San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Feng Shui Your Way to Decorating Happiness

HOMEOWNER Iris Herrero washaving trouble renting her Escazú house.The dwelling in the western San José suburbhad sat vacant for several weeks withnary a prospective tenant in sight.But in an episode worthy of one ofthose home-makeover reality televisionshows, Herrero took a fewhints from a decorator andapplied the principles of theancient Chinese art of fengshui to the house. Voilà. Itrented immediately.To the novice, the definitions offeng shui seem as varied as the numberof experts with whom you speak, butall relate energy to life, and the arrangementof space to maximize that energy.“I define feng shui as a way of living,”explains architect Ilse Kogel (438-4051).“It’s a harmonious way with the flow of theenergy of the earth.”PARENTHETICALLY, most Englishspeakers pronounce the term as “fungshway,” but in Spanish the pronunciation,with a “shwee” at the end, sounds morelike it is written. And, of course, “fengshui” has taken on all the trappings of averb, as in “I am going to feng-shui myhouse.” The jury is still out on whether ornot that’s good English.The term literally refers to “wind” and“water,” says designer Iside Sarmiento,whose store Viento y Agua Tienda deArmonía (201-8393,, located in the Multiplaza mall inthe western suburb of Escazú, takes itsname from those same words in Spanishand is dedicated entirely to the concept offeng shui.“Chinese philosophers believe thatenergy is imparted with wind and collectedwith water,” Sarmiento explains. “So theymust be in balance.”Feng shui can be used well in anyspace, according to Kogel. Homes, gardens,offices, stores and banks are all candidatesfor makeovers.Order and cleanliness are the fundamentalrequirements for the free movementof energy in a well-arrangedspace, Sarmiento says. Beyondthat, the sky is the limit.THE applications of feng shuican be quite basic, as Herrero found whenredoing her house.The attachment of mirrors to the wallwith reflective side facing out remedied thenegative energy resulting from a conflictwith the owners of the adjoining property,she describes.Herrero replanted the central courtyard;previous tenants had stripped it of vegetation,leaving essentially a barrenhole in the middle of the house. Anadjoining spiral staircase onone side of the courtyardtook energy up and out ofthe house. Vines planted onthe stair railing minimizedthat escape of energy.“It can be something assimple as placing plants in the fourcorners of a room,” decorator GuiselleVarela explains, attributingplants’ natural ability to mitigatethe harshness of a room’s corners.Varela’s firm, Belleza a Su Alcance (240-3595), specializes in feng shui decorating.But with various schools of feng shuiin operation around the world, prescriptionsfor a home makeover can become ascomplex as you desire, taking into accountthe intricacies of color, direction, shape,process and elements. (Viento y Agua’sWeb site goes into great detail in Spanishabout all the variations.) Both Viento yAgua and Belleza a Su Alcance hold periodicworkshops on the subject.THE 6,000-year-old art, brought fromChina to Europe by Marco Polo, found itsway to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s,according to Kogel, with a boom beginningfive years ago, and an occasionaltwist peculiar to Latin America.People here are generally very openminded,Kogel says, adding that she cantell right off the bat if someone of deeplyheld religious beliefs would object toapplying ancient Chinese philosophy toconstructing his or her home.But Kogel always applies feng shui toher designs, whether or not she specificallytells her client.“Sometimes it’s important to tellthem, other times not,” she smiles.And if Sarmiento says there isno specific feng shui a lo tico,there are differences foundhere. The reds and purplesfavored as auspicious colorsfor the outsides ofhomes in Asia just aren’tseen in this part of the world.Nor would Costa Ricans evererect a pair of lion statues toguard the entrance of their homes,as is common in a properly fengshui-ed dwelling in China.“Feng shui is feng shui worldwide,”Sarmiento says. “But it will always be temperedby personal tastes.”

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