An ancient Chinese tradition provides a common-sense method for choosing art and designing framing that creates harmony in the home

Framing with Feng Shui: an ancient Chinese tradition provides a common-sense method for choosing art and designing framing that creates harmony in the home

Jennifer Wong

Many frame shop customers walk through the door with little idea of what they want from a framed piece of art. They look to you, the framer, for advice on art selection, frame design and even placement in their homes. It can be challenging to help make such personal decisions with people, especially if they aren’t in touch with their own artistic and decorating preferences.

The Chinese principles of feng shui can be a powerful asset in your arsenal of skills when designing framing for a customer. Feng shui is a practical art that brings people and their environment into the most positive and harmonious relationship to each other through the conscious use of color, objects and placement–subjects the framer works with every day. Framers who understand a few key concepts of the practice, which blends science, intuition, ancient wisdom and common sense, can have a profound affect on the well being of their clients.

Originating in China thousands of years ago, feng shui is practiced today all over the world and is gaining more popularity in the United States. “People are looking for a sense of individual identity and stability,” said Melani Lewandowski, feng shui master and president of Corporate Feng Shui International in Philadelphia. “We need to find ways for people to establish a sense of knowing and security, and one way we can do that is through choice of material and color in the selection of art and framing.”

The `Perfect’ Place

Two years ago, a young woman walked out of a frame store with a framed print of a very tall, pointy, prickly red cactus. She told her framer she had found the perfect place for the print on the wall above her bed. Last year, she had a feng shui consultant come to her house. She admitted that she had had trouble sleeping and, while she desired to be in a relationship, had trouble meeting men. The consultant advised her to find another “perfect place” for her dramatic red cactus print. She moved it to her office and brought a relaxing pastoral scene into her bedroom. Immediately, she started sleeping better and two weeks later, she met a man, and they began to date. That was a year ago last spring, and the young woman and her beau are still happily together.

Such stories are not surprising to feng shui practitioners who know that colors, objects and placement of objects–in short, the environment we live and work in–affect our moods and physical well being in ways we are often unaware of. “Whatever we look upon and see through our eyes will, through our optic nerve, send sensory signals to each area of the brain, which, in turn, will send signals to our body to react to what our eyes see,” said Lin Yun in his book Living Color: Master Lin Yun’s Guide to Feng Shui and the Art of Color. “So the colors of everything our eyes come in contact with will influence our temperament, physical movements, language and thoughts–in short, our lives.”

Feng Shui Basics

The objects and colors surrounding us possess, according to feng shui, an invisible energy or `chi’ that affects our moods, thoughts and actions. Framers already know that colors, shapes, subject matters and framing materials possess a particular “feel” and can create a powerful or serene “look.” For instance, the choice of a vibrantly colored mat board on artwork that has mostly neutral colors transforms the artwork into a dramatic, active or “fun” piece. Understanding that the created look has an inherent energy level or “chi” is a powerful way for framers to work with their clients to create the most beneficial atmosphere depending on the purpose of each room in their client’s home.

In general, the role of artwork in feng shui displays the state of one’s spirit and should be chosen for one’s connection to it and for its symbolism. The proper placement of art in a home should also reflect the client’s connection to the piece. In feng shui, locations for deeply expressive artwork are most beneficial in the bedroom, living room, hallway, study and just inside the entrance to the home. However, kitchens and bathrooms have very specific functions and the art should be complementary.

It’s important to remember that the following are a list of general guidelines that can be used in most cases, though there are always exceptions to the rules. Obviously, a client’s preference for particular colors and framing materials are personal, but you can use this knowledge to make suggestions to help those who want design and hanging guidance.

The Bedroom

The bedroom is considered the most important room in the home according to feng shui practitioners because it is the place for rest and deep relaxation. The qualities of stillness, softness and pleasing textures should be brought into the room. The bedroom is about establishing a boundary between the individual and the rest of world in order to completely relax. “We’re not great with boundaries in the West,” said Lewandowski, “and we need to work at building them back up.”

Artwork and its complementary matboard that possess calming colors of soft greens, blues and rose tones such as mauves and burgundies are very beneficial. Lewandowski added that yellows, which connote trust, can be very effective for older people in their 70s and 80s whose energies are calmed by the color. Avoid using an overwhelming amount of white, black and bold, vibrant colors. Touches of red could be used to inspire intimacy.

Appropriate subject matters for art could include pastoral scenes, landscapes, florals or anything else that is calming and appealing. The bedroom is private, and the art that is hung there should express the individuals’ personal side and be reserved only for their enjoyment. A nude or a scene of a special location to a couple would also be appropriate here.

