Feng Shui is one of the many powerful ideas developed in Ancient Asia and is now gaining popularity in the U.S. thanks to its effective impact on our well being. Although, because its roots are from another culture, many people still don’t really understand the principles of Feng Shui or how to apply this to their lives.
Despite all the confusion and sometimes mysticism around Feng Shui, it’s a practice grounded in very reasonable beliefs and is relatable for everyone, despite your cultural or spiritual stance. Let me explain what Feng Shui is all about so you can understand the basic ideas that the practice is grounded in, and share Feng Shui bedroom layout rules you should know.
Founding Principles of Feng Shui
You probably already know that Feng Shui has something to do with interior decor, homes, and energy, but maybe not much more. This is a great starting point actually, because Feng Shui is about all of the above, it’s essentially about the way you design your space.
Feng Shui uses various different design approaches to direct and circulate energy so that you can feel and perform your best. This tradition combines design and function to create spaces that look amazing while helping you be at your best.
Most simply put, Feng Shui is about cultivating a space that works for you. It’s about organizing the spaces you live and work in so that you function and feel at your best while in them.
One of the most fundamental concepts of Ancient Chinese philosophy, one that is present in just about any part of Chinese culture, is Qi (phonetically spelled Chi). The concept of Qi is about the life energy that embodies each of us and every space that we are in.
Feng Shui is a tradition of designing and organizing spaces to optimize the Qi and direct it to work best for you. You can think of it in a similar way to how we use vents to circulate air throughout our house so that it’s evenly heated.
As I’ll explain throughout this article, there are many things that can affect our energy and how we feel and, according to Feng Shui practices, these need to be taken into consideration when you design and decorate spaces.
Ham Yu is another concept from Chinese philosophy that is essentially about alignment, but more particularly about alignment with Nature and the environment. When these ideas were first developed, over thousands of years ago, there wasn’t such a strong distinction between Nature and our living spaces, as there is today.
So, the strong desire to stay in harmony with Nature meant having a home and living space that closely resembled Nature and didn’t work against the natural flows. This idea is one that is still powerful today, if not even more so as we face the Climate Crisis and many people live in large cities without a strong connection to Nature.
While this idea of Ham Yu does signify harmony with natural environments, it also denotes an alignment between you and your space. This definition of Ham Yu is very central to Feng Shui.
Feng Shui involves creating a space that is in alignment with Nature, but also, if not more so, a space that is in alignment with your goals and beliefs. By doing this, you create the feeling that you are harmonized with the space you’re in.
The Natural Elements
Feng Shui actually translates into English as Wind and Water, and focuses on these two natural elements because they’re both fluid. Feng Shui aims to create a space that has a nice flow to it, whether that be a workflow or a calm flow of energy to sweep you to sleep.
Regardless of the kind of space you’re trying to cultivate, Feng Shui focuses on these fluid elements because the practice is about creating a dynamic space, rather than a stagnant one.
In practicing Feng Shui, many people use the elements in different forms of decor to keep their space active but balanced. Also, in Chinese philosophy there are five natural elements: fire, earth, water, wind, and metal.
By using different forms of decor that are made from or work with these elements, you can create a space that is both harmonious with Nature and that activates you.
One more central theme of the Feng Shui tradition is the use of colors. There are many different ways to use colors in decorating and cultivating a certain energy in a space and the more advanced practitioners have many rules and methods for using colors in spaces.
But, since this is an introductory article, we’re not going to get too complex with the use of colors. There’s so many rules and each one depends on what type of Feng Shui you’re interested in, so I won’t get complicated with that here.
However, as you’ll see throughout this article, there are simple ways you can use different colors in your home and work spaces. Even with the most minimal experience with design and zero experience with Feng Shui, you can be mindful of the colors in your spaces and how they make you feel.
The last basic idea of Feng Shui I need to mention is that it’s a very personal practice. It doesn’t matter how much of an expert you are on Feng Shui as much as it matters that you have a purpose for designing your space.
There’s a single design layout that would work for everyone nor is there the “perfect” Feng Shui room. But there is an ideal set up that would be best for you and could help you sleep better or stay more focused.
