Is Feng Shui a mystical practice, a science, or a form of magical thinking? For those real estate agents who put its principals into practice, it doesn’t really matter. They’ve found it can work. A while back the Wall Street Journal reported that some buildings were even hiring Feng Shui consultants to furnish model apartments in the belief that it would help sales.
Susan Chan of Feng Shui Creative is one such consultant. She works with industry professionals like Rachel Field, a New York City broker at the Corcoran Agency, to find Feng Shui-based design solutions for problematic listings. Field consulted with Chan for the first time in 2008 about her own home. The broker had just moved to the East Village, to a brand new two-bedroom, two-bath condominium that felt, she says, “really bad.”
“The space was really cluttered,” Field recalls. “When Susan came in, she noticed at once that a back door opened on to a hallway. She said, “We need to construct a barrier so that you don’t feel so exposed. Let’s make this spot a happy corner for your son.” At first I was skeptical, but we covered the back of the door with my son’s artwork, and the atmosphere in the apartment shifted. It’s hard to explain, but it changed the energy of the entire place. So then I started to bring Susan in to consult on listings. Financially, it made perfect sense, because people always seemed to buy those apartments faster than those places that she hadn’t worked on. When I sat down and did the numbers, it was obvious.”
Then there was the time Field tried to sell an East Village apartment that was blighted by a small, dark kitchen. “The space was so claustrophobic, I thought nothing could be done to fix it. But Susan decided to put a mirror over the range and move around some art work, as soon as she did, the whole of the place lightened.” Field stresses that the changes to the apartment were more cosmetic. “Before, the kitchen felt like a stagnant space. Afterwards, the energy seemed to move. For me, the situation was a lesson in how to deal with obstacles. I learned that if you work with a good Feng Shui practitioner, there are no obstacles.”
For Chan, the way in which energy flows through a space–or doesn’t–is what it’s all about. When clients consult with her, she studies surveys and floor plans. Depending on the size of the space, a typical consultation can last between one to three hours, followed by twenty minute check-ins via Skype at three and six weeks, respectively. “We often begin by looking at the flow of energy at the entrance to a property,” she explains. “We study how it comes through the front door and follow it into the home.”
In practical terms, this means taking pains to make sure your home is clearly signposted. “The idea is that you want the chi and the opportunity it brings to find you.” For this reason, she recommends that the street number of a home be clearly visible. And first impressions matter. “If the front door is dilapidated,” she says, “people won’t be attracted to your home.” If the main entrance isn’t in the front of the house, she recommends putting out potted plants or painting the door a different color to mark the entrance. Once visitors are inside, Chan says it’s important to create the conditions that will allow “their chi to settle.” Chi is a hard-to-translate term that means life force or energy. An entry hall should be clean and bright, and if you ask guests to take their shoes off, Chan recommends providing them with a bench to sit on when they do.
After the front entrance and entry hall, the most important room in the house from a Feng Shui perspective is the bedroom. “It’s where we spend most of our time, “ Chan says. “Plus, when we’re asleep, we’re vulnerable.” Chan has been taught that when people sleep, their chi leaves the body, extending four feet in all directions, so it’s important to create a clear and tranquil zone so that the chi can flow unimpeded. For this reason, she says, you should never put hard or sharp objects under a bed. It’s also a good idea to choose a solid headboard because it represents a solid foundation. And no electronics, because their electro-magnetic fields can disturb one’s chi. If you must have a TV in the bedroom, cover it at night. Often, she reports, she finds bedrooms that are either too cluttered or too austere, conditions that can be easily remedied. “Sometimes people read books about Feng Shui and they want to tackle everything at once. Often, just taking a look at the bedroom can be a quick and easy fix.”
Many of the principals of Feng Shui seem to make eminent good sense, none more so than the concept of the ‘command position,’ which has its origins in feudal times. Simply put, you want to arrange the furniture–a sofa, a dining table–so that the occupants can see the door of the room in which they sit. Since this could be logistically complicated, one solution that Chan often recommends is to strategically position shiny vases or mirrors in places that reflect the door.
“I find that people don’t pay enough attention to how the layout of a space can affect their lives,” says Chan, who claims she can “read” floor plans in the way that a good psychologist can read people. One time, she says, a couple consulted with her about their home, which they were having difficulty selling even after they’d moved into a new place. After studying the space and chatting with the couple, Chan had a feeling she knew the source of the problem. ‘Which one of you isn’t ready to let go of this house?’ she asked. A hand went up. By the end of the conversation, she says, the pair had decided to focus on the new property, and she practiced certain rituals to “energetically release the old space.” Not long after their consultation, the couple found a buyer for their previous home.