Feng shui is an age-old concept that has been around for thousands of years. And it was originally used in ancient China to help inhabitants find suitable land on which to live and farm. Keep in mind, of course, that this was before land could be razed, roads were paved, or streams could be diverted: people had to choose a place for their dwelling that would be protected from dangerous conditions. They needed to find the most advantageous location based on their ability to read the terrain, and feng shui provided some very useful guidelines to help with this. Feng shui took the approach that the shapes of nature are significant aspects of place because they represent conditions that are real and present.
Of course, today, we don’t necessarily follow these principles in building or choosing homes. Homes are built without regard for what the optimal topographical conditions are, and we tend to focus more on how the home looks instead of outside environmental considerations. This can (and does) often spell disaster for homeowners. But good news! Even in this modern age of homeownership, we can still benefit from those feng shui principles originally used in ancient China to help us find the best environmental conditions to fit our living needs.
Yes, the Armchair is a real concept (and clearly a super fun metaphor!) used in feng shui. It refers to the most ideal placement of a structure (home or building) on a site so that the inhabitants feel protected and nurtured. The Armchair metaphor is an easy way to remember how a structure should be situated in relation to its environmental surroundings. It happens to take the shape of an armchair formation, with protective flanks, a strong back, and an open view in the front.
Of course, in feng shui, the type of protection matters and varies depending on which part of the surroundings you’re talking about. It’s not enough to just have, say, a fence on the left side of the house, a shed in the back, and trees to the right. So, feng shui took the Armchair concept a step further and assigned different types of energies, expressed through animal metaphors, to the various formations around a structure to help explain their ideal form. And as you can see in the picture below, when looking out the front door, the Black Tortoise is in the back, the Green Dragon is on the left, the White Tiger is on the right, and the Red Phoenix is in front.
The Black Tortoise, with its tall, strong, curving features, provides a solid back to a dwelling. It’s shell and stillness represent protection, strength, and stability. It gives protection in the rear of a structure, shielding it from unexpected currents, unfavorable winds, or other types of aggression. What this means for us today is that a home should have its tallest features behind it. This can be a hill, a mountain, a group of trees, nearby buildings, or another structure that provides the physical and energetic backing needed to offer support to the building. And ideally, it’s bigger or more substantial than the house. Be careful, though, that the hill or mountain is gentle and stable in nature, as anything that could increase the risk of a landslide or avalanche would turn the Black Tortoise into a very dangerous animal.
Situated on the left side of a structure, the Green Dragon faces forward and refers to mountain ranges, rolling hills, a building, a porch, trees, or any structure that wraps around, supports, and protects a building on the left side. Although it is not as tall as the Black Tortoise, taller features dominate this side for further protection. In feng shui, the Green Dragon is believed to have intuition and feminine wisdom, and the left side of things is often thought to be more magical, creative, and not strictly confined to rational thinking. The Green Dragon is often discussed in relation to its partner, the White Tiger, as the animals work together in protecting a home.
The White Tiger protects the right side of a dwelling and is often represented by smaller landforms, vegetation, or buildings that are less dominant than the Green Dragon. It represents the force, energy, and daring of mankind. It relates to the Green Dragon in that the force of the White Tiger is offset by the proper reflection and wise activity of the Green Dragon. In a deeper sense, a White Tiger that is less strong (less tall and dominant) than a Green Dragon means that preference is given to reflection and wise thinking before a rash decision is made based on force. Although there is sometimes debate over which animal is more significant, the White Tiger and the Green Dragon actually balance each other, and both animals are crucial to protecting a structure.
The Red Phoenix is in front of a dwelling or building and takes the shape of open space so that occupants have a clear view of who’s approaching. The Red Phoenix needs an open area from which to receive energy, and it’s very important for safety purposes that occupants have an unobstructed view of what is before them when looking out the front door. However, having complete openness and an entirely free façade could feel insecure, so the Red Phoenix is typically represented by a low wall, a water fountain, or a gentle hill in front of a path so as to attract energy to the structure in a more controlled and balanced way.
Bring the Armchair Inside
One of the best things about the Armchair is that it can (and should) be implemented inside of homes and buildings as well. It provides clear guidelines for how furniture and belongings can be arranged and placed inside of a space. For instance, someone who has their back to a door, hallway, or window in an office may feel more on display and less safe and secure than if their back was to a more solid protection, like a wall. In a room configuration, a horseshoe shape with a couch flanked by armchairs on either side and a coffee table in front provides an ideal formation.
Basically, the Armchair helps to answer the question, how do we feel most protected? Although it can be challenging to always adhere to these guidelines, the Armchair offers a way for us to understand how different physical attributes and landforms affect us and how we can shape our structures to feel more secure and at home.
Check out our blog post How to Use Plants to Clean the Air to learn about how nature can be brought inside to reduce airborne pollutants and improve indoor air quality.