NIAGARA FALLS -- Christine Bruno was worried her Lewiston home would not sell. On the advice of a practitioner of the ancient Eastern art of feng shui, she strategically placed a fountain in her home. That week, two prospective buyers came to look at her house.
Summit Park Mall retailer Christopher Amoroso wondered why he couldn't attract more customers to his 800 Express booth. Consultation with a friend versed in feng shui convinced him to rearrange his sales counters. In a short time, he said, sales nearly doubled.
Feng shui (pronounced fung-shway), a holistic method of analyzing and rearranging furniture and items within a home or office, was practiced for centuries in China. Discouraged under Communist rule, the technique remained important in Hong Kong, where feng shui has been so accepted that even Western businesses consulted feng shui masters when establishing offices there.
The technique is growing in popularity in the U.S., where Eastern masters have recently begun teaching eager Western students.
Ms. Bruno and Amoroso consulted Robert Gellman, a psychotherapist trained in the art of feng shui. Recently returned to the Niagara Falls area from New York City, Gellman founded The Intuitive Design Co. earlier this year.
An interior designer, Ms. Bruno recently joined Gellman's firm, along with marketing adviser Beverly Sojka of Buffalo.
Gellman began practicing feng shui about one year ago, drawn by the holistic concept of organizing one's space to improve the overall health and flow of energy, or chi -- an integral component of the technique.
"As a mind-body person, I was naturally interested in the effect of the mind on the body. As an outgrowth of that, I was also interested in the effect of one's environment on the mind and the body," Gellman said.
Since Intuitive Design was founded in March, the company has advised more than 15 area individuals and businesses.
The ancient technique is based in the Taoist religion. While mystical at times -- Gellman says he still cannot explain in words why the technique works the way it does -- feng shui can also be practical.
At 800 Express, Amoroso recalled that he had two counters, put at right angles, right in front of the door. The higher counter was first; the next, lower counter was perpendicular to it. Gellman suggested Amoroso switch the two counters, placing the lower counter in front and the higher counter behind it.
"It's a very, very simple concept that makes a lot more sense that what it seems to on the surface," Amoroso said. "You don't put merchandise in front of other merchandise, because then it isn't all visible."
In feng shui, a chart called a Ba-Gua divides each room or home into eight areas. Career, knowledge, family, wealth, fame, marriage, children and benefactors are the areas that form a rough octagon around the edges of a room. Health is in the center of the octagon.
Feng shui teaches that the placement of certain objects in each area will affect how well a person is doing in that area of their lives. Plants, mirrors, crystals and fountains (or bowls of water) are used to enhance or deflect energy through each of these areas in a person's room, home or office.
For example, carefully placing a fountain in the "wealth" area of a room may improve a person's finances.
When Intuitive Design consultants enter a space, clients are given a brief description of the technique and a list of 12 questions, to determine which areas of a person's life need focus, clarity or enhancement, Gellman said.
Intuitive Design works out floor plans and color schemes. New items, such as a fountain or plants, may be suggested to enhance the flow of energy in a room. The shape of objects, their configuration (often, centered), and colors are also considered.
For example, black and red are considered very powerful and should be balanced within a space. In one home, a blue rug is placed under yellow couches and chairs in an area where the homeowner regularly holds informal meetings. The blue represents free-flowing ideas, like water.
A desk and bookcases may be appropriate for a knowledge area, Gellman said.
Intuitive Design charges $50 an hour for its services. The length of time and the cost of an initial feng shui consultation, with questionnaire and photographs of the space to be rearranged, varies according to the size and complexity of the space.
Feng Shui's popularity continues to grow in the U.S. It is featured in design magazines and on television talk shows like Good Morning America and Oprah. In five years, the number of feng shui sites on the World Wide Web has grown from about 50 to more than 5,000.
In Western New York, Gellman is founding The Life Design Center, an educational institute for learning about feng shui through workshops and seminars. He is also writing a book about the technique from a Westerner's viewpoint.
At Buffalo State College, interior design students learn about the technique as part of their training, said Terry Postero, interior design program coordinator.
As the technique becomes more popular there is a need for more education, said Jane Lily, an assistant design professor at Buffalo State College who has studied various feng shui techniques and similar techniques in other cultures.
Feng shui, she said, "is not a design technique, so much as a series of formulas based on religious practices. If a person would like feng shui used, my feeling is that they should understand it is a part of the Taoist religion," she said. "They should confirm with themselves not necessarily that they are believers of that religion, but that they understand this is a religious practice."
Before hiring someone to do feng shui in a home or business, Ms. Lily suggests potential clients check credentials to make sure the person learned the technique from a feng shui master.
Ms. Bruno has her own theory about the technique's popularity. "I think more and more people are on the path of peacefulness and harmony in their lives. And there are lots of people who want it, but they just don't know how to get it."
Feng shui, she said, seems to offer that option.
Workshops in feng shui, taught by Robert Gellman, are scheduled for: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 20 at Niagara County Community College (two sessions); and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 22 at Buffalo State College (three sessions). For more information, call The Intuitive Design Co. at 282-3827.
For more information about the technique, Ms. Lily suggests Sarah Rossbach's "Interior Design with Feng Shui" (Penguin, 1987).