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 & Clutter (Especially Book Clutter)

Marie Kondo’s popular books on “tidying up.”

Marie Kondo is well known and deserves to be. Her books on decluttering are quite influential in many people’s lives. The author of this recent article in Fast Company has nothing but praise for Kondo.  I especially liked that she mentions thanking items for their service in her life, and that she linked to a UCLA study that shows spikes in diurnal cortisol levels (a measure of stress) in people living in very cluttered homes. When someone is sick with something like cancer or diabetes and they ask me for feng shui advice, my first question is, “Is your home cluttered?” Their answer is almost always yes.

In feng shui, clutter symbolizes stagnation in your life. Clutter can accumulate in many places. In Feng Shui for Hawaii, I address it at the front door (piles of slippers), on the refrigerator (magnets, photos, papers posted all over) and on the bed (masses of superfluous decorative pillows—a particular pet peeve of mine; I’ve gone into further detail about that one on this blog).

If you cannot deal with divesting yourself of accumulated things, at least edit, categorize and pack. And keep it neat!

When it comes to decluttering, there are types of clutter. There are the items that are evident and easily tidied and pared down, such as all those things in places I just mentioned above. There’s the type of clutter that verges on hoarding, like piles of old papers, magazines and broken things. Those should be the first to go. And then there are items that can accumulate en masse, but aren’t easily sorted, thinned out or thrown away, like important documents and photographs. From a feng shui standpoint, it is acceptable to (neatly!) store away things from the latter category to be evaluated later when you have the time to devote your attention to the job. Kondo believes you must devote your full attention to the evaluation process. I appreciate this mindfulness.

It’s definitely possible to take decluttering too far, and Kondo is guilty of that in her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. On page 95 she explains how she rips pages that she likes out of books. I think that’s a fine scheme for magazines, but I have more respect for books than she does. I’m a book collector, and one bit of her advice (which she puts in bold type) is just plain wrong, as far as I’m concerned: “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.” This is obviously coming from someone who doesn’t read very many books. If I followed that advice, I’d never leave a good bookstore. Here’s my advice on the same subject: The moment to acquire a book is when it’s something you know you want and it’s a price you consider reasonable. Once you own a book, you do not have to feel any pressure to read it. Read it when it calls to you and you have the time.

Readers of this blog know that I am an avid book collector. How you curate and store the books is important. I have several posts devoted to the topic.

Readers of this blog know that I am an avid book collector. How you curate and store the books is important. I have several posts devoted to the topic. Start with this one.

Kondo says that (in her personal experience) “sometime” (as in, “I might want to read it sometime.”) never comes. Oh, but it does—in my personal experience. I’ve owned books for years without reading them, and then one day—bingo, there’s a perfect book for me. And I didn’t have to go to the library or a bookstore—it was waiting for me right on our own bookshelves. Books are like well-preserved food, not like fresh produce. I often keep books that I’ve read, not because I expect to read them again, but because I share them with friends. Sharing books is a way of knitting community together. (And if you are an adherent of Kondo’s philosophy, this sort of sharing is certainly something that “sparks joy.”)

The Feng Shui of Monuments

My oldest brother just sent me this picture of Mama in her Marine uniform, which I’d never seen before. I love it!

My dear mother passed away peacefully about a week ago. I dedicate this article to her. I was raised in Alabama, as were my parents. Both my mother and father were vehemently anti-racist and they passed that on to their children.

Many years ago, I was driving along a country road and my mother was the passenger. I pointed out a monumental antebellum mansion that I considered lovely. Her only response was delivered immediately: “A monument to man’s inhumanity to man!” That brief comment changed me forever.

When I was young, our local courthouse had the usual statue of a Confederate soldier. The law of the land was “separate but equal” but even to my inexperienced eyes, it was obvious that separate had never been intended to be equal. The black schools were obviously inferior to the white schools. The black drinking fountains weren’t as clean as the white drinking fountains, and that was probably true of the segregated restrooms as well. The only people who defend Confederate monuments are white, and to do so is willful ignorance.

