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Go with the Flow
Feng Shui Can Bring Balance to Your Room
by Jeffery Kurz, Record-Journal Staff
Photos by Chris French, Record-Journal Staff
Record-Journal, January 25, 2005

CHESHIRE - When Brenda Votto moved into her new home about eight years ago she had plenty of room, about 3,200 square feet. What the home didn't have was yin. Plenty of yang, but not much yin to speak of.

What that means, too much yang, is that the home "felt too open," said Susan Samara [now Susan Schlank]. "So it didn't give you a feeling of homey-ness."

Samara, also a Cheshire resident, runs the New England School of Fang Shui. Over the years, she has worked with Votto to give her home, a Tudor-styled contemporary, a feeling of balance. "Now it feels warm and homey," Samara said.

Feng shui, pronounced "fung schway," is a practice with roots in ancient Asia that draws much on the idea of chi energy. Those who practice tai chi, a gently Eastern martial art form, are working to harness the chi energy of the body. Those who practice fang shui are applying the same principles to the home or office space, trying to create a positive flow of chi energy throughout a structure.

For Votto's home that meant warm, vibrant colors to help soften many sharp angles. "Brenda's a very creative person," said Samara. "So between the two of us we were able to come up with ideas that would make us feel better."

"This is one of the most challenging homes I've ever done because it's so unusually shaped," Samara said.

Votto said that working with Samara has given her confidence about shaping her home, "when you need assurance that you're going in the right direction."

As the popularity of feng shui grows so do conflicting ideas about proper ways to employ the practice, which has its basis in Taoist philosophy of 4th century BC. Samara says it's less about placing the right Chinese symbols in the right places of the home (in fact, she doesn't do that type of thing at all) as about creating a blueprint to help you feel more comfortable about your living or working space. This idea of a blueprint, or bagua, is a basic concept behind feng shui, which literally means "wind and water."

"The concepts are what's universal and can be applied to different cultures," she said.

"It's an extraordinary tool to create intention in your life."

Samara started the feng shui school about six years ago. It started in Waterbury, then moved to Massachusetts to be more central in New England, but is now back in Connecticut. Samara says she has always been "very spiritual." She discovered fang shui when she visited a friend's house about nine years ago.

"I always had a feel for environments without really knowing it," she said. She found inspiration in William Spear's book, "Feng Shui Made Easy," and attended a feng shui school in New York City. Not long after, she founded her school with Amy Mims, a Monroe resident.

Today the school has about 30 teachers and usually about the same number of students. The school, on the Web at, offers workshops throughout the year.

The schools informational pamphlet says feng shui has grown in popularity because people "intuitively know they are affected by their physical surroundings."

Votto certainly felt that way when she and her family, husband John and three children, moved into her large home. "It had a cold feel to it," she recalled, "It has so many corners and angles."

Votto's 17-year-old daughter, Leah, helped Pick oat vibrant colors to reduce the severe atmosphere created by high ceilings and white walls.

Samara also recommended softening textures, curtains and other items "because you'd walk in and you'd feel lost," site said. "Now you feel more grounded."

"You have to get to know your home to see what it likes," said Votto. "What I'm drawn to is simplicity."

If nothing else, feng shui provides a vocabulary for discussing living or working space, "a way of talking about it," said Votto.

"You should really integrate it into your life," she said.


The placement of chairs in Brenda Votto's Cheshire home allows energy to move freely in the room, a goal of Feng Shui.

The fluidity of the drapes contrasts with angles in the room.

Susan Samara advised Votto that a headboard provides a sense of security. (Also, avoid facing your bed opposite a mirror.) Samara, also of Cheshire, founded The New England School of Feng Shui.

Samara used warm color to soften the vastness of this room, left, and create a homey feel.

The photo above is a closeup of the arrangement behind the sofa. Notice how the yin and the yang work in harmony.

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