Additionally, in the bedroom one should avoid portraits or pictures of other family members–except for the couple–including relatives, children and even the family pets. “Subconsciously, the mind reacts to the images of children and pets by thinking about all the obligations and care to be given them the next day and doesn’t allow for deep rest,” said Diane Easley, consultant with Feng Shui Perspectives of Seattle.

With bedrooms, whether a person is single or in a relationship, one wants to think in terms of partnership, so images of couples or pairs work well. Avoid too many images or pictures of one individual or object. (Remember the lone, prickly cactus?)

Placement of art in the bedroom is important, and framers should ask their clients to consider three key places to display art–in the location that one see first when walking into the bedroom; in the location that one sees when in the most common place; and lastly, what one sees upon leaving. This is important because in these locations chosen images and colors will act like cue cards to the individual, said Lewandowski.

As far as framing materials in the bedroom, one should be careful using metal by keeping in mind that silvers could feel too chilly. Rubbed wood works nicely as does the use of moulding with soft, rounded corners.

The Entrance to the Home

Another important part of the home is the entrance. The entrance and the first piece of art that one sees when coming home should provide a welcoming transition from the outer world to the inner world and draw one further into the house.

Art that is personally expressive works wonderfully here–it should reflect the individual back to him or herself when they walk in the door so that a true sense of homecoming is evoked. Feeling grounded and centered is also important. For instance, it wouldn’t be advisable to see an image of a person on a trip when you first walk in the door, said Lewandowski. The placement of bold, strong artwork can be effective. But remember that in feng shui, balance is key. If something bold is chosen then a dark frame could be used to anchor the piece. Black is a stabilizing and grounding color. A gilded frame with a reflective quality would be effective as well.

Colors in artwork or matboards that are welcoming and hopeful in feng shui are blues, greens, pinks and muted darker colors.

The Living Room

The living room is the most active room in the home and should reflect the interests and passions of the individuals who live there. The living room is also the room used to entertain guests, so plenty of visual stimuli should be used to create lively conversation. It is the hub of the house and should be full of many colors and textures. Bright colors are most welcome, including the use of red.

Images that reflect what the occupants do or want to do out in the world, such as their hobbies, fit well in the living room. Bold, geometric shapes, abstracts, squares and sharp angles are all appropriate. However, it is important to maintain a feeling of balance. The living room should also have a somewhat restful feel but not too much, said Easley, or everyone will wind up being couch potatoes in front of the television.

The Kitchen

In most homes, the kitchen is also a very active room, but in feng shui, the decor and colors should be kept very simple. The predominant use of white is suggested to show off the food. Accents of red or black work well.

In kitchens, artwork that is consistent with the function of the room is optimal, such as pictures of food, fruit, vegetables, scenes of countries where the food comes from or people eating.

In general, one wants to keep the cook happy and focused because, according to Lewandowski, when the food has that energy in it, the people in the household will have that energy, too.

The Dining Room

The dining room is a place where one wants to be relaxed when eating but also enjoy stimulating conversations when entertaining. “When we are eating, we are connecting,” said Lewandowski, “and dining rooms relate to lineage and ancestry.” Portraits or pictures of family members and friends framed in wood, which in feng shui is associated with family and health, are effective.

Study/Home Office

The study should have a quiet, contemplative atmosphere and artwork with blues, greens, gold-yellows, browns and even black is effective. Small amounts of red can be used to generate decision-making. Images that include water, trees or landscape work to generate reflection and the birth of new ideas.

“Artwork with a black frame is recommended for instigating new career opportunities, since black is the color of night and the color of the end before the beginning,” said Lewandowski.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms are usually kept plain in feng shui practice and are similar to bedrooms in the sense that the room is private. White is generally the recommended color, but accents of brighter colors could be used. Metal frames and, in particular, the use of silver work very well for its reflective quality. Metal, in feng shui, is the element of elimination.

Since there is so much water energy in the bathroom, consultants recommend the use of pointed, more angular frames. A point, in feng shui, represents the element of fire which, when used in a bathroom, provides balance.


The basic function of a mirror is to reflect the individual and also, in feng shui, to redirect energy or the flow of chi in tight spaces, expanding dark areas or for doubling a pleasing view. The shape of a mirror is also important with rectangular, square or oval shapes each having different qualities.

First and foremost, an individual should be able to see a true reflection of his or her image. “You don’t want to distort the image of the person,” said Easley. Avoid mirrors with lines down the center or mirrors with panes. Beveled mirrors are also tricky, said Lewandowski, because if the mirror is not large enough, when the person looks into it, their image will be broken and scattered, creating feelings of unease.