In feng shui, it is acknowledged that what we see around us affects who we are. Confederate monuments are evil because they honor traitors to our country—it’s that simple. The mayor of New Orleans recently had the Confederate monuments removed from that city, and his speech was pure eloquence.

When my mother passed, she was 94. She spent the last three years of her life in a veterans’ home since she was a Marine in World War II. She would call me weekly when she went to the lunchroom and we would chat until the meal was served. One of the other residents was in his 60s and was a racist, and my mom didn’t cut him any slack. A few months ago, my mom and I were having our usual conversation when the racist came to sit at her table. Here’s what I heard her say, “That’s Mr. Miller’s place.” (Mr. Miller was the only black resident in the home.) “Well, uh’m here now,” was his response. My mom firmly said, “That’s Mr. Miller’s place and you’re going to have to move.” Well, he wouldn’t move and my mom unleashed some words that I’d never heard come out of her mouth, “You’re nothing but a low-down, racist son-of-a-bitch, and I’m going to knock the hell out of you!” He proceeded to dump her coffee on the floor, which promptly got him kicked out of the lunchroom. When she came back to the phone, I congratulated her. Later she told me that he had been transferred to the “crazy” wing, which we both agreed is where all racists belong.

Love you, Mama. Thank you for your honest courage.


Feng Shui & Birds — Part 2: Pet Birds

Pet birds add delight and companionship to our lives. Birds, like all animals, add a yang presence. In feng shui, birds are believed to be messengers of heaven. Having them as pets is considered beneficial. So says my favorite feng shui writer, Baolin Wu, who I mentioned in my previous post. In Lighting the Eye of the Dragon, he says that the most important factor is the color of the bird—it must match the color of your birth season.

February, March, April = Green Element: Wood Season: Spring
May, June = Red Element: Fire Season: Summer
July, August = Yellow Element: Earth Season: Late Summer
September, October = White Element: Metal Season: Autumn
November, December, January = Black Element: Water Season: Winter

Now when I read something like that, my mind immediately starts thinking, “What if your bird is the ‘wrong’ color, but you’ve developed a strong friendship or perhaps the bird found you?” That’s what happened to us. Between the time that I wrote my last post and now, a duck found us. I don’t care what color that bird is—I love it! We’re (at least temporarily) naming it Lulu. My mom said we’ll know the gender if it makes a nest and lays eggs or not.

This wonderful duck appeared in front of house four days ago. We love it and it loves our pond. Here it is on a little stepping-stone island.

It’s like something dropped out of heaven and landed in our pond. Our pond has come alive in a most unexpected and welcome way.

If your pet bird is the wrong color for you (or one of you), you can make up for it by balancing your home in other ways. Add a large houseplant, such as a ficus, in the vicinity of the bird’s cage. The plant adds nature to the bird’s environment, and it also provides some competition for attention, and that symbolically lessens the importance of the bird.

My dear old friend Lilli Antonoff sent us this card as a holiday greeting years ago. I take it with me as an example of art with good “relationship energy” when I do talks and classes. (Artwork: Shoson Ohara, “Swans and Reeds,” 1928)

Also, add a picture in your home of a pair of birds that are the “correct” color. That’s especially advisable if you’re keeping a single, caged bird in a Relationship Corner. Think about the symbology there.

You might also consider adding another bird to your home—a bird that is the “correct’ color. But don’t start a menagerie—one to four birds is plenty. Too many birds (or pets of any kind) causes an off-balancing of the energies of the home. (Remember, the birds are adding yang energy.) Pet birds kept outside can be any number that is harmonious with your property, meaning a farm can have more pet birds than a home on an urban lot. But even homes on urban lots can have chickens—you get avian delight plus eggs. There’s quite choice of color available in chickens: white, black, brown, red, and even blue for some Plymouth Rock chickens. Because the chickens are kept outdoors, they do not create too much yang energy for an urban lot.

If your birds are kept inside, be sure to make your home bird safe. Check sites like birdsafe.com or parrotparrot.com. You can consider that if it’s making your home more bird safe, it is good feng shui.


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.