At times, living in a small space like a studio or basement apartment can be physically unhealthy and emotionally draining. Low ceilings, choppy layouts or small windows can make a home feel dark, dingy and downright depressing. Even though these less-than-desirable features would take more than a quick Saturday DIY to fix, there’s hope yet for even the most disagreeable spaces.
Feng shui, meaning wind and water, is the ancient art of placement and the balancing of energies. While it’s a complex system with many different versions and variations, in its most basic form, it revolves around the concept of Qi, (pronounced chi) or energy. In China, the art was once used to decide where to build major cities and burial grounds, but today it’s primarily used in personal residences and large residential developments.
When applied to arranging one’s home, the idea is to allow the energy to flow through the space in a positive way to improve the resident’s life. This is done by positioning the furniture in a flowing, navigable layout, using mirrors to reflect certain energies and bringing in natural elements like plants or water to balance out the chi.
While different homes require different changes depending on which direction they face, their proximity to other buildings and even the year, there are a few major ways to improve the overall health and functionality of a small space:
1. Clean out clutter
Photo: Oyvind Solstad/Flickr
Safrina Kadri is a classically-trained feng shui consultant and coach. Having grown up in Malaysia as a fifth generation feng shui disciple, she has plenty of experience under her belt. Today she runs her own Toronto-based practice called Feng Shui and Prosper.
She said that keeping a small space clutter-free is of utmost importance. Without space to flow and move freely, the energy will become trapped and ultimately manifest itself as negative tidings in the home owner’s life.
“If you think of the chi as a person, that person would keep bumping into things and tip-toeing over things in a cluttered space, so it’s the same thing with the energy,” she said. “Keeping a place organized and clean will help keep the energy flowing and moving.”
2. Raise the roof
Another issue with small spaces like condominiums and basement apartments, Kadri highlighted, is that the ceilings tend to be lower or weighed down by cumbersome bulkheads, which can disrupt the sleep of the people under them.
“If it’s not possible for condo-owners to get around sleeping under a bulkhead, they could use a four-poster bed to hold up the bulkhead as opposed to having it pressing down on them while they’re sleeping,” Kadri said.
Laura Morris, a certified feng shui consultant, interior designer and a member of the International Feng Shui Guild, also had a few solutions up her sleeve to counteract the effects of low ceilings.
“You should have the ceiling well-lit — add some track lighting or up lighting, so lights that hit the ceiling and push up,” she said. “I’ve had a couple of clients that have trouble sleeping and they just feel bummed out and they can’t put their finger on why. I always suggest bringing in a nice solid headboard and then above the headboard, place a piece of art with greenery, trees, grass or bamboo growing up, because visually that will push the energy and the ceiling up.”
3. Keep your bedroom serene and separate
Photo: Long Nguyen/Flickr
Morris also emphasized the importance of maintaining positive, flowing chi in the sleeping quarters.
“The bedroom area is probably the most important space for sleep, relationships and your health overall,” she said.
Morris advised that it’s especially crucial to designate an area for sleeping and relaxing in a compact, open-concept space like a studio apartment.
“What you want to avoid is doing things like studying and eating in the sleeping area. When you change the nature of what that space is for, it can cause faster moving chi or energy that’s a little more active,” she said. “If you’re going to do some hardcore work, sit at your kitchen table.”
Morris said to use things like room dividers, rugs, paint colors and other signifiers to separate each space and its functions. She said that even something as small as a hook for coats in the doorway can be enough to designate it as a specific area with a purpose.
4. Block off the bathroom
Photo: Jeremy Levine/Flickr
Those who live in cramped units will also want to be wary of the energy coming from the bathroom. If it’s too close to the kitchen or living space, Morris warned, it could have a negative impact on the entire home.
“The energy of the bathroom is something you don’t want to amplify because it’s a place for water draining, and the energy of water is associated with prosperity, opportunity and money,” she explained. “It’s not positive water energy. You want to minimize that area as much as possible.”
To do this, Morris suggested keeping the bathroom door closed at all times. Once it’s closed, she said that the outside of the bathroom door is the best place to hang a full-length mirror because it effectively makes the energy of the room disappear altogether. Once that’s done, all it takes is some finishing touches to ensure the bathroom’s energy is positive and beneficial.
“Another thing I like to do as a quick fix for bathrooms is add things like stones and the color yellow to incorporate the earth element. Earth blocks water, so it’s going to slow down that draining and it’s going to balance out that negative water,” she said.
5. Balance out the elements
Balancing the energetic forces of the five elements — wood, fire, water, metal and earth — is a crucial component of the practice of feng shui. Morris explained that people can feel mentally or physically ill if they’re exposed to too much of one element and not enough of another.
For example, people who live in high-rise apartments or condominiums often feel disconnected from nature and its energies, namely the earth element, which can result in feelings of anxiety.
“The best way to recharge yourself energetically is to walk on actual ground in the woods or somewhere green, but if you’re living 30 storeys up, you can’t do that,” Morris said. “I recommend that people bring in the wood element through plants like fresh cut flowers or colors like yellow, beige or light brown.”
While living too high up can bring on one set of problems, living too far down brings on another one altogether. Morris explained that living in a basement apartment can result in an overload of earth energy, causing depression or lethargy.
“You’re looking at the opposite end of the continuum; there’s an imbalance,” she said.
Luckily, there are a few things that can be done to rectify this. Just as earth energy minimizes water energy, wood energy diminishes the effects of an excess of earth chi.
“You’d want to bring in wood. Wood is that vital energy, it’s going to boost you up,” she said.
While a wooden chair or coffee table might seem like the ideal way to incorporate the element into a space, Morris explained that furniture is made of dead wood, which ultimately has no effect on the energies of a home.
“Some people think, ‘oh I have wood floors so I have the wood element,’ and I’ll say ‘no because it’s not living.’ To really have the wood element in its truest form is to have plants, flowers and the color green,” she explained.
6. Go with your gut
Photo: Alessandro Valli/Flickr
Above all, Morris said, feng shui is about energy. She said when her clients feel as though the energy in their space is off, their intuition is almost always accurate.
“If something’s nagging or if you don’t feel right, move stuff around, change it and go with your gut, because often, it’s right,” she said.