Feng Shui and Color - Katie Peters

The word Feng Shui literally means, "wind-water". It is a theory of ancient Chinese origin whose goal is to improve the flow of energy, or "chi", in a person’s environment, thus improving the flow of energy in the person. The practice has had sort of a second coming to western culture in the past decade. Some interior designers are using this in both residential and work-place design in an attempt to improve specific areas of people’s lives, and productivity in the office. The theory’s focus is on the placement of furniture and certain symbolic objects in order to improve the flow of chi. Within the placement of symbolic objects falls the use of symbolic colors to enhance that area which the color symbolizes. How is this done and how does it relate to the symbolism that colors have today?

(Calmenson, 59)
The main color element of feng shui deals with the ba-gua (shown left). The ba-gua is an octagon where each side represents an aspect of life, such as wealth, career, and family. Along with each of these is a color that represents that aspect, and sometimes even a body-part or number. Designers and feng shui practitioners use the ba-gua as a sort of diagnostic tool to pinpoint troubled areas and help cure them. One method for this involves superimposing the octagon on a room with the door at the "bottom" of the shape. The door is very crucial in feng shui, literally translated, [it] is the " mouth of chi’" (Rossbach, 128), where the energy enters the home. Many believers tell stories of how they used the ba-gua to enhance a certain area of a room and "mystically manipulate their destiny" (Rossbach, 127), and were successful.


Adjusted to fit the size of the room, the superimposed ba-gua tells of the areas that need improvement. If a room is irregularly shaped, it may cut off one of the ‘gua’ and there are special methods of curing this area of the person’s life that may be deficient. In general, however, in order to improve one of the gua, one of the Nine Basic Cures is used. The Nine Basic Cures are sort of a list of things that can be added to a space in order to improve its chi. These include placing such things as mirrors, moving objects, water, plants, and colors in the area of the room that corresponds to the area of the ba-gua that needs improving. In order to use color to improve a space, the most obvious option is to use the color on the ba-gua associated with that area of one’s life, such as using pink to enhance a relationship or purple to enhance wealth. In general, "red can activate any area, yellow represents longevity and green symbolizes growth" (Calmenson, 59). There are other ways to use color in feng shui as well.


The Five Element Color Creative Cycle (shown below) is one of these techniques.
It is a representation of the nine areas of life and the elements and colors associated with them.
The difference from the ba-gua is that it includes a few more colors for each area of life and that it has nine elements as opposed to the eight-sided ba-gua.

(Rossbach, 139)

The use of The Three Harmonies is another way of using color to enhance chi. This method overlays triangles on the ba-gua (as shown below). Each area of life is aligned with the point of a triangle. In order to improve a certain area using this method the two sides of the triangle emanating from the area that need improvement should be followed to their corresponding points. This indicates the two complimentary sides of the ba-gua. In order to improve the desired area, one of the nine basic cures can be used either in that area, or in both of the two complimentary areas aligned on the triangle. This can be used as an expansion on the use of colors by not just allowing the color analogous to the area needing improvement, but by also giving the option of using the colors of the two complimentary areas on the triangle.


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(Rossbach, 141)

Looking at the ba-gua, the colors represented in their respective areas of life correspond somewhat to associations we make with colors today. For example, wealth is still commonly associated with purple and royalty. Red is also somewhat corresponding as it is so vibrant and attention getting that it makes sense that it is associated with fame. White is usually associated with purity, which certainly corresponds with the innocence of children. Some of the other color associations seem a little more ambiguous to me and do not have obvious correlations with commonly held color associations today. Regardless of if they make sense or not, the placement of color to improve ones life makes sense. Whether it is done deliberately to have a specific effect, or simply to make a person feel comfortable and at ease in the spaces they spend time in, color does have an effect on our lives.

The art of Feng Shui consists of much more than this use of color and the ba-gua. Simply investigating this one small aspect, however, demonstrates the complexity and deep meanings associated with the theory. Whether a person believes in the theory or not, it can still be seen how some of its aspects directly correspond to the way we live today.

References/Works Cited:

Calmenson, Diane Wintroub. Living in Harmony, The Ancient Chinese Art of Feng Shui. 1992. pp 58-59.

Rossbach, Sarah. Interior Design with Feng Shui. Penguin Books USA. New York, NY. 1987. pp125-143.

Simons, T. Raphael. Feng Shui Step By Step. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY. 1996. pp129-140.