“Ideally, you need to see from the middle of your chest to over the top of your head by a couple of inches,” said Easley. When mirrors are too small a person has to fit themselves into a smaller space, and as humans, Easley said, we need bigger spaces. It can be disturbing and could lead to the development of bad body image by thinking one is too big.

Rounded shapes connote harmony and a sense of never-ending (think of a wedding band) and can be powerful when placed in the bedroom. Square or rectangular-shaped mirrors are more definitive and create a statement. They can be used to redirect energy or a view into another environment such as drawing the eye from the entrance or foyer into the living room.

Talking to Your Clients When Designing With Feng Shui

Questions to ask when working with clients to select mouldings, color of matboards and placement of artwork are simple and don’t have to even mention feng shui. Consider asking a few of these questions to figure out what a piece means to a client in order to create good chi in his or her home.

“Tell me what this piece said to you” is a good way to find out if the piece is deeply personal and private or more suited to a public area in the home. Perhaps it is artwork given by a client’s spouse and is very personal. A framer might suggest the couple’s bedroom for the piece. A piece that reflects a client’s passion, like music or skiing, is very active and would be most beneficial in the living or family room.

“Tell me about how you want to use this? Where will this hang? What kind of activities happen in the room where it will hang?” These are questions to begin a discussion on the activities that are ideally done in each room of the home. A framer can make suggestions for framing materials–such as metal or wood frames, frames with softer more rounded corners versus sharply defined corners or vibrant or more soothing mat board colors–based on the function of the room in which a client plans to hang his or her piece.

If, for example, a client plans on hanging something like a very large, red, prickly cactus in their bedroom, the framer, said Easley, shouldn’t be afraid to tell the client that the piece is very active and ask if they really want such an active piece in the bedroom. Oftentimes, said Easley, clients can think of an alternative “perfect” place to hang their piece.

Encourage clients to avoid having pictures of family members in their bedrooms, which is a common practice. “I’ve worked with clients whose relationships and marriages are suffering,” said Lewandowski, “and when I walk into their bedroom there are so many pictures of their families. Their relationship has become all about parenting their children and isn’t about them anymore.”

If a client plans on hanging family portraits in their bedroom, don’t be afraid to suggest that while pictures of those who are dear to you make feel good, they possess high energy. The images subconsciously set your mind whirling with thoughts of the last time you saw them, what activities you plan to do next, what the kids are going to have for breakfast tomorrow and so on. Suggest that a client keep her bedroom as restful as possible.

While the practice of feng shui involves complex systems of theories, symbolism, esoteric cures and philosophy, the artful practice is essentially one of intuition and common sense. Framers can have fun with their clients in selecting moulding, colors and placement of artwork by following a few of the principles of feng shui. And perhaps most importantly, they can deepen their relationship to the value of their own work and creativity and service to their clientele.


BLACK water wisdom, power

strength, emptiness

GREEN wood new beginnings

health, family


RED fire joy, fame, happiness,

life force, reasoning

YELLOW (GOLD) earth trust, balance/center,

encourages patience,


TAN AND BROWN earth sensibility, calmness


WHITE (METAL) metal clarity, self-esteem,


FENG SHUI SOURCES books, web sites, contacts



Diane Easley, Feng Shui Perspectives, Seattle.

Tel: (206) 718-0900.


Melani Lewandowski, Corporate Feng Shui

International, Philadelphia. Tel: (215) 546-0489 /

(646) 734-7988.


The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony and Prosperity in your Environment by Kathryn Terah Collins

The Feng Shui House Book: Change Your Home, Transform Your Life by Gina Lazenby Sacred Space: Clearing and Enhancing the Energy of Your Home by Denise Linn

The Modern Book of Feng Shui: Vitality and Harmony for the Home and Office by Stephen Post

Feng Shui: Harmony by Design by Nancy Santo Pietro

Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect, and Happiness by Karen Rauch Carter

Interior Design with Feng Shui by Sarah Rossbach

Living Color Master Lin Yun’s Guide to Feng Shui and the Art of Color by Sarah Rossbach and Lin Yun

Web Sites

Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness–Feng Shui (

Articles on the Chinese art of feng shui from the pages of Qi Journal. Includes a selection of educational materials

Feng Shui News ( Traditional feng shui news and information; find a qualified feng shui consultant, class or free lecture

Feng Shui Times ( Articles, tutorials, forums and background information, with a resource directory of practitioners, schools and suppliers

About Feng Shui ( Articles, frequently asked questions and links

Feng Shui Guild ( Find a feng shui practitioner nearest you, includes lists by state and city

Feng Shui: Creating Environments for Success and Well-Being ( General information, feng shui tips for home or office, newsletter.

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