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The important link between the set-up of a home and one's wellbeing cannot be ignored, design experts said at the world's most diverse design event.
''I've always believed that your relationship with space is something beyond just furnishing it,'' says celebrated Paris-based architect and designer India Mahdavi. ''It has to do with comfort and happiness.''
Mahdavi was speaking at the sidelines of Design Days Dubai, the emirate's arts initiative launched by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority that brought 40 exhibitors from 20 countries and showcased 700 works from 145 designers.
Despite the undeniable connection between interiors and comfort, many people still tend to be intimidated by the concept of space, Mahdavi says. This is partly because interior design is still a very young industry.
''It's something new for people to hire interior designers,'' she says. ''And I also think they have this terrible complex with space. They don't know how to move things around so they can benefit the most out of the space they live in.''
Even before designing the interior of a home, it is important to have a layout that provides the right en baergy flow and flexibility, says Viktor Udzenija of Viktor Udzenija Architecture and Design. This is one of the reasons why many of his clients are slowly making the move to more contemporary designs, says the architect, who has worked on a number of villas and penthouses across the UAE, as well as projects such as the Central Market in Abu Dhabi and Index Tower at the Dubai International Financial Centre.
''Young nationals travel the world and they come back with contemporary experiences,'' he says. ''And what they appreciate are the big open spaces, the glass surfaces that let daylight in, the natural colours, natural materials — things that are easy to maintain. And all of that is related to architecture in that it's functional and clean.''
However, that does not mean that cultural identity must be compromised.
''There are new technologies, new materials, new ways of looking at things, so the identity can always be preserved,'' says Udzenija.
Creating functional spaces — those that meet the needs of daily life but are adapted to the local environment—is one of the core elements of architecture, Udzenija says. This includes factors such as natural ventilation, orientation to sunlight and reasonably sized rooms. The concept, however, is often lost in commercial developments, as developers and property owners try to make the most out of every square metre.
''So you'll see a three-bedroom apartment in what actually should be a two-bedroom unit,'' Udzenija says.
''I think that needs to change in commercial developments. There has to be more focus on comfort because people are getting more aware of what they should be getting for their money and there is a certain knowledge of what is a good layout, what is functional and what is not.''
One practice that is growing in popularity in Dubai is feng shui, a Chinese concept that takes into account different aspects of a home to determine its impact on its dwellers. It also incorporates balancing the five natural elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood to harness energy in a home. Using the feng shui compass, areas of the home can be designated into categories, such work, health and romance.
Feng shui, which in Chinese literally means wind (feng) and water (shui), was initially used for agricultural purposes and grave selection, explains Shivani Adalja from The Alignment Institute.
''Wind was associated with prosperity, so how the wind blew determined how the crops would grow. And water was always associated with good health,'' she says.
This theory can be used to explain why areas in Dubai that are surrounded by a good flow of wind and water, such as Downtown Dubai and the Dubai Creek, will always be prosperous, according to Adalja, whose clients include the Royal Group in Abu Dhabi, Wafi Group, Six Senses Spa and Ritz-Carlton.
There are many variations of feng shui, but practitioners say most of these are based on logic. Moreover, they also warn against those who are trying to exploit the practice for financial gain.
''A lot of the feng shui you see now is all about items, whether it's placing a frog or putting a Buddha. That's basically Chinese consumerism trying to sell you their items,'' Adalja says. ''The essence of feng shui is not about putting items, it is about harnessing energy—taking good energy from your environment and inviting it into your home.''
This is why feng shui interior designer and fine arts instructor Nahida Beshara says she combines different forms of the practice that are most suitable to the UAE culture.
''If you are from the Middle East, you have different beliefs, so I have to present or symbolise the same principles but adapt them to our culture,'' Beshara says. ''For example, they say the number four is bad because the way the Chinese pronounce four is similar to the way they pronounce death. In Arabic or English, this obviously doesn't apply.''
The location of a home will often determine the type of energy that passes through it, say feng shui experts. One important consideration in this respect is to stay away from traffic.
''If it's a villa, then it's always good to pick one that is at the end of the street because of the flow of traffic,'' says Adalja. ''Traffic by nature is fire energy because you have electrical cars moving up and down. Fire burns everything; it's not stable. So if you're at the beginning of the road and there's a big traffic junction, you won't feel stable at home.''
Similarly, people renting an apartment should avoid busy roads or buildings located next to traffic lights. Natural light, which is positive energy, and cross-ventilation, which helps energy flow, are also important.
A decent view of your surroundings also shouldn't be underestimated. Adalja says, ''This is a view that's going to accompany you day after day. This will also affect the energy of your home and, ultimately, the way you feel.''
The layout inside the home is also very important. According to feng shui, the main entrance to a home should be adjoined to a small corridor or foyer and should not open straight into the living room. It's also good to have small walkways or corridors leading to the bathroom.
''The main door is from where new energy enters, so you don't want it to hit you all at once,'' Beshara explains. ''And you don't want the negative energy from the bathroom hitting you every time you open the door.''
Homes with rectangular and square-shaped layouts are also favoured over oddly shaped homes with unusual angles for better flow of energy.
Energy is always neutral, but the elements it is exposed to in the environment will make it negative or positive. One of the most important rules of feng shui, therefore, is to declutter to allow the smooth flow of energy. This is especially important at the entrance of homes, Beshara says.
