Although largely based in fantasy, the war stories are notorious within Malibu’s real estate industry: You’ve matched the perfect buyer with the perfect house. They’re paying millions — all in cash — and escrow is closing tomorrow. As you’re about to dial your travel agent to book that dream week in Paris to be paid for by your big commission, the phone rings. “Hi,” says the client. “Before we close escrow, you don’t mind if we have the house Feng Shui-ed, do you?” “Not at all,” you say weakly, as visions of that Paris vacation start flying out the window.
In case you’ve been living on the far side of the moon, Feng Shui (the phrase means “wind” and “water”) is the ancient Chinese art of object placement. For the past decade, its popularity in Malibu and across America is burgeoning. From Detroit to Decker Canyon, Feng Shui masters, at rates up to $1000 an hour (the average is far less, about $150/hour), are telling people where and how their homes and offices should be situated, planned or reorganized, how their furnishings should be arranged and even how their gardens should be planted. They can also, on rare occasions, actually diagnose a house as unlivable (as happened recently in Malibu). If selling the property is on the agenda, it can all be more than a bit unnerving to even top real estate sales producers, not to mention sellers.
The popularity of Feng Shui, once more or less limited to Asians and nonconformists, has gone mainstream, too. Right up there with listings for “graffiti removal” and “dog sitting” in “Concierge,” a booklet of client services published by Coldwell Banker, the world’s largest real estate company, is “Feng Shui Consultants.” Patti Robbins-Vignal, an ex-John Robert Powers model, corporate executive and now Coldwell Banker’s local “Concierge” Feng Shui master, explains: “According to the principals of Feng Shui, subtle and invisible life energies called ‘ch’i’ are continually flowing around us.
“When ch’i is obstructed, we are out of balance and unable to overcome what seem to be insurmountable obstacles,” she says. “When ch’i flows in harmony and balance, we become keenly aware of the positive effects and feel uplifted. It’s my job to see that ch’i flows in an unobstructed manner.”
Teri Yarbrow, a creative consultant and Malibu resident for three years, doesn’t need to be convinced. Before she rented her house, she called in a Feng Shui master named Katherine Metz to look the place over. “The house is on the edge of a sheer drop,” Yarbrow says, “so all the ch’i was tumbling out the front door, down to the ocean. We stopped this by putting banners, red and pink, to stop its loss. The house is also a split level, so, according to the Feng Shui master, energy was split right at the entrance. They placed a crystal on the banister to unify the energy, Yarbrow says. Before Yarbrow recently began construction on a house in New Mexico, she again called in Metz. “She made a few changes,” Yarbrow says, “primarily realligning some doors and closets. It’s all just common sense, though.”
Common sense or not, the details can be daunting for the neophyte. For one thing, there are about a dozen versions of Feng Shui. Robbins-Vignal is a practitioner of “Black Hat,” the art of interior arrangements. There is also Compass, which dictates how and where our homes and offices should be built, and Tibetan, the most ancient.
It concerns itself not with rearranging the insides of our homes, but with the human beings who live in them. Beverly Taki, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Malibu, swears by it. Every morning, she sprays her checkbook with Dragon Bone, purportedly a concoction utilizing the remains of the mythical monsters that, lying for millions of years in a hidden location on the China-Tibet border, “absorbed a rare combination of magnetized materials” that provide “remarkable healings” for people. Dragon Bones “Platinum” version (sold by Robbins-Vignal for $29.50), is specifically claimed to provide “immediate help . . . attracting money and success.” “A week after I started spraying my checkbook, I sold two houses in one day,” Taki says happily. Admitting it might be just circumstantial, she gave her wallet another squirt nevertheless.
Does this mean if your house doesn’t pass Feng Shui muster, you should take out some earthquake or fire insurance and pray for a disaster? Not at all, according to Robbins-Vignal. “There is a solution for every problem,” she says. Some are easy; for instance, a sofa’s back should never face the front door (blocks the free-flow of ch’i) and planting red flowers (the color of power) are said to attract success. Relocating a home or office so its tranquillity is protected by a hill or mountain can be tougher. “Mirrors are the Band-Aids of Feng Shui,” she adds. “They can be arranged to redirect ch’i in posiive ways to provide harmony and peace in the home.” Often, she is called on by Realtors to “clear” houses that were not selling. One case she recalls vividly, involving a house where a murder had been committed. “I won’t tell you all my secrets,” she says, “but part of the cure involved burning sage, the purification herb, in all the rooms.”
“A decade ago, when I first became interested in Feng Shui, my clients were mostly Asian,” Robbins-Vignal says. “Few Americans knew what it was all about. Now my phone rings constantly. I think the reason for its popularity is that many see it as having a track record of proven success in bringing tranquillity and peace in an increasingly fast-paced, stressful world.”