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Harnessing the Power of Feng Shui

From Crystal City Magazine, Fall 2001

The ancient Chinese practice of arranging your home and workspace harmoniously with nature may help increase luck, advance your career, and even sell you condominium.

By Hope Katz Gibbs


Certified Feng Shui practitioner Carol Olmstead has just arrived at my home, and I am a little nervous. As she moves from room to room, she is silently assessing whether my Clifton, Virginia, abode is set up to attract wealth, romance, and abundance. Or not.

Sensing my concern, Olmstead tries to reassure me. “Most people know instinctively which rooms in their homes have good energy, and which rooms need to be improved,” she says. “Feng Shui just gives you the method and some rules to help you remove negative energy so you can attract more of the good things you want into your life like money, love, and happiness.

I was intrigued. And, after a few moments, Olmstead gives me her opinions. In general, she says, the house has good energy. The two-story café au lait colored foyer is warm and welcoming, and the red front door—with a personalized nameplate knocker—signified power and marks the space.

Still, some changes are necessary. More accessories would help—preferably in red and orange—which represents fire, and is said to entice romance. Additionally plants are also needed to help one to feel relaxed because they bring the outside in. Most importantly, though, I need to reposition the desk in my office so that my smile, not my back, faces the door. “You should never work with your back to the door,” explains Olmstead. “It makes you vulnerable because it enables a competitor to sneak up on you when you aren’t looking.”

That makes sense, metaphorically if not literally, ad so do her list of other practical suggestions (see sidebar). But then, Feng Shui—often described as the art of living, or the art of placement—is a systematic approach to logical, comfortable, clutter-free interior design.

“Sometimes it is misconstrued as religion, but it isn’t really,” she says. Olmstead explains that Feng (the Chinese word for “wind”) and Shui (“water”) is part logic, psychology, philosophy, and intuition. And it is 3,500 years old.

According to Chinese folklore, an emperor developed the principles of Feng Shui to help him understand the laws of the universe. However, only the imperial family and ruling class had access to its practices. Eventually, word got out to farmers who began relying on it to determine the best times and places to plant or harvest crops so they wouldn’t starve. Today, busy, stress-out and exhausted Americans are hoping that Feng Shui will help them, too.

“Once you get the hang of it, Feng Shui isn’t all that complicated to understand,” Olmstead says. “The bottom line is that our surroundings have a powerful effect on what we bring into our lives. When our life energy is blocked or unbalances, prosperity, health, and relationships can be adversely affected. Feng Shui is like acupuncture for your home. By moving things around, you remove negative energy and free up the flow of the positive, and that helps you achieve your goals.”

What constitutes negative energy? Cracks, holes, and broken items, over-crowded rooms and cluttered closets, Olmstead says. Positive elements are vibrant colors, music, proper lighting, and nature-inspired artwork.

“We can adjust our homes and offices by doing things as simple as adding fresh flowers and plants to our desks, placing two red candles together next to a bed, or bringing in water, rocks and soft sounds,” says Olmstead. “These things invited romance and a sense of serenity.”

Olmstead is quick to state that Feng Shui isn’t magic. But, she says, it does have a magical quality.

Consider the experience of Sarah McKee. The former Alexandria resident says Feng Shui helped her sell her condominium at the Landmark Watergate. “I had one realtor who suggested an asking price and told me to put certain books away, reduce all the clutter, and have harp music playing,” says McKee. “I did most of what she told me, then waited and waited, and no one made an offer despite the fact that the market was really hot.”

Then, she hired Olmstead. “She spent two hours looking at everything in my apartment and suggesting clearing out the space a little more and adding red candles,” recalls McKee. Olmstead also advised her to get a statue of St. Joseph and bury it head downward facing the floor. Olmstead also recommended putting shims under the bookcase so her many books wouldn’t lean forward.

“I felt this would correct the balance that Sarah’s condominium lacked,” Olmstead says. McKee did as instructed and within weeks, the apartment sold at $4,000 more than the asking price. “Causality is a tricky thing,” says McKee. “But the time sequence was quite notable.”

Susan Marker Levin of Rockville, MD, says she also had a positive experience soon after incorporating Olmstead’s suggestions. “I hired Carol because I was thinking about a career change and was intrigued by the possibilities of Feng Shui,” says Levin, a human resources consultant who worked from home.

After an hour-long session, the two agreed on the one thing that wasn’t working in Levin’s apartment: her bedroom furniture. “My mother gave it to me years ago, and I didn’t think I should get rid of it,” says Levin. “But I never liked it, and when Carol said it was OK to let it go, suddenly it seemed OK.”

Levin disposed of the furniture and made a few other minor changes such as adding an African violet to the corner of her desk (this spot, Olmstead says, is the area to work on if you want to increase prosperity and abundance). Just days later, she says, something shifted. “I still was not sure if I should stop consulting to take a job in-house somewhere,” she says. “But the Sunday after meeting with Carol, I opened up the Help Wanted section and saw an ad for a job that I felt had my name on it.”

