I recently went to visit a client in a newly renovated office suite in midtown Manhattan. The design for this renovation had been created by a high-end architectural firm, and when the elevator doors opened into the brand new reception area, I was literally dazzled. The architects had gone for a highly modern, borderline-futuristic effect, with varying shades of white upon silver, with no dark accents to be seen anywhere. It was quite impressive, and I entered the space as if walking into a room bordered by clouds. When I greeted the receptionist (a small dark form set in an enormous white desk) I asked her how she liked the renovation. She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"It's all very modern and fancy," she said, "but the problem is I can't even see my computer screen! The glare in this room is now so bad I sometimes have to drape a shawl over my head and the monitor just to read certain documents."
Apparently, somebody had forgotten the old credo "Form follows function."
When one designs with Feng Shui principles, issues of functionality, practicality, and plain
old comfort must play a dominant role. Yes, it's true that any good design concept will focus on aesthetics, but there is no reason why the overall "look" should interfere with basic common sense. If the space doesn't function properly, or if it looks nice, but "feels" bad, then it's a bad design, no matter how impressive the effect.
Just ask that receptionist! Or ask the visitors in the waiting area, who no doubt create makeshift tents of their own in order to see the screens of their Blackberries and laptops. With just a few darker accents, and proper use of lighting, the functionality of the space could have been maintained without altering the broader design concept. And that would have been good Feng Shui.
While a list of these types of design snafus would be endless, I'd like to at least present you with a couple pointers for maintaining functionality when you redecorate. The two items below are quite basic, but you would be amazed by how often they are overlooked even by professionals.
- Glare. We might as well start with this one. Remember, in this modern age of PDAs, razor-thin TVs, and laptops, you might find yourself staring at a screen of one sort or another in every room of the house! So it's important that you take issues of brightness, reflection and contrast into account. Some guidelines:
- You don't want a TV or computer screen to face directly towards any sunny windows. The reflection on your screen will be terrible, and you will need to keep your drapes closed on sunny days, which would be a shame. You also don't want to be staring at a screen framed by a bright window directly behind it. The best bet is to have the screens perpendicular to the external light source. This will keep your squinting and straining to a minimum.
- While skylights can be a wonderful feature in a house, they can wreck havoc on a media room or office. One solution is to keep a translucent shade drawn over the skylight. This lets nice incidental light into the room, without causing too much glare. However, even this might make screen viewing difficult, and the best bet is to simply plan your rooms intelligently so that computer work or TV viewing occurs in slightly more contained spaces.
- As in the story of the midtown office, the colors you choose will affect the level of glare. If the design of your office or media room is oriented towards the lighter end of the color spectrum, at least consider having a darker wall, cabinet or decorative screen directly behind you. Even if this is one of the few dark items in the room, it should make your TV or computer viewing much easier.
- "Parked" positions. Whenever you are dealing with an item in your design that regularly shifts its position, you must take into account the space it takes up when not in use. For example:
- Let's say you widen the opening into your living room and add a set of beautiful French doors. While you always imagined how grand the effect would be when staring through the panes of glass, did you fully account for the new doors in their open position? After all, this is an interior space, and the chances are you will keep those doors open much of the time. In fact, you will probably keep them fully open, pressed against the walls to either side. That can take up a lot of room, so obviously don't place anything on the walls in those spots. Additionally, the centering of paintings, mirrors or clocks to the sides of the doors may change dramatically depending on whether the doors are open or closed. Make sure to test the look of those items with the doors in both positions, before you go hammering in nails.
- While an ottoman can make sitting on a couch or chair a lot more comfortable, do you want the ottoman to live out in the middle of the room when you are not using it? Perhaps you have enough clearance for that. But if not, make sure that when you plan the room there is a slot alongside the couch or chair where it can park. The last thing you want are cumbersome obstacles blocking the room's natural flow, subtly irritating you every time you pass through the space.
- Thick, textured curtains can make for a dramatic look in any large window. But remember, they will be in the open position at least half the time. That can be a lot of fabric to account for! If you want them to open fully, you will need the curtain rod to extend a foot or two beyond the window on either side. And make sure you don't have any fragile items too close to the sides of those windows - vases or lamps can easily be knocked to the floor by the sweep of opening curtains. The room needs to be prepared for such a dramatic flourish, otherwise you'll find you've cramped your space and cut off valuable sunlight. That's definitely poor Feng Shui.
So this is just a small sampling of the sorts of things you want to think about when you decorate or renovate a space. While it's true that the core of Feng Shui deals with precise compass calculations and the natural elements that correspond to those readings, issues of functionality and practicality should not be overlooked. Our surroundings can deeply affect us, and our degree of comfort and ease in a space is one very important measure of its Feng Shui.
Remember, we want our home or office to not only look beautiful, but to function beautifully as well.
Now that's good Feng Shui interior design!
Best wishes for a joyful summer,