tabouret was on an eBay auction.)

If you have a spare $14,500 lying around, you could buy this beautiful Bugatti tabouret from this online auctioneer. It’s a good thing I’m not rich, because I would totally do it. Photo: 1stdibs


Feng Shui & McMansions

Photo via Houzz by Paula Grace Designs, Inc.

I was recently skimming through The Long Emergency by James Kunstler and I see this term: “lawyer foyer.” I’d never heard of that, but I wondered if it might mean what I thought it meant—and sure enough, it does. It refers to a two-story foyer, often with a staircase, and sometimes with a double staircase. (I’ll say right here that double staircases are horrible feng shui—a person is given a meaningless choice. “Should I go up these stairs or those stairs?” They both go to the same place. The symbolism is that meaninglessness will play a part in your life.)

McMansions almost always have “lawyer foyers,” and McMansions, in general, usually have horrible feng shui. I’ve never been to a McMansion that didn’t have an interior bathroom—and that is the absolutely worst thing I know of in feng shui. (A “center bathroom” is any bathroom that doesn’t touch an outside wall, and they portend disease, divorce, bankruptcy and even death.)  McMansions are also famous for more square footage than the residents need—and that symbolizes emptiness, possibly an empty life—a life wasted. McMansions are rife with fake architectural details—things that meant to suggest something grand, but are actually less than grand.

Fake anything in a home to starts to say artificial relationships and wealth. The more fake things in a home, the more it says artificial relationships and wealth. Several years ago, I consulted for a couple with an impressive stone balustrade around their back patio. I thought it was stone, until I tapped it with my fingernail and was shocked to realize it was foam plastic.

I have a feeling that the proliferation of overly large homes with center bathrooms was a factor in the 2008 real-estate crash. When you get a bunch of people living in homes (built with fake objects) with center bathrooms, it does not bode well for the fate of the nation. You could not pay me to live in a McMansion!

Feng Shui, Calculated Casual and Shabby Chic Styles, and an “Off-Kilter” Look (with Special Reference to Minimalism)

Bagua Map

The shape associated with the fame area of the bagua is angular—triangles, points and upward forms belong here.

How’s that for a title? They do all relate—at least in my mind. First, let’s go into an “off-kilter” look (that’s the main feng shui concern), then calculated casual and shabby chic, and we’ll end with minimalism (for all you fans of Dwell magazine.)

When parallel lines (seen in close proximity) are not quite parallel, it looks off-kilter—not lined up. The best place for that look is in the Fame area of the bagua because it implies (and sometimes is) an angle. The main thing to watch out for in having an off-kilter look is don’t overdo it. A little bit goes a long way and too much is severely off-balancing. Calculated casual is actually more of a look (as in overlay) than a style, and it’s a perfect way to work an angular, off-kilter design into an interior tableau.

This is not calculated casual—this is stupid. Constant exposure to this is damaging to your psyche.

Beware of using an off-kilter look on a vertical surface, such as pictures on a wall—it can be a sign of neglect. However, on most horizontal surfaces, off-kilter can say these objects are used in this household.

Did I ever mention that calculated casual is my favorite look in decorating? It’s so easy to live with, and it can comfortably overlay any other style of decorating. First, I should say that calculated casual is not the same as “shabby chic.” Don’t get me started on shabby chic—I hate it. It’s always bad feng shui because it cheapens the look of your home. Think about the word shabby.

It’s a bit crowded, but this is calculated casual. These things are picked up and used.

Calculated casual can be as simple as forgoing formal balance. Don’t go overboard with “foregoing formal balance”—some areas don’t just call for formal balance, they scream for it. (Certain fireplaces demand formal balance—there is sometimes no other way to make the room feel right.) Like anything, calculated casual can be done wrong—karate-chop pillows, for instance. The best calculated casual comes from years of experience—get started now, if you haven’t already. Wabi sabi is the very refined, Japanese version of calculated casual—and that brings us to our last topic—minimalism.

Yes, calculated casual even works with minimalism—in fact it makes minimalism look even more fabulous, and livable. Minimalism’s main feng shui problem is that it can be too yang for a home. This most often happens when formal balance is used. That usually happens because, with formal balance, it’s easier to figure out how to make it work in the space. Informal balance can take a good deal more thought and work. Minimalism is often fine for businesses and offices, which have a yang purpose—transactions. At home, you need some yin atmosphere—a bit softer. If minimalism is too formal in its visual presentation, it can easily look clinical. If you can get a minimalist look that people would describe as charming, then it’s undoubtedly suitable for a residence. (Good luck with that last one…If you can achieve it, send me photos!)

Feng Shui & Moire Patterns

Real moiré patterns are optical illusions created when similar pattern grids or lines are laid over each other. They create a sense of motion, sometime dizzyingly, and are very, very active in terms of feng shui energy. Authentic moiré patterns can happen in a home when two fairly fine mesh screens are placed one behind the other and a few inches apart. (You’ll also often see them when you take a photo or video of a computer monitor or television screen.)

Here’s an animation of a moving moiré pattern. By P. Fraundorf, CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Both the pattern and the color say “water”. This lovely fabric from Oleandro Creations would be perfect in the Career Area, as well as the Wealth and Health/Family Areas.

There is an artificial moiré that is sometimes woven into damask fabric to make drapes or upholstery. The artificial, cloth moiré is never a problem, and can look quite elegant in silk. This article is about real moiré, which is far too active for use in most home situations.

If you have time and/or inclination, Mr. Wizard has a very good explanation and several examples, and he even shows a sample of moiré fabric to start.

Our house has a lot of screen walls, but thankfully very few moire patterns. Here’s a place where two screen walls meet at a right angle, and there’s that moire (down in the bottom corner)! It’s pleasant because it’s seldom noticed.

A client on Oahu lived in a home on a ridge overlooking the Diamond Head area and had some nice views out of the living room windows. She had recently bought window treatments and had wanted to keep some of the view by using some pull down shades with lots of holes in them. When this combined with the insect screen on the window the effect was huge moving moiré patterns every time you moved in that room (during daylight hours—a moiré like that wouldn’t show up when there’s dark on the other side of the window).

The custom-made shades had cost her a lot of money, but living with them pulled down was driving her crazy. I totally understood the problem and frankly said that I couldn’t live with that in my own home. I’m appalled that the shades salesperson who visited her home for measurements didn’t warn her about the patterns.

What could I say, except, “Don’t use them”? I hate saying that when somebody just made a large capital outlay on something that turns out wrong, but anything that is driving you crazy in your own home is not good feng shui! I felt like a jerk saying, “Don’t use them,” but I spoke honestly.

Rainbow Cosmo Cat Eye Wind Spinner

Source: Houzz

An occasional, mild, moving moiré pattern in your home is not a problem. But my Oahu client had several big windows in her living room, and even if you moved very slightly, the moiré pattern would show up as a very active thing in your view. That is pointless visual noise and it can drive a person crazy—especially if there’s a lot of it.

Those large, shiny kinetic wind sculptures some people like to hang in their gardens have a similar effect—the slightest breeze causes endless waves of motion; there’s always something vibrating and hovering at the edge of your field of view. That sort of constant visual noise should be avoided for a peaceful home.

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!