Julie Schuster, an interior designer in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, has been using the ancient art of feng shui in her design work for nearly 10 years. Every step of her process is rooted in this energy-focused, spatial philosophy. “Feng shui precedes from the perspective that everything in the universe, including us, is made up of energy,” she tells Culture Trip. “And these energies have different personalities, so everything is either fire, earth, metal, water, or wood.”
For Julie, a holistic design process and feng shui are synonymous.
According to the principles of feng shui, everything in the universe embodies one of the five elements, but they have to be consciously balanced – especially in the home. The bagua map is a tool that offers specific guidelines for how to achieve a harmonious, healthy flow of life energy, or chi, in any given space. It relates spatial layout to emotional energy, color, and it the five natural elements and outlines a balanced approach to living.
“Bagua is an energy map. It springs from the Chinese words ba and gua, [meaning] nine spaces, or nine areas,” Julie says. “If you were to look at a bagua, it is a hexagonal shaped symbol with eight spaces around the outside and a central core – each one representing the nine different types of energies that are going to be in any environment.” It’s sometimes also called the Five Elements Theory.
Julie says you can “bagua” anything: your home, a piece of land, a room, even your face. If it has to do with spatial arrangement, you can bagua it. But how exactly does it work? And more importantly, how can you use it in your home?
“Let’s say you put the bagua map ‘over’ your house,” Julie begins. “You’re going to have an area that relates to your fame and reputation, an area that relates to your life’s path, another area to help people and travel, one for creativity, one for family and ancestry, one for wealth and abundance… all of these areas are there within the bagua. These different areas manifest themselves in different types of energies [in the home].” Designing or decorating according to these nine areas can help balance the collective energies of a space.
The most important three areas of the house, Julie points out, are the front entry way, the kitchen, and the bedroom (where you spend most of your time rejuvenating). In feng shui, the home is analogous to the human body, and what does a human body need to do? “It needs to breathe in and out,” says Julie. “So does your home. And what is the portal through which it does all of that breathing? That is called the mouth of chi and it’s your front door.”
In feng shui, the line of the map begins at the front door. It’s the starting point of the bagua when you “lay it.” From there, you can begin mapping the right elements, objects, and color schemes for the different sections of your home.
“The spaces are the same no matter what you’re trying to do,” says Julie. “The far right top corner is always going to be your romance section. The bottom left corner is always going to be your spirituality and self-knowledge corner.” The only thing that can change is how you lay the map and its orientation to chi.
None of these energies or elements are good or bad, they just need to be thoughtfully balanced. Too much of a particular color or element can be bad. Julie compares it to a carnivorous animal: the animal is neither good nor bad, but just has to eat. It’s neutral in its existence. We can view the five elements in the same sense: the bagua map is a neutral template that utilizes these natural forces to help the flow of chi, or the life force.
“If you are a ‘fire’ personality, we’re going to add things in each of your spaces that are representative of fire for you in order to help you feel comforted and nurtured in that space,” Julie says.
Naturally, red is closely associated with fire elements, and because fire naturally occurs in the kitchen of any home, according to the bagua, it’s good to incorporate that color in that part of the house.
The fire element is also associated with fame and reputation, but not in the pop-culture sense of fleeting fame or living glamorously in the limelight. “Symbolically, red relates to our own special light and the face we would like to present to the world. It has to do with celebrating our specialness and our particular reason for being in the world. Red has a lot to do with finding our own light,” Julie says.
The earth element is associated with Tuscany, brown tones (and yellows and oranges) and physical and spiritual health and wellbeing. “There’s a strong reason why this has been a very popular color story in the American home: it’s because of its relationship to earth and our [need for] grounding. That’s really what our home should be in many ways,” Julie continues. “So it’s a natural thing and I think people gravitate towards that.”
The wood element, on the other hand, is associated with green, core health, and social relationships, while “a nice clean sky blue” Julie says “is representative of spirituality and self-knowledge. For me, it has to do with meditation and introspection.”
We can subconsciously dip into the areas of our life that may need a little amping up or healing by using the bagua map. “By consciously focusing on that area in our home, in our room, in our desk, we can create a balanced environment,” says Julie.
To learn more about how you can create a holistic home environment, check out this article on ways to use color.