Feng Shui starts with having a purpose and intention of what kind of space and feeling you want. Only then can you actually begin designing, now that you know why you’re decorating or reorganizing a space.
So, take some time to think about what you want out of your space. A more stimulating work area? A more energizing room that makes you want to wake up early? A calm refuge to recharge after a long day?
Make a list, either mental or written, of what you want out of your space so that you have something to refer back to and see if the changes are in the right direction. Here are several ideas to spark some inspiration on how to adjust your space to serve your needs.
Earth Element- Plants
An easy way to incorporate the Earth element into your space is something you’ve probably already started- growing houseplants! Having plants in your space has so many benefits- namely, cleaner air- that is helpful regardless of whatever space you’re in.
If you’re trying to, for example, make your bedroom calmer and a more restful space, having houseplants to clean up the air will promote better sleep. Also, opt for an easier, low maintenance plant so seeing it won’t provoke stress about what it needs.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to make your desk area more invigorating, go for another strategy. Pot a baby plant that will grow quickly to have as a reminder of the daily work for your own growth.
Since there’s such a huge variety of plants you can grow indoors, you have almost endless options to choose from based on what you’re trying to provoke in your space.
Water Element- Propagation Station
Taking the previous idea a step further, and adding in the water element, set up a propagation station! If you don’t know what this is, they’re basically areas devoted to new plant growth using plant clippings and water.
By putting the clippings in water, you can see the root growth and use this as inspiration for your own projects. This is also a dynamic way to incorporate water into your space and keep it alive.
Other ways you can use the water element in your room may be to have a small fountain or even just a glass of water with flowers.
You can also use water imagery like posters or art with waves, the beach, a strong blue color, although none of these have quite the same effect as actually having water in your space.
Metal Element- Metal Jewelry Rack
As I explained earlier in this article, metal is considered one of the basic elements in Chinese philosophy and is therefore an element you want to incorporate into your spaces. Thankfully, metal objects come in so many different forms and you can use whatever metal you prefer.
Here, I have a photo of the jewelry rack in my room- a double dose of metal! Even if you don’t have a rack or holder for it, if you have any jewelry that is already a form of metal you can use in your space.
Other ways you can use metal for decor is with metal candle holders or coat racks. You can also use metal picture frames like I have here in this photo.
Fire Element- Candles
This is probably the most obvious and easiest way to use the element of fire in your space- and something you probably already have! We’ve all felt the calm that comes with turning off the lights and relaxing in a candlelight room, and that’s a feeling you can invoke at any time.
But maybe you’re trying to create a more invigorating vibe- in that case calming candles might not be a good fit, but you can still use fire to get fired up. For example, for many people the smell from burning incense helps them focus.
You can also burn candles to heat up essential oils and use those to create the atmosphere you’re looking for.
Air Element- Open Windows
It’s important to also engage with the Air element, and the easiest way to do this is to just open a window. This doesn’t cost any money and naturally uplifts your room with some fresh air.
If you can get some fresh air blowing into your room, that already refreshes the space. Plus, if you have a view like this one, you have no reason not to invite that view into your home!
Continuing on from the last tip, if you don’t want to open your windows because of the weather, you should at least let the natural light in. Natural light is a great and effective way to brighten up a space and increase the energy.
In general, lighting is very important in Feng Shui design. As with every aspect of your design, you want a healthy balance. A room that is too bright and flooded with fluorescent lighting won’t make you feel comfortable. Yet, a dark room with hardly any lighting will not make you productive.
The kind of energy you want in the room, or for the day, should determine the lighting you set up. If you want to feel more energized, you’ll want brighter light whereas a calmer atmosphere can be more dim.
Remove Electronic Clutter
It’s generally good practice to keep your space uncluttered, to improve the looks, your mental space, and your energy. This is particularly true for all your electronic devices. Having lots of scattered things around your space makes you feel scattered, the same goes for having tangled wires and cords.
Since one of the basic principles of Feng Shui is to have a space that reflects your attitude and vice versa, you don’t want to have a mess of electronic devices left in your space. Be particularly organized with the cords, but you should also store away additional things like gaming controllers or wifi routers.
