The Love Of A Roaring Fire

Feng Shui has become a new trendy discipline that we look to for guidance in our homes both in how we decorate and how we live.  Vastu Shastra is actually the predecessor to Feng Shui.  Both are sciences that are a bridge between man and nature and offer guidelines to help set things in balance with the five elements of nature- Earth, Fire, Water, Space and Air.

The element of Fire is important in Nature for many reasons.  For one thing, Ecosystems depend on fire to balance environments.  I love going to different Nature Preserves in the Chicago area and observing first hand how this all works.

Laura and Tommy Balzer’s Country Home

Laura and Tommy Balzer’s Country Home

Throughout the history of civilization humans have used fire as a means of cooking and to obtain warmth.  Most of us were taught in elementary school about the discovery of fire.   I can still remember some of the pictures in both science and history books depicting this discovery.  I can also remember thinking fire was a simple concept and what was all the hoopla about anyway?

In today’s world, we take fire for granted.  Electric and gas utilities have allowed us to become “modernized”.   An open fire in a wood burning stove or fireplace is rare.  What was once considered commonplace, a roaring fire, today is typically meant for a time of relaxation.

I love fire and everything about it.  I love the burst of colors, the flickering flames, the smell and the sound of fire.  Some of my fondest memories include times around a roaring fire.  Growing up, the fireplace was in our living room.  No Christmas morning was complete without a fire burning to set the mood.  At the beach (Sandbridge, VA) we used to have bonfires at night.  To this day I think the best hot dogs come from roasting them on an open flame as the waves of the ocean crash nearby.  Marshmallows?  Who doesn’t love roasting them and making s’mores in the beautiful outdoors under a starlit sky?  Now, all grown-up (supposedly…) my David and I enjoy sitting in front of fires both inside and outdoors.  We have a small fire pit that we enjoy on cool fall evenings.  A fire like this sets the mood for quiet contemplation for us both.  What better way to spend time with someone you love than in quiet contemplation?  And, early the next morning after an outdoor fire the smell of smoke still lingers.  Talk about warm fuzzies!

My children grew up loving fire as well.  In fact, all three of my children learned to love and respect fire and understood how to build a fire at very young ages while camping and enjoying the outdoors.  Just ask any one of them and they will tell you potatoes cooked deep in the coals of an outdoor fire are the bomb.  Bonfires at Hunt camp were and still are a family tradition as well.  And, my son Ben even designed and built his own outdoor fire pit.  In a recent post, Home Through The Eyes Of My Son, Ben said, “The fire pit always draws a crowd when friends are over but I can also sit there by myself for hours and feed my love of nature.”

Coco Brami’s favorite spot

Coco Brami’s favorite spot

One of my sisters, Mary Ann (along with her husband, Jim) even has an annual woodcutting tradition.  All four daughters and their families along with close friends spend an entire weekend cutting wood for the coming fall and winter.  Believe me, I have many times enjoyed the wood from this weekend work the McAden family does.  Just last fall I happened to be in Roanoke for a few days.  Mary Ann and I came home after a full day of visiting our mother at Richfield (Mom’s Alzheimer’s Facility) and what did we come home to?  A fireplace full of wood readied for a beautiful fire greeted us and all we had to do was light a match!  Jim was playing tennis or soccer, I can’t remember which but he had readied a fire for us.  It was wonderful!  What a loving gesture in this simple thing he had done for us!  We were able to sit back, watch the fire roar to life and enjoy time together as sisters.

Architects, Designers and Decorators incorporate outdoor living spaces in most plans for their clients.  There is no coincidence that homes of today include these outdoor living spaces with gorgeous stone fireplaces or fire pits. We silly humans have spent so many, many years removing ourselves from nature by way of advancing technology that we have forgotten what nature does for us.  No electric or gas heat is going to give you the feel good vibes of watching a fire burn.  It is no wonder we are now creating spaces to return to fire!

Marc Killips to the rescue

Marc Killips to the rescue

Clearly, the sight, sounds and smell of fire bring different images and memories to each of us.  Just last weekend a colleague of David’s came over to our house to cut down a tree that was damaged in a summer storm.  Marc Killips and his son cut the tree down and then cut the wood up to haul off for their own family fires.  I have no doubt that Marc and his family will enjoy the fire more knowing the work they put into getting it.  Talk about memory building!  (By the way, more on Marc and his boys in an upcoming post, Actions Speak Louder Than Words.)

Why not begin to enjoy the benefits of fire for yourself?  Just sitting in front of a fire can relax you in ways that are incredible.  Fire brings people together, too.  It is a great way to socialize!  Use this fall and the coming winter as one more way to connect or reconnect with nature and begin to enjoy a roaring fire.  I can almost guarantee that you will feel relaxed, restored and renewed.  Nature has a way of doing that to us!

Lilly and Thomas enjoying s’mores

Lilly and Thomas enjoying s’mores

Enjoy the fire…

For a full album of beautiful examples of fireplaces and fire pits be sure to go to my Facebook Fanpage, livinginperfectharmony.

An Asian Inspired Relaxation Garden

When my wife and I were house hunting, for myself, it was not the great neighborhood, yard or even the house itself that had me sold.  They were all wonderful, but it was the courtyard in the center of the home that sealed the deal.  When we bought the house the courtyard held a fish pond, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the pond became a garden.  It was the perfect space to bring the outdoors in and was destined to become a place to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  In fact, I am enjoying the courtyard as I write this.

Koi in pond

Japanese koi in pond

The most important point to take away from this article is not how to create a garden with an Asian theme, but rather to inspire you to build your own relaxation space.  Japanese gardens speak to me the most, so our space would incorporate those aesthetics.  Your relaxation garden should also be personal and may be completely different – a shady spot in the backyard, an ivy covered alcove between buildings or a rustic bench by a lazy river.  What matters most is that it is a space where you can get away to enjoy some personal time.  We all need to recharge and what better place than in your own garden.

Designing Your Relaxation Garden

Since our goal is to create a space to relax in, the following are suggestions to keep it that way.

Create a Simple Garden

Regardless of the type of garden you design, my first suggestion is to keep it simple.  The Asian garden would draw from nature and use subtle tones for a calming feel.  Incorporate a natural color palette and pay attention to the textures you plan to include.  You do not want it to be too busy.  For example, I love variegated plants, but an entire garden of them would be distracting.  Instead, use them sparingly as accent plantings.

Keep it Low Maintenance

Cat on mossy stepping stones

Pets need quiet space too!

While I find gardening therapeutic, this space is meant for relaxation.  Select plants that are hardy, easy to grow and that do not require a lot of special attention.  Our garden is shady, so we included hosta, ferns and Solomon’s Seal.  You may prefer grasses for sunny spots or cacti for areas where water is an issue.  I recommend perennials that return year after year, but it helps to “grow what you know.”  You do not want to be worrying about whether your plants will do well.  Plan the garden and consult a nursery if you have questions.

Since this article touches on Asian gardens, I feel compelled to steer you away from planting bamboo.  And that is coming from a self-confessed bamboo addict!  Unless you keep it in pots or really understand what you are planting, it is best to use the canes as decoration or to stay away from it entirely.   Other potentially invasive plants to avoid would include aggressive vines and groundcovers like Vinca.

Mulch and rocks are useful in low maintenance gardens.  Mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil moist and adds nutrients.  This means you will be spending less time weeding, watering, and your plants will be healthier.  Rocks are virtually maintenance-free, so think about incorporating a nice specimen or decorative gravel.

Develop the Mood

Consider all your senses to help enhance the mood of your garden.  Ours has a stone lantern that is nice during the day, but adds something special to the garden at night when lit.  We also have a moss-covered pathway in our courtyard that we use to get from our living room to the kitchen.  Moss between rocks feels great on bare feet, or substitute with Corsican mint that gives off a minty fragrance when you walk on it.  Flowering plants offer an unlimited variety of smells to work with.  Plant something that only blooms during a particular time of the day, like a Moonflower, for a special treat during your time off.  Water features are great as well.  Even a simple fountain, like a boulder or pot that recirculates water, can add a very soothing touch.  If you want something really unique, build a suikinkutsu.   Choose bells or chimes if you prefer those sounds.

