Feng Shui Revival

September 1, 2006

AS A REALTOR, Donna Leyland knew that some spaces worked better than others, but couldn’t explain why. “I sell quite a few condos,” she says, “and when I walk in, I have a sense of what I call ‘flow.’ But I didn’t really identify it.” Leyland’s intuitive grasp of energy flow, one of the underlying principles of Feng Shui, led to her interest in the millennia-old Chinese art of placement. “It’s like anything else,” she says. “You embrace what works for you.”

Leyland is among an increasing number of non-Chinese incorporating Feng Shui principles into their own home’s design. The growth in this practice may surprise those familiar with the ancient art only as a 1990s fad, along with dial-up modems and the band Chumbawumba. Yet while media interest in this “ecological mysticism” peaked over a decade ago—when the influx of Hong Kong immigrants buying up real estate inspired both hysteria and curiosity in Vancouver—Feng Shui never went away. It has been used in designing projects like Lotus Living, a Richmond condo development from Cressey set to open in 2008, and Richmond’s Olympic speed-skating oval. Forty-three percent of Canadians, according to a 2004 poll by Lightspeed Research, “believe Feng Shui can improve your quality of life.”

Feng Shui, which literally means “wind-water” in Chinese, is a complicated system used to achieve harmony with one’s surroundings. According to the practice, one’s personal fortunes are influenced by environmental factors like the interaction of the “five elements” (wood, fire, earth, metal and water), which influences the flow of energy (“chi”) in one’s home, as well as personal data like one’s birthdate. Despite its complex spiritual underpinnings, Feng Shui appeals to many people because its principles translate to simple design solutions that help reduce clutter. “It’s more of a minimalist, simplistic approach,” says Leyland. “It all starts with the flow.” So no stairways facing the front door (because that lets all the energy leak out) and no sinks facing the stove (because then the “elements are in conflict”).

Cynics might suggest that Feng Shui is nothing more than a mystical version of interior design, but it’s a growing (if hidden) factor in the real estate market. “In 1998, when I just started my training, there were three largely available books on Feng Shui,” says Rodika Tchi, a Feng Shui consultant. “Today, if you do a simple search on Amazon, you will get 4,052 books.” Tchi adds five to 10 clients a month and estimates the number of them hiring her to help sell their home is “about 15 percent and growing.” She adds: “I also have more and more realtors coming to me to speed up the sale of their homes.”

With clients looking for a quick sale, Tchi says she works on “‘releasing’ the house itself, including the connection it has with its owners.” She recalls one client whose West Vancouver home was on the market for over a year. “The house was priced at over a million dollars,” says Tchi, who charges $150 an hour for her services. “After my consultation, it sold in less than a month.”

Cynics suggest Feng Shui is nothing more than a mystical version of interior design,
but it's a growing (if hidden) factor in the
real estate market.

In a city where a quarter of the population is Chinese, it might make financial sense to appeal to ancient traditions, yet some suggest that Feng Shui’s influence among Chinese homebuyers is actually on the decline—particularly with second- and third-generation Chinese. Richmond realtor Suni Leung thinks that the young are simply “less interested” in Feng Shui than the older generation. She now works mostly with homebuyers from Mainland China, where Feng Shui was banned for decades and is still frowned upon—and where the vast majority of new immgrants to Vancouver come from (26 percent in 2002, compared to only two percent from Hong Kong).

“I do see resistance to Feng Shui among young Chinese,” echoes Rodika Tchi. “Being young, they don’t want to associate with the old ways.” She describes her current clientele as now “mostly Westerners.” When people ask her how she can be a non-Chinese Feng Shui master, her response is to ask them how many Indian yoga teachers they know in Vancouver. Like yoga, another Eastern practice that migrated west, Feng Shui serves a practical purpose while conveying spiritual cachet on its practitioners.

“I have had Asian clients,” says Donna Leyland, “but it doesn’t seem to be currently an issue.” Leyland, a recent convert, brought in a master of “contemporary Feng Shui”—what she terms “Feng Shui lite”—to her own Coal Harbour condo. The consultant convinced her to make “27 changes in 27 days” to effect a positive change in her life. Among the suggestions were adding shrubs in front of her glass balcony to keep the energy flow in and placing a 50-dollar bill under her printer to enhance her prosperity.

She’s pleased with the results and notices more of her friends using Feng Shui to enhance work and living spaces, for which they’ve already paid top-dollar. “I’m so busy and I call in professionals for everything else,” she explains, “so why wouldn’t I call a professional to re-do my condo?”


Read more in the Real Estate Survival series:

Strata Hell: Condo owners who threaten murder. Treasurers who steal cash. Welcome to the weird world of strata councils. By Steve Burgess

The Hottest Guy in Town: Reno fever has taken over the city and made contractors like Brad Wurmlinger the hottest guys in town. By Matt O'Grady

Busted: The cautionary tale of a renegade reno. By Guy Saddy

Budding Entrepreneurs: The highs and lows of buying a former grow-op. By Marcie Good


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