Electronic devices also have a strong energy of their own and can be very draining if you have them around you all the time. This is because electronic devices emit positive ions, something we naturally have but being around electronics all day long gives us too many positive ions.
The effect is that we feel a bit lethargic, something we’ve all experienced after sitting in front of a computer for too long.
To reduce this, make sure to put your electronic devices away when you’re not using them and keep a clear division between work space with your electronics and where you rest or lounge.
This kind of design is particularly helpful in curating a space to invoke creativity and stimulate you. By putting different patterns together, you can kind of excite the space and bring life into it.
Of course, you don’t want to overdo it and use so many patterns that it overwhelms you. This is where you should really personalize the design based on your feelings of the space. If you add too many patterns then you might find yourself having a hard time focusing.
Remember that you can also adjust this as things in your life change! A space that was previously energizing might be overstimulating if you’re dealing with a particularly stressful situation, or as you resolve stress, you might find that your space is too stagnant and needs more going on.
There’s so many different ways you can mix together patterns and this allows you to adjust the intensity depending on what you need. If you want a really energetic space, you can use crazy patterns with bold colors or keep a monochromatic color scheme and use different patterns within that color.
However, you can also use multiple patterns and keep the space simple. As you can see in the photo, I have two patterns together, but the duvet cover has a very light pattern so you don’t see it as strongly. This shows how the colors used change the effect of the design.
Take Off Your Shoes Before Entering
This is one of the classic rules in Feng Shui that originated with the ancient traditions and is still practiced. There aren’t many hard rules in Feng Shui, and this certainly isn’t a necessity, but this has become a standard for many Feng Shui designs and even in Asian cultures at large.
This tradition has a practical and symbolic side. Firstly, by removing your shoes before coming into the house, you’re not tracking in dirt or any material from outside, which will help your home remain clean.
But, there’s also something symbolic about taking your shoes off- it’s kind of like mentally taking off whatever you were involved with before coming home. By having a habit for when you arrive home, it gets you into “home” mode if you will, and signals your mind that you’re in a space to relax and wind down.
However, leaving your shoes in a huge stack by the door won’t help create a space with good flow. Make sure you keep your entryway organized so you come home to a fresh and open space and don’t have a huge blockage right by the door.
Another entryway idea is to place several plants or use green decor around the front door or the area you first walk into. This is an example of how Feng Shui uses colors to create certain moods or energy.
Green is classically associated with prosperity and abundance, so it’s a nice color to be greeted with as you arrive home. The color green is also associated with health, so it helps to promote a calm feeling and well-being in the home.
Although, if you have a different association because of the culture you grew up in or your personal experiences, then, of course, don’t use green and use another color that has a similar effect on you!
On the topic of colors in Feng Shui, let me provide some suggestions for decorating your home office space. The best colors to use for your desk are white, gold, and brown.
White symbolizes clarity and promotes clear communication, gold symbolizes power, and brown (or wooden material) is associated with stability.
One major focus when applying Feng Shui to your bedroom, or any room, is the placement of your bed. Because you want your bed to be a restful space, you want to keep it away from chaos and out of the main flow of energy.
One of the major foundations of Feng Shui practices is having a clean space. This leads to people assuming that Feng Shui is about minimalism or requires a minimalist design, but that’s not necessarily the case.
You can have many things and still practice Feng Shui, because the focus is on getting rid of clutter. Leaving around trash or unfinished projects will keep energy stuck and block creative flows.
Bright Colors for Energizing
Back to using colors strategically- bright, vibrant colors can be used to energize a space. If you want to create a space for discussion or for invoking creative thoughts, try using bold colors to stimulate your mind.
Calm Colors for Bedrooms
In contrast, for creating a very tranquil space, it’s better to use calm and subtle colors. This will look different for everyone, depending on what amount of color is too much for you.
For some people, the color used in this image above may already be too much, whereas others can handle more color and still feel the space is calm. Consider how much stimulation you get regularly and little you want in your bedroom.
A framed photo of myself and a close friend with a rounded Unakite stone for prosperity.
Declutter-ing your space is an essential step in practicing Feng Shui, but this takes it a step further. Aside from removing any trash or mess you have, you should also remove any things in your space that don’t have any relation to you.