''The main entrance has to be inviting, clean and free of clutter,'' she says. ''When you come in you're coming in with new energy, fresh energy. You don't want this energy to be affected and turn it from positive to negative.''
Feng shui also doesn't necessarily mean throwing out old stuff. The same furniture can be rearranged to harness positive energy.
''Sofas in the living room should be placed so that you can see who's coming in,'' Beshara says. ''They should be placed in a manner that fosters friendly conversation, but not directly confronting each other. Beds in the bedrooms should also be facing the door, but not directly opposite it. You don't want the energy from outside hitting you while you're trying to sleep.''
Feng shui also discourages the use of sharp edges, whether in furniture or building design. ''Sharp edges create sharp energy that hits your body more forcefully,'' Adalja explains. ''So over a period of time, if you have too many of these sharp corners pointing at you, you might not feel well.''
One's subconscious also plays a role in this dynamic, according to Beshara. ''Indirectly, when you look at any sharp edge, you think that sharp edge could hurt you, or potentially cause harm,'' she says. ''Sometimes, it all comes down to how changing what you see can change the way you feel.''
Using natural, unprocessed material such as crystals and gemstones is also favoured by feng shui practitioners because of their purity.
''Natural energy is the purest form of energy because it hasn't been processed or exposed to other factors in the environment,'' says Beshara. ''But because it is the purest, it can also be very powerful, so it must be used wisely.''
Many designers implement similar thought processes into their work. Carla Baz, a French-Lebanese furniture designer, reflects her preference for round, curvaceous shapes and natural material in her work. Through Squad, a Beirut-based contemporary furniture producer that endorses and sponsors young talent, Baz demonstrated her latest work — the Domes series of multi-usage tables — at Design Days Dubai. Crafted from fibreglass and polished stone, the tables reflect Baz's appreciation of sober art forms.
''There's something holistic about using natural material and the way you react to it,'' Baz says. ''It is a kind of living material, so you treat it with respect in the way you carve it or in the way you polish stone, for example, which is as timeless a material as can be in the design world.
''It's a more sensual relationship and it gives a sense of harmony, peace and tranquility in its environment.''
According to feng shui, chairs and sofas should have back and arm support, and headboards should be installed on beds to give a sense of security. Feng shui practitioners also say that mirrors, which can double the level of energy, should be placed strategically and not directly opposite beds and entrances.
If not used wisely, mirrors can result in energy overload. If mirrors are placed directly opposite a bed, a person's resting energy, or aura, is reflected while sleeping, Adalja explains. This could lead to poor sleep quality and even fights between partners.
Beshara explains the philosophy in another sense. ''You may wake up in shock feeling that someone is there because of your reflection,'' she says. ''It's a small feeling of panic and you're hitting your body with negative thoughts when you are in that vulnerable state. Energy is not only in your feelings, it's also in your thoughts.''
Colours and artwork
Beshara says she once redesigned the home of a client who complained about her hyperactive children.
''I went into the children's bedroom and it was painted with bright reds and oranges. There were images of race cars and aeroplane models were hanging everywhere,'' she says. ''Everything was loud and moving very fast. Of course the children were going to be hyperactive. There was nothing to remind them about studying and concentration.''
According to feng shui, colours represent one of the five natural elements and their use must be balanced. But there are rules of thumb people can follow when choosing colours for different rooms in the home.
''Keep the active colours such as reds, oranges and purples for active areas of your home, such as the living room and dining room, and use calmer pastel colours such as white, lemon yellow and mint green for the bedroom,'' Adalja says.
The choice of artwork and other objects also has an impact on the energy in a home. This is one of the reasons why dark and dreary artworks should be avoided.
''The painting that you buy is a timeless piece, so it should have a good meaning for you,'' Beshara says. ''You're not entering a museum, you're entering a home that should be your sanctuary from the outside world.
''Keep only the things that have purpose and that please your eyes, make you happy and motivate you.''
Turn off the lights
Feng shui practitioners and interior designers agree that bright lights must be avoided in the bedroom. This does not only refer to light bulbs, but also to televisions, smartphones, laptops, tablets and even digital clocks.
''The flickering light from the laptop affects your eyes, stimulates your brain and affects the quality of your sleep,'' says feng shui expert Vicky Moane.
Recent studies on the relationship between light exposure and sleep have revealed that bright light exposure at night disrupts the circadian rhythm — the body's biological clock — and the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.
''This hormone will peak at the time of sleep. When there is darkness, our eyes will send a signal to the pituitary gland, which will then start to secrete melatonin,'' explains Dr Emad Kowatli, director of the sleep lab at the American Hospital Dubai. ''This will usually start to happen when the sun starts setting. If someone is looking at bright lights late at night, this will suppress melatonin production.''
This is why many people who work until late at night or on the night shift will have chronic insomnia, Dr Kowatli says, adding that it takes between two and three hours for the sleep hormone to peak again once the environment is suitable.
In addition to inducing an almost irresistible urge to sleep, the same hormone has also been shown to lower blood pressure and body temperature, says Dr Shadi Sharifi, a specialist in neurophysiology and sleep medicine at the Saudi German Hospital — Dubai.
''Consequences of prolonged circadian disruption are associated with an increase of developing certain diseases, such as depression, hypertension, cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune deficiency and more,'' says Dr Sharifi.
Source: Manal Ismail, Special to Property Weekly