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Feng Shui Basics: Creating Harmony in Your Home

Feng Shui Basics: Creating Harmony in Your Home


Feng Shui is an art of layout design with roots in ancient China. A near-literal translation of the term means wind water but the essence is much more complex (but simple also.) Over many years of scientific approach, the ancient Chinese developed this system as a means to create harmony and balance in one’s life.


  • Feng Shui is a blueprint for creating energetic harmony
  • It can be used for interior design but also applies to many other things
  • Guided by concepts of Earth, Fire, Water, Metal, and Wood
  • Works to balance the flow of Chi
  • Consists of two cycles: Constructive and Destructive

Some Quick Terminology

While diving into feng shui, you’re likely to come across some words and concepts that seem unfamiliar. Chi, Bagua, Yin, Yang, and several other non-Western words are used to help describe the concepts and implementation of feng shui. Here you’ll find a quick refresher on some terms but, as we move along, don’t get bogged down by unfamiliar language. Just remember—feng shui is all about balance!

Yin & Yan: universal terms to represent opposing forces in balance. Yin is the feminine energy and Yang is masculine.

Chi (Qi): Vital life force that flows through things and spaces.

Bagua: A sort of chart that helps better understand feng shui balance and which directions the elements correspond to.

The Bagua is used to help organize design by Feng Shui element consideration
The Bagua is used to help consider your space with regards to Feng Shui elements and directions.

The Elements

Chinese traditions incorporate concepts of balance much more deeply than Western societies. The concept of Earthly elements such as Earth, wood, fire, metal, and water are all used as proxies to help conceptualize balance—as well as many abstract characteristics of such. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though! All you need to know to get started with feng shui is that each of these elements is used as part of an overall balance and that each embodies certain design motifs and material preferences.


This element is primarily active, masculine yang energy and associated with growth, the season of Spring, and all things related to new beginnings. Spaces designs to embody the Wood energy is characterized by living plants, natural wood materials, and artistic representations of things such as trees.


Primarily Yin (feminine, receptive) but can also be expressed in an active form when properly balanced. Earth represents a stable center point representative of the transition between seasons. Earth can be characterized by colors such as yellow, brown, and tan as well as design elements such as stones, salt lamps, and small zen gardens.


This element is Yin primarily, though can be expressed as concepts of rivers and more aggressive flows of energy where it takes on an active masculine presence. As one might expect, this element is expressed with colors of blues and aquas and anything that contains water. Fish tanks, small fountains, or even artwork depicting bodies of water all work to empower water in your home.


Fire is the most masculine element incorporated in feng shui and is almost always best expressed in masculine energy. It is characterized by reds, deep yellows, and orange colors as well as candles, fireplaces, and bright lighting. It’s nourished by wood, as one might guess, and can be counter-balanced by water energies—also as one might expect. Overall, fire should represent the energetic center of your home—rooms like dens, kitchens, or workout rooms.


Metal is associated with periods of slowing down such as Autumn, ends of semesters, evening hours, and similar circumstances where flows of energy are finally settling down. It’s characterized by gray and white colors but can also be expressed in very muted forms of other colors that, when compared to more energetic colors, seem almost plain. Objects such as metal bowls, metal wall art, wind chimes, and metal sculptures are all excellent ways to add metallic energy to your spaces.

feng shui cycles diagram by home refinery
This diagram illustrates the dynamics of the creative and destructive cycles of Feng Shui

The Cycles

For those new to Eastern concepts, Feng Shui cycles might be a bit hard to grasp at first. There are two primary cycles in Feng Shui: the constructive cycle and destructive cycle. Each of these describes relationships between the individual elements in a way that can either increase or decrease the presence of certain elements of energy. See the chart above for a better explanation.


The destructive cycle, or particular flows of energetic destruction, are used to lessen or counterbalance the energy of another element. For example, let’s say your entire house is made of wood. Wood walls, wood ceilings, wood flooring, and wood molding. That’s a lot of wood.

That amount of wood will create an imbalance in the overall energetic flow of your home. In order to balance things out, feng shui style, you’d want to add in objects and colors that embody the metal energy.


The constructive cycle, also referred to as the creating cycle, is about strengthening the energetic presence of certain elements. This can be used to create foundational balances in your home by counterbalancing existing elements or to accentuate certain energies during periods of imbalance in your life.

For example, you may find that your home has certain metal elements, such as support beams, cabinet hardware, or maybe even sculptures, that feel a bit out of place—maybe even foreign among other elements. Adding Earth elements and colors to support those energies can help boost that metal energy and create a more harmonious balance.

minimalist living room design feng shui homerefinery

Pro Tips for Feng Shui Success

Any Interior Designer knows that creative inspiration is rarely found au naturale. That is; even the pros have to wade through the Pinterest and Instagram accounts sometimes to come up with a game plan! The key to making your home more feng shui is to start with a basic understanding, and then find your creative inspiration!

Concepts of Feng Shui can be applied at multiple scales. Let’s say you’ve found an incredible new piece of furniture from one of the top designers on the market. You want to showcase this piece in your home, but it’s got a lot of metal on it. Think gigantic hardware with a patinaed top surface. Adding some Wood and Fire elements (Wood strengthens Fire, Fire destroys Metal) can help balance that out.

Create a basic sketch of your home and consider which elements are best suited for which rooms. Remember, you’re trying to create balance. That means not painting your whole interior red, or hanging metal sculptures on every wall. Think of your house as a whole, and each room as separate contributing members of the overall balance. That’s feng shui, in a nutshell.