An architect's guide to creating holistic spaces

Tradition and modernity combine in a new book by architect Anjie Cho who takes the art of mindfulness into the organisation of our homes, helping us to lead healthier lives, writes Carol O’Callaghan

Architect Anjie Cho is about to revive our interest in the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui with her new book, Holistic Spaces: 108 Ways to create a Mindful and Peaceful Home. Drawing on her own approach to interior design, it aims to create supportive and nurturing environments for the inhabitants.

As a one-time prolific reader of anything feng shui related, and never knowingly passing an advertisement for a Saturday seminar on the subject, I would say the most challenging aspect of feng shui is getting to grips with the bagua — a floor plan of the home divided into nine areas relating to different aspects of life — work, relationships and health, for example.

Over the years, much of this has been simplified, if not made utterly simplistic for a western audience wanting the fast-food approach. But Cho manages to convey the essence of this feng shui essential, making it applicable to a modern western audience unlikely to be tempted into building the traditional style Chinese house for which the bagua was originally intended.

Admittedly, there’s an unfamiliar vocabulary in the book which singles the author out as American — entryway instead of hall, stoop instead of step, and the assumption that we all park our car in our garage and enter the house through an adjoining door.

It’s a minor irritation to navigate around, but if her suggestion of installing a fountain at the front of your house for prosperity has you throwing your eyes heavenward, she mitigates this by saying it is desirable rather than essential.

With a specialisation in environmental design, Cho advocates everything from water saving tricks for the bathroom, to recycling and composting which might seem to have little, if anything, to do with feng shui, but it doesn’t really stretch the imagination to reconcile it with modern environmental concerns. If you think about it feng shui practitioners were probably the first environmentalists as the practice centres around mastering a connection with the natural world and living in harmony with it.

Getting down to the business of applying this, Cho is practical, organising the physical aspects of the home, including furniture placement, interior design elements and green living. Then there are the more spiritual aspects covered by feng shui of fostering an atmosphere conducive to contented and prosperous living and creating the soul of the home. If all this virtue sounds a bit worthy there’s some joyful everyday stuff for time-pressed readers, including that we ought to use our dishwashers guilt-free (fully loaded, mind), as modern models use less water than hand-washing.

Tried-and-tested experience has shown me how books like this are often inspirational. Lush photography can make them highly aspirational too, but when their advice is preceded by a diktat to tackle a mammoth decluttering session, the book can be dispatched with haste to live out its life decorating the coffee table.

Cho’s book is practical on how to implement change by making simple adjustments. To help take the slog out of it, her 108- tips approach means we can take one tip per day, or even one a week, so it frees us of the sensation of feeling overwhelmed.

Decluttering is certainly in there, however, despite also being the bane of hoarders and shoppers who can’t resist a bargain. All Cho does is encourage more abstemious shopping rather than turning ascetic and urging us to get rid of everything we own. But at the same time, she advises us to lead a more considered and organic life by setting aside nine minutes a day for disposing of things neither needed nor wanted, setting a timer as we go so it doesn’t feel like a project.

In all, there’s much to take from this book for anyone who wants to get to grips with creating and optimising comfort and a sense that their home works for them. Written for how we live today, when already there is such a significant shift towards mindfulness around our physical health and diet, the notion that we can also be mindful about how we create health in our homes for our mind and spirit too is a natural follow-on.

- Holistic Spaces: 108 ways to create a mindful and peaceful home, published by CICO Books on October 9, €14.99.


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