Having a fully decorated home can definitely still follow Feng Shui design, so long as the decor has a positive energetic impact on you. If you have any things that carry heavy emotional baggage, you may want to reconsider keeping them as decor.
Even for things that don’t have any negative feelings to them, if they’re just objects to you and don’t have any purpose in your home or in your life. By removing things that are simply objects to you, you’re clearing space for more meaningful decor.
Another way to channel the energy you want is through using sound. You don’t need to know how to play an instrument or use a Chinese gong to use sounds to cultivate the right atmosphere.
In terms of decor, you can add wind chimes or bells in your room- this adds a metal element and also plays with the air element while creating beautiful but gentle sounds in your space.
This applies as well with music, because the music you play also affects the atmosphere you’re trying to create. Since Feng Shui is more about creating a feeling than a space, the music you play and the way it makes you feel should definitely be a part of your Feng Shui practice as well.
This is another way to use the air element in your space and to create fluidity in your room. Pictured here are little hanging prayer notes in Chinese, but you can use any hanging decor like mobiles or hanging plants.
Having a visual reminder of the movement in your room also symbolizes the energetic movement and keeps an attitude of flowing energy.
Another theme of Chinese philosophy to work into your design is balance, related to the idea of Ham Yu as harmony. Most of us want a balanced and stable life, so reflect this desire into your design.
In making a space well balanced and organized, you have inspiration to keep your lifestyle balanced. This doesn’t mean you need to create a space that’s 100% symmetrical, you can have a simple symmetric design, like with the couch in the picture above.
Just as it’s important to have meaningful things in your home, you should also be intentional with where you put them. By placing things in the center of your line of sight, you’re making yourself focus on them, so be smart about this!
If you have a project you need to finish, keep it in the center of your desk so it’s visible. If there’s something that brings you stress or makes you worry, hide it away.
Just like how you can incorporate sounds into your space to add to the atmosphere, so you can with scents! Be strategic with the scented candles, essential oils, and incense that you use to ensure that they’re adding to the atmosphere you’re trying to create.
Doors are Important
Although we don’t often think about doors as part of the design, they have an important role in Feng Shui. Since the practice is fundamentally about creating good flows of energy and keeping spaces fluid, open or closed doors mean a lot.
Keeping your door open will help keep the energy flowing, plus if it creates a draft then you literally have movement through your room. However, closed doors can also be helpful for you.
If you’re trying to stay focused and want to keep the energy and feeling in one place, then close the door to keep the area saturated. Just remember to open the door after a bit to allow fresh air and energy.
Although it isn’t a part of design, a deep clean can do a lot for a space. We’ve all felt that relief of a deep clean and how it almost makes the space feel new.
Deep cleaning can have a symbolic meaning, like if you’re starting a new project or job, or need to clear out your mind. After cleaning a space, you just emotionally feel better and can perform better.
This is a trick specific to the Feng Shui tradition. It’s believed that salt helps absorb negative or stressful energy, so it’s common in classic Feng Shui design to put a bowl of salt in a corner or on a desk to keep the energy pure.
This is actually the tradition that made the Himalayan Salt lamps so popular. They’re both based on the way salt soaks up particles in the air and purifies it.
As I said at the beginning of this article, Feng Shui is more about intentional design than it is about a specific aesthetic. To really use Feng Shui practices, you need to first have a goal in mind for how you want the space to feel and function, then you design accordingly.
It’s important to know that you aren’t practicing Feng Shui just by having a bamboo plant in your room or putting a Laughing Buddha statue at the entryway. It’s more powerful to use the basic ideas of Feng Shui and use them in your style than to just copy another style (because that’s cultural appropriation!).
Here I have a photo of my bedroom as an example of how I have Feng Shui principles in my own way. I always have the window open, so that fresh air and ideas can flow in. I use lots of floral patterns because the patterns and colors stimulate me.
Although it’s often recommended that you separate your work and sleeping spaces, I like having the space to spread out when I do research- plus, my dog Tsuki has to be right next to me!
Before starting to use Feng Shui practices in your personal home design, take some time to think about what you want out of your spaces and what goals you’re working towards. With these ideas in mind, you’ll have more guidance on how to decorate your space.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.