To many, the principles of feng shui bring to mind the positioning of furniture in a living room, or the traffic patterns of a functional kitchen. In reality, feng shui is a much more holistic approach to living in accordance with nature — whole and complete. It involves the creation of balanced environments, based on the unique physical and psychological affinities — and aversions — in each of us. It means examining our cultural conditioning, family histories and life experiences to determine how best to live within our homes.
For Chris and Dawne Altemus, building a home in Bedford was the beginning of a new life. By selecting New Boston’s Windy Hill Associates, which lists feng shui consulting among its architectural services, the Altemuses embarked on a journey that led them to discoveries about their ideal physical space, as well as some refreshing affirmations about themselves.
Sitting down with Ellen Kambol, Windy Hill’s certified feng shui practitioner, the Altemuses learned how feng shui design principles could support their lifestyle through interdependence with the environment, and by striking a balance with their personal elements. Kambol, who also teaches for the Feng Shui Institute International, offered an objective assessment of the Altemuses’ needs, based on a review of their previous home, an in-depth questionnaire and a feng shui elemental assessment. Kambol’s discoveries made a significant impression on the Altemuses, and on the way they designed their new home.
Chris Altemus, whose assessment characterized him as a “wood” element, needed an outlet for his high energy and social nature. An outgoing entertainer and avid sportsman, Chris wanted open spaces to welcome family and friends. Dawne was assessed as a “fire” element. Her charismatic and enthusiastic nature was balanced with a more serene space, an intimate sanctuary where she could retreat after her high-energy work days or share a relaxing conversation with guests.
With the help of Kambol’s expertise, Windy Hill’s architect David Ely was able to provide a design that addressed the needs of both individuals. Now, when friends enter the Altemus home, they are welcomed into a large, traditional foyer that opens into an inviting game room with a pool table and bar. On one side of the expansive game room is a media room with a wide-screen television positioned on an interior wall. On the other side of the game room and down two stairs is a small sitting room with enormous windows and pooled lighting that looks out on the landscaped backyard. The couple can see one another from any vantage point within this interior space. “It was important to understand the family’s connection points within their home,” explains Kambol. “Chris can play pool or watch a game while Dawne sits by the fire and reads a book, and their daughter Amanda has a safe place to explore and play. They can all be in visual and physical proximity, even if they choose to relax in different ways.”
With their large extended family in mind, the design includes a roomy dining area with cove lighting and a rose wall — a color believed to calm and support digestion. The adjacent kitchen is fashioned in cherry, and opens to an exterior porch for grilling and an enclosed summer porch that looks out on the in-ground pool. The kitchen is positioned in such a way as to give the cooks both visual and auditory cues as people enter the house from the garage or backyard. “We didn’t want the kitchen to be the main gathering area,” Dawne says. “Ellen helped us delineate between prep space and eating area. We can relate to people, while working in the kitchen, without making them feel as if they’re in our way. They can hang out in the dining room or on the porches, and still talk with us.”
One humorous point of contention that was cleared up through Kambol’s insightful analysis was Chris’s need for a separate room to store his hockey gear. Coming home from late-night league games was not only disruptive for Dawne, but also a less-than-pleasant olfactory experience. Now Chris has a heated room in the garage where he can store his equipment as it dries. “It’s great,” Chris says. “I get out of the car, walk over to my equipment room, and never have to bring it into the house again.”
Many features in the house prove to be as harmonious for this couple as the equipment room. With their jobs as software engineer and financial services executive, the couple uses flex scheduling and a home office with two workstations to allow them to share the care of their daughter. When working outside of the home, they like to make a quick exodus in the morning, not even stopping for breakfast. Architect David Ely designed an exit strategy in the form of a double landing at the base of the master stairway that allows them to leave their bedroom, descend the stairs, and walk directly down a hall to the garage. “Chris and Dawne’s lifestyle specifics were the underpinning of the architectural decisions,” Kambol notes.
Kambol’s sense of style lent itself to more than the obvious over the life of this project. “Each paint choice, lighting fixture, and storage space was planned around the principles of feng shui, and with the Altemuses’ unique experiences in mind,” says Kambol. Indeed, there are connections and synergies in every corner of this dwelling, from a second-floor laundry that allows them to keep busy while getting Amanda ready for bed, to an office that allows them to be out of the way, yet still hear what the rest of the family is doing. Even the light reflectance values of the paint colors on the bedroom walls were chosen to enhance the glow of the morning sun.
“Windy Hill Associates designed the most comfortable, intuitive home we could imagine,” says Dawne. “With Ellen and David’s help, we grew to appreciate the principles of feng shui and how, when applied to our unique lifestyle, they gave us the most productive, fulfilling interaction possible with our home.” NH
Windy Hill Associates
Perfect Paint Colors
Feng shui expert Ellen Kambol says you have to consider not just the hue, but how light reflects from it.
Do you want the room you’re painting dark and cozy, bright and sunny or somewhere in between? Whatever the choice, to get the color exactly right, you need to find out what the color’s light reflectance value (LRV) is.
It’s technical, but worth knowing about. Here’s how it works: There’s a scale — 0 to 100 — that determines the amount of ambient light that will reflect off the surface of the wall. The higher the number, the more the light will be reflected.
If it’s a dark room on the north side of the building, you’ll want a relatively high light reflectance value. If it’s a sunny room, you want the LRV to be high enough to keep the room bright and cheerful, but low enough to not create a harsh, glaring environment. A very bright white will reflect back 99 percent of the light. It will also reflect the color of objects around it. A LRV of 3 means almost no light will reflect off the wall and the color will remain true.
Brian Zagorites of Arclight, a retail lighting store in Nashua, explains it this way: “If you put a 150 watt bulb in the middle of a white room, you’ll have evenly diffused bright light. If you paint the same room black, you create a small, but glaring circle of light. Most of the room will be dark.”
Color is not an indication of light reflectivity. Benjamin Moore’s white palette has more than 300 whites, and the values range from the high 60s to 99.9. You can get great results using a white with an LRV of 90 in bright spaces. A white of this value will be chameleon-like and pick up the differing natural light colors throughout the day without being harsh. A pale pink in an area with low ambient light will appear white and the calming benefits of the color will be subtle.
Historical colors usually have lower light reflectance values. They are going for a muted, but true color. The difference between a vivid green of medium intensity on the historical palette versus a vivid green of medium intensity on the yellow-green palette is that the historical color will have a powdery look and reflect about 20 percent less light.
Vivid colors with high LRV can take on an intense, neon-like appearance. This explains why people can choose what they think is a lovely buttery yellow only to end up with a finished room that feels bright enough to keep them awake at night.
Light reflectance changes can also be used to accent feature walls. Stay with the same color hue, but step down the light reflectance for one accent wall. Once you’ve found the color hue and intensity that you want to use, choose the color above or below it on the color chart. Use the paint with the lower light reflectance value in the well-lit area and choose the color with the higher value for the darker area. Changing light reflectance instead of color creates a smooth transition. Changing to a different color can be visually abrupt.
It is very important to take paint samples home and look at them in the space where they will be used. If you have a hard time visualizing, buy a pint and paint a sample board. You can ask your paint retailer to look up light reflectance values. You can order a professional color deck from www.benjaminmoore.com, or you can also hire a design professional to work with you on color selections.
You live with your color selections for a long time. It’s worth taking the time to get them just right. NH
This article appears in the March 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine