“Grandma, why didn’t they like your house?” asked four-year-old  Rachael Harmon after watching Good Morning Texas. Nancy Harmon laughs as she recalls trying to explain to the curious little girl that “some things were just wrong and we fixed them, honey.”


That’s about as simple an explanation as you’re going to get for the Chinese philosophy of feng shui, which has been popping up in our own culture in the past few years. While most Lake Highlanders  haven’t hired a feng shui consultant or had our homes “feng shuied” on live television, as Harmon did, we’ve probably at least heard the term recently.


And just what does that ominous phrase mean anyway— feng shuied?  Why did Channel 8 viewers care about what direction Harmon’s computer faced — is it conceivable that the way someone’s office is arranged could affect how much money they make? Why should your bedroom be decorated in reds and golds, and how on earth could a picture of your three best friends on the nightstand keep you from getting married? Would you be willing to have your recliner face a different direction if it would improve your golf swing? Can clearing your junk room really give you inner peace, and bring exciting new people or experiences into your life? Feng shui devotees lay claim to quite a bit of evidence to this effect, however anecdotal.


Now, if you just want to sound hip and converse intelligently about feng shui at the neighborhood potluck … you should know that, literally translated, feng shui means “wind and water” and has been used by Eastern practitioners for over 4,000 years to encourage living in harmony with the environment. Correctly applied, it is said to promote health, wealth and happiness by harnessing positive energy (called “chi”) from surrounding objects, architecture and elements of nature.


Just say all that with authority — and hope nobody expects you to explain just what the heck it all means.


Couldn’t hurt?


Old Moss Road resident Harmon admits she isn’t a devout student of philosophy, Chinese or otherwise, but both personally and through her work has become more than aware of the relationship of the environment to the places people occupy.


Most of us wouldn’t want a house without windows or a yard without grass and trees. Isn’t it calming, cheering to sit in a sunny yellow kitchen and look out at the blue sky? In its simplest interpretation, feng shui could be considered a form of that.


“Because I’m a realtor, many times when I was with an Oriental client, they would talk about it,” says Harmon. “And I had a friend who’d done it … it just kind of all fell into place. Her husband is partner in a large company that’s gone public — she had their offices done.”


“I’ve found a number of people in this area who are interested,” says Karen Ann Tompkins, the neighborhood feng shui consultant that Harmon hired. In addition to individual and business consultations, Tompkins teaches classes and works with neighborhood gift shops to stock items used in the practice of feng shui.


“I worked in Taiwan and China for years,” says Robin Brown, owner of The Nest on Henderson. “My degree was in international business. When we were opening the shop, we met Karen Ann and … .” Brown gestures to the stores’ displays of mirrors, candles and hanging art glass.


If gift and book sales are any indication, the practice of feng shui is more prevalent than commonly perceived. Borders Books on  Lovers Lane even has a feng shui section, separate from the rest of their decorating how-to’s. Pick up a couple of tomes, however, and don’t be surprised if you’re not immediately enlightened. The concepts can get pretty involved.


Tompkins says: “The most basic function of feng shui is that the formations (outside your house) are really more important than the house itself. But we mirror that concept in the placement of objects in the open spaces within the house also.


“You need open space in front of you for chi and opportunity and good things to come to you, and you need support behind you to hold it.”


Tompkins opines that this is “probably why half of North Dallas is living on credit cards” — because the large pools in backyards right next to the house and not separated by foliage (a feng shui rule) are sucking the chi right out.


“You’re also supposed to keep your commode lid down and the door to the bathroom closed,” laughs Harmon, who isn’t taking any chances on seeing her business go “down the drain,” so to speak. “I wrote 11 contracts in eight days after I had my house feng shuied. And my average sales price has gone up.”


To further Harmon’s career boost, Tompkins had a muralist paint a mountain scene on utility closet doors to put “strength” behind Harmon as she worked at her desk in the cubbyhole that serves as a home office. To create open space and chi, they hung paintings of moving water in front of the desk.


“One of the biggest mistakes people make in their office area is facing a wall, having their computer screen back up to a wall,” says Tompkins. “Computer desks, units, are the worst. Just get a regular desk, bundle the cords and put a plant behind it.”


Harmon reflects ruefully: “I had just paid over a thousand dollars to have that unit built.” As a less-than-drastic remedy to tearing out the built-ins, a mirror was positioned above the computer screen — another familiar note. Decorators in Western culture have long used mirrors as window substitutes also.


Looking for love


Money isn’t the number one reason people hire Tompkins, however.


“When I work with corporations, I warn them,” she says. “I’ll talk to their staff about their offices, but when it’s time for questions and the hands go up, the questions will be about their homes, usually their bedrooms.”


Computer consultant Terry Perkins admits that romance was her principal motivation in hiring a consultant to evaluate her Town  Creek home. She and Lucy and Ethel (the latter two being beagles) wouldn’t mind having a man around the house.


“I’ve been reading about feng shui for about four years now,” says Perkins over Lucy’s indignant yipping. (Lucy doesn’t see what feng shui has to do with being penned up while visitors are present.) “There are two different studies of feng shui, and I was getting confused”


The form of feng shui practiced by Tompkins is considered the “classical” approach and includes time as well as space considerations. Without deluging the reader with explanations of bagua maps and lopans (a sort of really pretty compass that costs a bundle on the feng shui website), let’s just say that some calculations and recommendations are based on the individual’s birth date.


To cut to the chase, Perkins’ birth date makes her a “west” person. And so she positions the areas where she eats, sits, sleeps and works in westerly directions. The front of her house faces west, which is good, so she is moving her home office to one of the front bedrooms for career reasons; Tompkins placed a piece of masking tape on the carpet on the exact spot where the computer should sit. Perkins also is to keep the breakfast shutters closed against a south-facing busy street (bad chi).


But it’s those “romance” corners of the house and individual rooms that Perkins and Tompkins honed in on. Multiple pictures of friends were moved from those areas and replaced with various “pairs” — a pair of red roses, two red candles, a pair of colorful jars in the kitchen (reds, pinks and golds are the romance hues in feng shui). Perkins is still looking for a painting of a couple to put in her bedroom.


“It surprising how many people who want a relationship have their homes filled with pictures of groups and friends, or single objects,” says Tomkins. “Their homes and their hopes are saying two different things.” One of Tomkins’ clients replaced a mail pile with a pair of red coffee cups, which now stand ready by the coffee maker in the kitchen; said client is now in a headed-to-the-altar romance, coincidentally.


“Karen Ann had me get a welcome mat,” says Perkins. “And the red flowers on the front porch are supposed to be important too, I forget why.


“I’m supposed to get a wood bed to replace the metal one, and the (bedroom) curtains are going to be pink.”


Perkins also has a draped entry that hides a mirrored vanity area from the bedroom — feng shui says no mirrors reflecting the bed. And, true to Tomkins’ dire warning, Perkins has placed bushy plants between her bedroom balcony and the pool right outside.


Two by two


As for the pair of vases on Harmon’s fireplace … well, she was in the romance market also. Divorced for 10 years with a hectic schedule, she thought it was time to give other matters some consideration. A little further exploration in her home reveals two roses and a aromatic “love” candle in her bedroom. Tompkins also had her move her bed away from a ceiling beam that, symbolically, split the bed in half. Dozens of photos of friends and grandchildren have been moved to another room — only her daughter’s wedding portrait with her new husband remain for good luck.


“I wasn’t dating much,” Harmon says. “Then I met four or five really nice men (after the feng shui changes) — and then this other guy just … walked in. And he’s pretty incredible, this might really work.”


Did she come clean about the feng shui with her new love interest?


“When he walked in here, he said: This is a warm, cozy place. And somehow we got into the feng shui thing and he actually wants to do it with his house.”


Surprisingly, neither Harmon nor Perkins has experienced criticism or much teasing about their foray into Eastern mysticism.


“I was so worried about it being a negative thing,” admits Harmon, who had some concerns that her conservative clients might not approve. “But it turned out to be much more positive. I had a couple — a lawyer and his wife — who came over here to write a contract and I mentioned it somehow. And she says: Feng shui! He has feng shui for his office. They thought it was awesome.


“I can’t tell you how many of my realtor friends went out and did it. My new loan officer told me her office had been feng shuied.”


Harmon was surprised how many people even knew what feng shui was. “I thought it was must me and my collection of weird friends,” she chuckles. “Who would have thought that I’d find it from all areas? Bill Gates? Donald Trump?


“Now my daughter’s father-in-law is a friend of mine and he probably knew better than to be negative with me … but he did poo-pah it a little bit. I thought I’d get a lot more of that reaction.


“I have finally have  reached a point in my life where I feel okay about who I am — I don’t think anyone would throw that in my face now, because they wouldn’t get the benefit of irritating me quite as much. If I was still married to my ex-husband, oh my God. If he reads this, he’ll say: Oh yeah, she’s crazy.”


Still, how seriously someone takes feng shui varies quite a bit.


Perkins is something of a true believer: “I think this is such a small investment (of money and effort) for what you get in return,” she says. “There definitely something to this.”


On the other hand, Harmon says: “It’s been fun. I don’t think you can use it as a crutch.


“It’s just another tool for being positive.”






Want to Get Feng Shuied?




There are a number of magazines and books that discuss the practice of feng shui, and you certainly can educate yourself on the subject given enough time and a high level of interest. But it’s not a simple concept to take in or to apply, and if you can afford the $75-100 an hour that most feng consultants charge, that might be the route for you.


When looking for a consultant, there are some helpful questions to ask:


• How long have you been practicing?


• Which school do you practice? (There are different schools of feng shui.)


• Do you have other clients I can talk to, i.e., references?


A first-rate feng shui consultant will tell you exactly what they are going to do and estimate how long it will take. On average, a single person or couple in a moderate-sized home can plan on paying for a half-hour evaluation of their floor plan in advance and about three hours once the consultant is on site. A small apartment could take only two hours; families with large homes, children, live-in relatives, etc. can plan on a considerably longer evaluation.


Be aware that the consultant may recommend measures that involve clearing clutter and even moving furniture from room to room. You’ll get the best return on your investment if you’re someone who is open to change and new experiences.


What you do, who you use for help, and how much time and money you’re willing to invest depends on how seriously you take the subject. You don’t necessarily need to be wary of the novice practitioner or a friend who’s dabbling in feng shui — just make sure the price is right and that you have fun doing it.