Today is the Lunar New Year, celebrated in China and Chinese communities around the world. While gatherings will largely be muted because of the global pandemic, Chinese-inspired residential design remains broadly popular both within and beyond the community, and many of its concepts are especially timely in the era of Covid.
Feng Shui is probably the best known component of Chinese design practice. The guiding principle of this 3000-year-old discipline is inviting harmony into your home, keeping out negative forces at the same time. The name, pronounced fung shway, (rhyming with rung and sway), literally translates to “wind” and “water.”
Both of these natural elements have extraordinary relevance today, as public health professionals instruct us to thoroughly wash our hands as often as possible and to keep our homes as well-ventilated as we can. Ventilation can be both mechanical, like the home’s central heating and air conditioning systems, and architectural, as with the home’s doors and windows.
Opening your home to the outdoors enhances health and indoor air quality. “If we don’t open windows and doors, the air we breathe becomes stagnant; the air outside is often much cleaner than it is inside,” comments New York-based interior designer and Feng Shui specialist Marina V. Umali.
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Feng Shui for Working from Home
One of the big challenges many have had to face in the pandemic is how to stretch your space to address new work from home needs. Feng Shui can help, according to the American Society of Interior Designer’s Oregon chapter design member and blog contributor Cindy Garreton.
In a post for her colleagues, Garreton shares, “Most of you might be working from your bistro table, or the bar in the kitchen is your desk. Some of you might be working from your bed. Although it’s convenient, this is not ideal Feng Shui. If you have your own business or work for a company, it’s very important to have a desk for grounding and focus.”
She also stresses the wellness benefits of decluttering. “It has been proven that looking at clutter can lower your energy and in time that can lower stress your immune system, which is the opposite of what we need at this time! Pay close attention to clutter and know that it is a part of self-care.”
Often associated with Feng Shui, Zen design has newer roots, dating back to the Middle Ages. It was brought from China to Japan around the 12th Century, according to minimalist site Zero = Abundance. “There are definitely lots of crossovers between Zen design and Feng Shui,” shares Umali. Both disciplines emphasize harmony, flow, simplicity and decluttering. “The main difference is that Zen Design embodies minimalist design whereas Feng Shui does not.”
Aleph, a lifestyle blog created by the Faena hospitality brand, defines the seven components of Zen design as austerity, simplicity, naturalness, subtlety, imperfection, break in routine, and stillness. “Although aesthetic tastes may vary, most people aspire to elegance and simplicity, two of the hardest attributes to accomplish,” the blogger comments. “Zen, inspired in the rhythms of nature, meditation and silence, is a good starting point for those who wish to reflect upon ideal harmonic designs.”
Less known outside professional circles and China is the concept of the Siheyuan courtyard architecture. Siheyuan translates to quadrangle, inspired by the buildings surrounding these private spaces on all four sides, and the style dates back more than 2000 years. It’s used for commercial, institutional and residential structures.
“Chinese courtyard houses are one of the most common housing typologies spanning all the way from the northern capital of Beijing to the poetic southern cities Hangzhou and back to the picturesque regions of Yunnan. Typically referred as heyuan, these courtyards homes are simply a ‘yard enclosed on four sides,’” explains ArchDaily.
Describing one such project on its site, the AD editorial team notes about an updated Beijing multi-use live-work space, “The design aims at getting rid of the solemn and stereotyped impression given by Siheyuan, and creating an open and active living atmosphere.”
Covid has made everyone sensitive to the risks of shared public space and the benefits of private outdoor living. This inner courtyard style of architecture is likely to continue growing in popularity post-pandemic for single family homes, lot size allowing, and for multi-family and congregate living spaces.
You may associate Chinese design and architecture mostly with red paint, paper lanterns, bamboo or lacquered furniture, but it has much more than that to offer the West, especially as we reexamine the links between our homes and our health.