Big Tall Buildings: A Feng Shui View

The Pacific Honda dealership and Capitol Place condo building in downtown Honolulu. Water and wood are almost equally represented here.

I occasionally offer feng shui walks of downtown Honolulu. In the walks, I discuss (mostly) the relationships of the buildings to each other—are they making poison arrows at neighboring buildings. I also discuss the elements of the individual buildings—it’s a valuable skill to learn. It takes practice to develop the skill, and I’ve had lots of it and like to share the knowledge with other people. If you’re ever on Oahu around Chinese New Year, it’s likely that I’ll be giving one of these walks. (The walks are free, but it’s best to contact me in advance if you want to attend.)

In this series of articles, I won’t discuss the relationships of the buildings to each other. That discussion is best done in person and on site. Not even a video is going to really show you the complex three-dimensional relationships of the various buildings to each other.) In this series of articles (and especially in this first article) I’ll discuss how to decide what element a building is, according to feng shui.

The classification of a building into one of the five elements are mostly decided by shape. All the buildings in this series of articles will have in common that they are all tall buildings, and a vertical rectangle shape is always the element wood. If there’s any kind of waviness to the shape of the building, the element water is also represented.

Color and building material are also factors in deciding the element of the building, but they’re not as important as shape. With building material, we’re mostly concerned with what’s called cladding. It’s not necessarily (and not usually in a lot of modern buildings) the structural material (the bones of the building—and in this series of articles, the buildings are all quite big, supported by steel, which is obviously the element metal). The supporting structure of a building isn’t a significant factor because you don’t usually see it. The visual layer is the big deal in feng shui—the really big deal!

Buildings are almost always more than one element. The primary element is called primary for good reason: it’s really the thing that you go by 99% of the time. The secondary element (or elements, plural, in some buildings) is only taken into account when the building has factors that give two different elements almost equal prominence. That’s the case in the first building in this series, pictured at the top of this post—it’s in downtown Honolulu at the corner of Beretania and Bishop streets (right where Bishop become Pali Highway). Water and wood are almost equally represented.

The color of the glass is made more important on this building, because the balconies are (comparatively) minimal, and that makes the large vertical planes of glass very noticeable. (Balconies on a building chop up the view of the glass, so the glass is less visually important on those buildings.) The glass on this building made even more visually important by having it tinted blue. Blue says water—like the blue ocean.

More things that say water are the wavy blue line, and the word Pacific at the lower part of the building. Since water represents money in feng shui, one wonders whether there’s a financial advantage to living in a water building. Well, the owner of this particular building is quite wealthy (as, I suspect, are the owners of most big buildings), dare I say notoriously wealthy. But what about the people who live in a water building? It all depends on how the individual condos and apartments are laid out and decorated. If I lived in a water building, I’d have my predominate decor be wood, because wood is nourished by water, so the symbolism would be that the building feeds the unit—prosperity growing.

Clutter & Sanity

I had a client who was perpetually overwhelmed. His phrase for it was “Everything, everything.” I’ve said before that every object in your home has a voice, and clutter speaks, too. The commonsense message of clutter is: “I’ve got too much to handle already—I can’t handle any more!”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, clutter is likely to be manifesting somewhere in your life. If you’re overwhelmed, then make it all more manageable by dealing with the clutter in stages. Each stage will make the next stage that much easier.

Floor. I’ve also said that clutter symbolizes stagnation in your life. How can you get anywhere with all that stuff in your way? So in this stage, your first goal is to be able to walk from room to room without stepping on clutter. First make pathways, then clear clutter off the entire floor.

Horizontal surfaces between shoulder height and coffee table height. Declutter those particular tables and shelves. That last sentence is, in itself, overwhelming for someone with major clutter. So, for those folks (you know who you are) it’s best to just slightly rearrange the clutter first. The goal is to see the edge of the top of every table. And you should be able to see the front edges of all shelves between those two heights. Once that is done for the whole room, and you feel ready for the next stage, remove the decorative objects from the one particular table or shelf that you’re working on. Put them in a box, and label it where they came from and when. Deal with the non-decorative objects, clean the tabletop and put on it the useful objects that should stay there. If there’s room for decorative objects, only put those items out that conform to the symbolism of the bagua of the room.

Walls. Heaven help you if you have wall clutter—some of it has got to go (at least into storage). Start with any words that are on the wall.  Any decorative objects on your walls should conform to the bagua symbolism. I know I just said that, but it’s so important not to be working against yourself.