Levin applied and got the position as a compensation analyst at Montgomery College. “I’m not sure if it was because of the Feng Shui, or because I was able to focus on what I wanted. I couldn’t be happier.”

Interestingly, a positive experience with Feng Shui is what also inspired Olmstead to become a certified practitioner. She had worked in public relations since graduating for the University of Maryland in 1971. In the late 1980s, the Weehawken, NJ native founded CMS Communications in Bethesda. Then in 1993, she and her husband, tom, launched Environmental Results Corp., a firm specializing in communications and policy training for government agencies.

Four years later a friend bought a book on Feng Shui. She told Olmstead about the strategy of positioning your desk with your face to the door. Olmstead rearranged her office, and within weeks was contacted by officials at an Air Force base in Honolulu.

They wanted her and Tom to travel to Hawaii and suggest ways to clean up some old radio towers. After the presentation, the Olmsteads were asked to stay an additional week, all expenses paid, until another director returned to Honolulu so he too could meet with them.

Olmstead couldn’t believe her good fortune. She attributed the free week on the island, in part, to moving her desk. “I became a believer in the possibilities of Feng Shui,” she says.

Not long after, she celebrated her 50th birthday and decided it was time to change careers. Olmstead enrolled at the Feng Shui Institute of America, in Florida, and in 1998 received certification. Since then, she has lectured on the subject to the Leadership Greater Washington, Washington Women in Public Relations, University of Maryland, and other groups.

Most of her time is spent visiting Washington homes and offices to help people figure out how the principles of Feng Shui can work for them.

Olmstead says there are three major schools of thought. One of the best known is the Compass School; under this scenario the practitioner uses a compass to assess the health of a house. The direction your head faces when you sleep, and where your door is placed, are critical.

The Black Hat, or Black Sect School, is a mix of Tibetan religion and Buddhism. The believers of this theory typically hang red ribbons and bamboo flutes to bring good luck and cure inauspicious situation.

Finally, there is The Form School, which deals with shapes, colors, and textures in nature. Olmstead bases her work on a branch of this philosophy, called the Pyramid School, which focuses on connecting a person with his natural world as a means of bringing good things into one’s life.

“This approach is the simplest to understand and easiest to teach my clients,” says Olmstead, who begins each session with a new client by discussing goals. As she did with me, Olmstead wanted to know: did I want to increase wealth? Attract love? Improve my health? Then, she walked from room to room with her Bagua (a nine-grid mapping chart) to note where and why things may be out of balance.

“Finding balance is always the goal,” Olmstead says. “People just need to look closely at their homes, reposition or purchase a few things, and quite often they’ll find they can feel more creative, relaxed, and receptive to all that is possible in life. It takes a little work, but creating good Feng Shui at home and at work isn’t all that hard to accomplish.”

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Hope Katz Gibbs is a regular contribute in Crystal City, etc.

Carol Olmstead’s 10 Tips to Good Feng Shui
  1. Clear the clutter. It represents stuck energy and postponed decisions that can adversely affect your success.
  2. Practice the 3Rs. Repair, Replace, or Remove anything broken, not working, or dirty in your home or office. These items represent a disregard for your work, so get them out of your environment as soon as possible.
  3. Add a water feature. Place a fountain, fish tank, or picture of water or a waterfall in your foyer to bring a flow of abundance into your home. Make sure the water flows toward the house rather than out the front door.
  4. Reposition your bed. Make sure you can see the doorway without turning your head more than 45 degrees. Avoid positioning a bed with your feet directly straight out the door; this makes you vulnerable.
  5. Encourage romance and intimacy. Remove family pictures, work-related files, and papers from your bedroom. Add a pair of objects (candles, doves, hearts) and choose matching night tables to promote equality in a marriage.
  6. Help your child sleep. Place your photo in your child’s bedroom for comfort. Include plenty of storage options so toys, games, and other active energy can be put away at night so your child can sleep.
  7. Reposition your desk. Turn your desk so you face the doorway. If you cant turn it, place a round mirror or reflective object in front of you so you can see what’s happening behind you. When your back is to the doorway you are vulnerable to being caught off guard by your competitors.
  8. Correct the lighting. If you work in a basement or windowless office, use full-spectrum light bulbs that simulate daylight and connect your office to the outside world. Hang colorful artwork that depicts the outdoors.
  9. Personalize your cubicle. Hang posters, and pictures that show movement and water, the Feng Shui symbol for abundance. Place a plant near the entrance to mark a boundary for your space.
  10. Add plants. Place one within 3 feet of your computer to help cure any negative effects of the electromagnetic energy. If you can’t grow plants, use silk or keep fresh flowers on your desk. Avoid dried flowers, since they are dead energy.


© Copyright 2019, Carol Olmstead