An interior designer updates rooms using a blend of decorating skills and the ancient art of feng shui — and offers a few tips.


Interior designer Barbara DeStefano explains how she incorporates the principles of feng shui to bring both style and harmony to plain rooms

Balancing Act

Problem: After the death of her husband, a client felt depressed and wanted to create a sense of tranquility in her home, as well as a more modern look. The living room was long and narrow, the dining room congested, and the wall between them had an awkward, high opening to the right of the fireplace. Both rooms were painted a rather drab “contractor’s special” off-white.

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Solution: The first step was to remove part of the wall and eliminate the cutout to open up the space and create a sense of expansiveness. Scale was an issue. The rooms aren’t very large and bulky furniture created a sense that you couldn’t move. We purchased new, smaller furniture that’s still functional but allows better circulation.

The dining room has lots of natural light so it can take strong color. We painted it Sherwin-Williams Bravado Red, a muted red that adds a lot of energy.

New draperies were made in a Gretchen Bellinger fabric called “Two Faces Have Eye.” It’s a beautiful iridescent silk that’s pea green on one side and red on the other, and the draperies are sewn with the colors alternating to give a little drama. They flank the windows, so sun damage isn’t a problem. The roman shades can be drawn.

We painted the living room Sherwin-Williams Basket Beige — a wonderful warm color somewhere between tan and gold. The fireplace was dismantled, rebuilt in contemporary, clean lines, and painted  bronze using a Ralph Lauren metal-based paint. Pretty slate stone was used for the hearth. Red accents in the room pick up the color of the dining room walls.

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The overall result? A soft, modern look that’s warm and welcoming.

Feng shui 101

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. The words literally mean “wind and water,” and early masters spoke of harnessing energy to create balance between our inner lives (our mental state) and our outer lives (our environment). 

The philosophy is complex, but put simply, design is what looks good and feng shui is what feels good. Design and feng shui skills are synergistic but not synonymous. At its most basic, feng shui is the arrangement of furniture and accessories to create environmental harmony.

Even though it may be unconscious, we sense when a room doesn’t feel right. This can manifest in different ways — you may feel tired or unable to concentrate. A space can be beautiful and still not be welcoming. Feng shui helps identify why a space isn’t comfortable.

A few tips

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Color is very important — it has a powerful effect on mood and mental activity. Many people are afraid of color and use “safe” but deadening shades of grey, white, and beige. If you feel chronically tired, it may be that the colors around you should be changed.

Trust yourself to make color changes. Find something that makes you feel good when you look at it — a rug, a fabric, even a scarf — and use its colors to create a liveable palette. The only “wrong” color is one you don’t like.

In feng shui, colors can be used purposefully. Green represents growth, particularly new growth. Black or dark blue represent water and are to do with career, or our “journey” or “flow” through life. Cobalt or royal blues are for prosperity. Yellow, right in the middle of the color spectrum, is symbolic of gathering, so it’s good for social spaces. It also enables intellectual thought — Socrates and Confucious were said to favor yellow. Red represents passion and vitality, and stimulates activity. Blended colors like pink, peach, clay and earthy tones are associated with relationships. (A feng shui consultation begins with an interview that helps identify where a client may feel “stuck,” and colors can be used to help mitigate and resolve whatever is affecting their energy negatively.)

• When arranging a room, remember that beds and major pieces of furniture should face the door or entrance. If that’s not possible, place mirrors so the entrance can be seen. We may not think it affects us, but there’s a subliminal lack of security when we have our backs to a door.

• Balance straight lines with rounded, curved pieces where possible. Avoid using sharp-cornered pieces of furniture in passages or aimed toward the front entrance.

• It’s important to create a welcoming ambience. Living objects — healthy plants, well cared-for fish or birds, cats or dogs — all add energy. Sound and movement from fountains or chimes, or music, all elevate our sense of good humor.

• Repair or replace the small, everyday malfunctioning objects that are an annoyance at best and an impediment to productivity at worst — stuck doors or drawers, squeaking chairs, window shades that don’t raise or lower properly. We stop noticing how much these minor irritations deplete our vitality.

• I can’t emphasize this enough: Reduce clutter! It’s very draining, and contributes to feeling tired, irritable, and unable to focus. If a space is severely cluttered, often it’s a sign of something psychological or emotional and most people can’t change that without help. But we’ve all had that good feeling you get when you clean out the junk drawer, or a closet. The aim isn’t sterile perfection or to impress your neighbors with how neat you are. It’s just about living well, something you do for yourself.

Energy, vitality, tranquility and peace are all ingredients of harmony. It’s balance. And that’s what feng shui brings. ●

Barbara DeStefano uses the principles of feng shui to design residences and gardens, as well as health-care treatment centers, physicians’ offices, and dental practices (“Boy, do you need feng shui there!”). She also offers consultations, and staging for houses that are for sale. Based in Port Ewen, Ulster County, she can be reached at 845-339-4601 or

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