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 & Bold Interior Wall Colors

With a few exceptions, I don’t recommend bold colors for interior walls. They’re just too in-your-face and dramatic. Dramatic can say “drama” — leave that for the soap operas. In a store, a bold color might compete with the merchandise. What I do recommend to anyone who owns their home is pigment. Pigment is what the person at the paint store adds in to the white base to create the color you want, and it costs no more than white and can bring years of happiness, if it’s the right color.

But don’t make that pigment too bold. You can make it close to bold, but it would have to be duller than actual bold. You usually get that by graying-it-down a notch. The color you pick can be right next to bold, but just shouldn’t be bold. I often recommend variations of tan, yellow, and green. I also use the bagua map to pick interior colors.

Here’s an example of a color that’s too vivid for an entire room:
This color could easily work for entire room (although I’d warm it up with some yellow or orange accents in the room):
Since these examples are computer-generated “paint chips,” I should say this: Never make your final choice of color from a computer screen — use a physical paint chip. (Designers will tell you the same thing.)

So what about the exceptions? There are only two that I can think of. One exception is only for offices (not retail stores) and other exception is for homes with a particular location (and door orientation) of the master bedroom.

This bedroom is a really good example! (REALLY GOOD!) Photo by Concept Design, Inc. via Houzz

I’ll discuss the second exception first. If the master bedroom is in the Wealth Corner of whole home, and the door to that room is in the same orientation as the front door, paint the far wall purple—any purple that you like. Page 73 & 74 of Feng Shui for Love & Money contains an email that I got from a client (Lynn Forrest, who is now a feng shui consultant herself) who followed my advice on this.

You came to our house to do a consult right after we moved in and suggested that I paint a wall in my bedroom red or purple—it was the wealth corner of the house and also the wall that connected the wealth and relationship corners in my room.

Well, I painted the wall a deep, vibrant purple and a number of things happened:

  • We sold the house for almost three times what we paid for it
  • I became romantically involved with a friend
  • My son-in-law got an offer to work

Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Welsh, Apex Mortgage

For offices, especially offices with several rooms, paint the back wall of the main room red. My client, Barbara A. Welsh, is the owner of Apex Mortgage in Kailua-Kona. A little over ten years ago I consulted for her business and recommended green for the back wall of the main room. (Confession: I was too timid at that time to recommend red.) Ten years later she called me again and said she had loved it but was ready for a change. And I was ready to recommend red. She said the magic word— “yes” — and before the paint was even dry there were people looking in the window and coming inside to say how much they loved it. We left the rest of the walls white and used a pale almond for the trim color around the baseboards and doors.

Feng Shui & Mermaid Imagery

Leighton-The Fisherman and the Syren-c. 1856-1858

You definitely get the feeling that the relationship is not going to work out… “The Fisherman and the Syren,” Frederic Leighton. Public domain.

I know many out there will hate to hear this, but mermaid imagery is disempowering for women and devastatingly so if it’s a single mermaid. Think of the phrase “like a fish out of water.” Well, that’s what a mermaid is. A mermaid tail cannot walk around on dry land, yet dry land is where the upper part of the mermaid has to be in order to breathe. So here’s this composite creature that’s at home nowhere, and powerless on land (which is where people live). If the mermaid image is female (which it almost always is, in contemporary depictions) and you’re a woman—watch out! Anytime an image (in your home, yard or office) is the same gender as you, it’s affecting you much more than an image of the opposite gender. In my opinion, that classifies as common sense.

I’ve often written about the problem of singular imagery having an adverse affect on the “relationship energy” of the home (examples are found on page 118 of Feng Shui for Hawaii, and page 14 of Feng Shui for Love & Money). Images of several merpeople are an improvement over a single merperson, in that sense. The earliest images of merpeople always showed interaction, not singularity.

John William Waterhouse A Mermaid.jpg

Well, here she is, out taking a “breather,” but she’s not going to get very far unless she holds her breath and jumps back in the water. “A Mermaid.” John William Waterhouse, 1900. Public domain.

Some of the earliest examples of merpeople can be found in mosaics on Crete. In those representations, the creatures have two scaly tails where you’d expect legs to be. They’re still not exactly land-friendly creatures, I’d say.

I recently had a client who agreed to remove her mermaid imagery, but she wondered what to do with it. I suggested letting it go, but in the meantime, storing it in a closet in such a way that if she opened the closet she wouldn’t see the images—the paintings are facing the wall. (This is my common recommendation when clients have items that are obviously unsuitable, from a feng shui standpoint, but they aren’t ready or able to part with them.)