It's banned in China, but in trendy British homes Feng Shui is fast becoming compulsory. Apparently even staffrooms can benefit from a layout rethink and an injection of yin (that's soft furnishings to you). Nicki Household corners the experts to find out her place in the scheme of things
Is there a waste bin or, even worse, a toilet in your wealth corner? If there is, your finances are likely to be in a parlous state and you would do well to relocate the offending item immediately, because you are symbolically throwing (or flushing) away your assets.
According to the ancient, and now wildly fashionable, Chinese art of Feng Shui (pronounced Feng Sh-way), the wealth area of a house (on the far left as you look through the front door) should contain symbols of plenty, such as flowers, fruit or smiling photos of yourself in the Bahamas. It should also be kept clean and uncluttered so that positive energy can flow through it freely.
Feng Shui is the art of placing buildings and objects so that they attract maximum positive and minimum negative energy. It thrives unofficially in China - where it is outlawed - but is taken so seriously elsewhere in the East that architecture students in Hong Kong and Singapore have to study it for a year. (In the West, the interest is more coffee table than classroom desk - this month Britain got its first glossy magazine devoted to the subject, Feng Shui for Modern Living.) The central tenet of Feng Shui is that every building, and each individual room within it, is a microcosm of human existence, with different areas representing aspects of your life - such as career, health, family and relationships. So if there is an area of your life where things are going wrong, you should pay special attention to the corresponding area in your home. To find out where that is, you need to place an eight-sided grid, known as a bagua or pah kwa (see diagram, right), over a plan of the property.
Feng Shui is a pseudo-science that becomes more complicated the more you look into it. Serious practitioners study the subject for decades and always take into account a person's Chinese horoscope, how long he or she has lived in a house, and the directional and geophysical influences (such as position of the house in relation to roads and buildings, and the effects of ley lines, pylons and transmitters) before suggesting remedies.
But it is the placement aspect of Feng Shui that has become so popular in the West and, according to expert Sarah Shurety, there are certain rules that can be applied to any room in need of a metaphysical shake-up.
* Avoid clutter. It blocks energy and has a bad effect on your psyche.
* Throw out things that are no longer relevant to your life. This symbolically makes room for new developments.
* Put an indoor fountain or fish tank in your wealth corner; moving water has a beneficial influence.
* Hang a metal wind chime just inside your front door; it weakens malign energy and ushers in opportunity.
* Place plants near computers and televisions to absorb the electromagnetic signals. Better still, keep these gadgets in a cupboard.
* Keep pathways to doors clear.
* Steer clear of dried flowers; they symbolise decay.
* Broken, messy or neglected things symbolise stagnation.
Sitting room Make the hearth, not the television, your focal point; round wooden coffee tables encourage harmony and conversation; put fresh pink or red flowers or a heavy ornament in the far right corner to strengthen relationships; seats should have a view of the door - if necessary use a mirror.
Kitchen This is the "treasure store" of a house, so good Feng Shui is important. Don't cook or prepare food with your back to a door; don't place the cooker next to the sink, by a window or opposite the main door; white and yellow are good colours (avoid red).
Study Don't sit right by a window or with your back to the door; keep your files and papers in cupboards, not on shelves, and choose pictures that symbolise your ambitions and aspirations.
Bedroom Sleep with a solid wall rather than a window behind the bed; place mirrors so that you cannot see yourself in bed; don't sleep directly under a heavy beam. Put televisions and clock radios well away from the bed. Pick blue paint or wallpaper - it is the most calming colour, with touches of red for passion, or pink for new love.
Fortunately there is a get-out clause if you break any of the above rules: you can usually get away with it if you stock up on mirrors and crystals.
Most of us have to take the existence of the energy field on trust, but Daniel Goodman, senior consultant of the London-based 20-year-old Feng Shui Consultancy (which visits homes and offices to advise on energy flows), claims he can actually see energy. "Whenever I enter a room, I see it all around me like an aura," he says. Mr Goodman believes making energy flow more positively involves a mixture of classical application, intuition, creative flair and common sense. The result is harmony and good fortune. What would he make of the average school staffroom?
He would first need to visit a school to study the lie of the land. After that, much would depend on the atmosphere at the school and the aspirations of the headteacher. Nevertheless, he has come up with several Feng Shui principles that could be applied to any staffroom.
THE IDEAL STAFFROOM
Use the diagram of the bagua. On the Feng Shui compass, the main door side of a room is north and the opposite wall south. To make matters more complicated, the bagua (and the Chinese compass) put north at the bottom of a plan.
DIVIDING THE ROOM
* The different areas of the room should be sectioned off by furniture or pastel lines drawn on the floor, but not by partitions, which block energy.
* The working area (N or NE) should be opposite the leisure area (SW) but not in face-to-face conflict with it.
* Decorate the leisure area in bright colours, with humorous clippings or cartoons.
* Anything to do with cooking, eating or drinking should be in the SE section, well away from the work area.
* Brainstorming sessions should take place on the west side of the room, which favours creativity.
* Fundraising activities should take place in the SE section.
* The S section favours anything to do with academic or sporting success.
* The N section influences career development.
USING THE ROOM
* Piles of papers and books should be put tidily in wooden cupboards.
* The door should open inwards to stop energy escaping into the corridor.
* Staff working in the room should sit facing the door, while teachers who are relaxing should face away from the door.
* As the staffroom is a "sacred" room, offering respite from the classroom, a mirror opposite the door will deflect any negative energy back out again.
* There should be plenty of natural light through big windows that can be opened to allow air to circulate.
* Fans draw energy out of a room. If there is no natural ventilation, install an ioniser.
* Children give off lots of yang energy, which needs to be balanced by its opposite, yin, in the staffroom - so install soft furnishings, plants and fishtanks.
* Tables should be round or square but not rectangular as this creates divisions. Chairs should be the same height; this discourages hierarchies.
* Pictures should emphasise harmony between teachers and students.
Daniel Goodman, the Feng Shui Consultancy, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX. Tel: 0181 870 0230Sarah Shurety, the Feng Shui Company, Ballard House, 37 Norway Street, Greenwich, London SE10 9DD. Tel: 0181 293 4471
For Di Cater, who teaches IT and business studies near Southend, Feng Shui has become a way of life. She consulted Sarah Shurety because she felt that negative energy in her home had contributed to a family tragedy and the subsequent estrangement of one of her daughters.
"The house had been inhabited by a burglar before we moved in," she explains. "It was full of his negative energy. Sarah showed us how to get rid of that and attract positive energy and now we've become a happy family again."
Interestingly, Di Cater also uses Feng Shui in her classroom. "The 14 to 18-year-olds I teach can be a bit lively, but I've discovered that if I put my desk at a slight angle rather than face them directly, they're much more amenable."
Gillian Morris, an English teacher from Twickenham who won a Feng Shui reading in a raffle, is more sceptical, though she admits she was unnerved by one of the consultant's comments. "He said that the low shelves over my 17-year-old son's bed could give him health problems. The very next week he was rushed to hospital with a bad sinus infection."
Gillian does not believe in good or bad energy but thinks she has become tidier. "I've always been rather messy, but hearing about Feng Shui has given me a clearer idea about why housework and order are a good thing. It's all to do with psychological well-being."