The architecture’s efficient, the decor is elegant — but something just doesn’t feel right. Customers won’t stay and spend money in your store; buyers keep backing out of deals to buy your house; workers in your office complain of headaches and fatigue. Maybe, a friend suggests, it’s time to call in a feng shui expert to cure your building’s ailing “chi.”
Until about 10 years ago, you would probably have gotten such advice only in places like Hong Kong or Nepal. But these days, you’ll hear it in homes and businesses all over the United States — including right here in Asheville, where a dozen or so trained feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”) consultants are hanging out their baguas (see below).
It’s not just a New Age fad. In China, the art of placement, as feng shui is often called, has been popular for at least 3,000 years. Feng shui masters invented the magnetic compass in order to help determine auspicious positions for houses and tombs. And the pagoda that juts up sharply from a hill in every stereotypical picture of China is actually a feng shui “cure” for a landscape that lacks the “fire element.”
The goal, however, is not to reshape nature to suit human purposes, as Western engineers tend to do, but to harmonize human structures with nature — and not just the visible landscape of rivers, mountains and trees but the invisible currents of vital energy believed to swirl through even the crowded heart of a city.
A river runs through it
Joan Eckert, co-owner (with husband Joe Eckert) of the Laughing Seed Cafe, says she’s glad a friend talked her into contacting local feng shui consultant Jaan Ferree when the Eckerts were getting ready to remodel Asheville’s long-running vegetarian restaurant.
“Once I found out about the feng shui thing, I felt good about it,” Joan Eckert told Xpress, “because it made sense; it’s something that we’d never really thought about. It sounds odd, but we’re very happy with it. … I think it makes a huge difference; I really do.”
Ferree recently guided this reporter on a feng shui tour of the Laughing Seed. It wasn’t hard to sense the difference between the somewhat cluttered feel the restaurant used to have and the sense of “flow and balance” that, in Ferree’s oft-repeated words, pervades the new.
“When you talk about feng shui, not only [do] you deal with aesthetics, but [with] the psychological — the subtleties that you’re picking up,” said Ferree, who over the years has founded several interior-decorating businesses since completing a double major in psychology and design. “Whether you can name it or not, you know that it’s affecting you.”
Take the restaurant’s foyer, which the Eckerts have long maintained as an informal community resource center where anyone can post fliers and newsletters. It used to be filled with disorganized piles of paper and — worse, from a feng shui perspective — pointy-edged metal racks.
“Talk about your poison arrows!” Ferree exclaimed. Sharp points aimed at an area where people habitually stand, sit or sleep — whether it’s the edges of a piece of furniture or the corners of an oddly angled neighboring building — are thought to shoot out negative energy.
“They wanted to keep it as resource center, so they put in curve-edged wooden racks for literature,” Ferree explained. “And then because it would get stagnant in here sometimes, we put this wind chime up to keep things moving, and then put a live plant out here to give it some life. It had been, at one time, stagnant and chaotic.”
Once inside, customers are greeted by a shimmering waterfall fountain. Like all the new additions to the restaurant, the fountain was created by a local artist. And it’s no accident that the cash register is situated there as well — the ever-cycling water helps symbolically stimulate the “flow of abundance in and out,” according to Ferree.
Coursing through the middle of the space in great green curves is a brand-new, river-shaped bar. Mica sprinkled through the cast-stone top makes it glitter like a river’s surface. It’s the centerpiece of the exotically international theme that pervades both the restaurant’s new look and its new menu.
“Joan really wanted a river,” said Ferree. “She wanted this place to feel like an oasis. [The Eckerts] wanted an international feel, so that you could tell you’re someplace else in the world, but you couldn’t pinpoint where that was … to showcase that international cuisine.”