Think Seasonally

Snow in Japanese garden

Our courtyard in winter

My final suggestion is to remember that your garden will change throughout the seasons, so keep that in mind when you are planning it.  Pay attention to which plants will be seen during each season and their colors, as they may change.  Use evergreens for consistent color and texture.  Flowers, trees and shrubs can all be used for seasonal color.  Select plants that bloom at different intervals to have something blooming throughout the season.  Also, try to think past blooms and foliage – specimens with interesting bark can add color and interest even in the dead of winter.

Under the Asian Influence

If you are truly interested in designing an Asian garden, I suggest starting your research with the image search on Google.  Save images you like in a folder to refer to later.  Keep an eye out for features that make a garden distinctly Asian and learn more about them.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Asymmetry – Asymmetrical balance is a core tenet of Japanese art and culture.
  • Shakkei – Concept of “borrowing” scenery to make your garden appear larger than it really is.
  • Wabi-sabi – Incorporate weathered objects to give your garden an ancient feel.  Paint moss on lanterns and rocks to simulate aging.
  • Yūgen – Partially obscuring objects to suggest their beauty. This leaves something for the imagination.

Regardless of the type of relaxation garden you design, keep it simple and personal.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it.  Visit your garden often and experience the changes throughout the year.

Happy gardening relaxing!

What is Living in Perfect Harmony?

So, what is “Living In Perfect Harmony” all about?  Is this site just to teach about Vastu Shastra?  Feng Shui?

Yes, both of these philosophies will be integrated in my plan. However, they are only springboards of knowledge that reinforced what I already intuitively knew.

Let me explain…

As a young girl I felt pretty weird.  Quirky if you will.  You see I loved nothing more than to constantly redecorate my bedroom I shared with my sister Mary Ann.  I did this almost every season and it brought me all kinds of joy.

Maybe because I shared a room with her I had to find some way to make my part of the space unique.

Over the years of living together there were many, many battles and we would create invisible lines of demarcation in our room that kept each other out. Funny, my bed was on the opposite side of the room from my closet.  It was the same for Mary Ann.  Poor planning I guess!  So, we had to devise special rules of when we could cross these invisible lines of demarcation in order to dress for school, church, or activities each day.

By the way- if you know Mary Ann, ask her about my turtle!!!

Anyway, I soon realized I loved positioning things in my bedroom and even throughout my family home.

Next, I obsessed over the homes of my girlfriends.  Some I offered my suggestions to and others I just ruminated over in my head all the changes that needed to occur in these spaces without ever saying a word.  Suffice it to say; to this day I remember in vivid detail most of the homes of my friends I grew up with.

I never forget detail.

The art of picture hanging and other musings.

Flash forward many years and I soon learned I had developed quirky hobbies as well.  My greatest joys came when I walked or drove through neighborhoods at night and nonchalantly peered into windows (from the road mind you, I am not a voyeur) and recreated the interiors I would see. My, my, my- so many houses needed work!  Do you know how many pictures are hung too high?  Do you know how many are hung in the wrong place?

Before long I was focusing on the yards in the daylight hours.  So much work to be done there, too!  My obsession was growing- what about the back yard?  What about the window treatments or lack thereof  (so many people leave the garage windows untreated and all you see is the mess and clutter of the garage)?

The Energy of the Home

All this time I began to understand that there were vibes I felt from these homes.  I could feel them.

After abrupt changes in my personal life occurred (what I call trauma-drama), I set out to start a new company.  I partnered with my daughter, Sammi.  I did the decorating and design and she took care of the business side of things. (Anyone that knows me knows I have lousy math skills!)

I began to realize something more was going on in the spaces I helped flower.  On the surface I was changing colors, changing fabrics and updating the look.  But way down underneath all this I was doing much, much more.  With every subtle change I was incorporating into the plan, the rhythm and flow of the house began to change.  I began to “feel” the shift in the energy.  Homespaces and workspaces became more balanced and relaxed.  I could absolutely feel it.

Today I am a “know it all” just waiting to teach.  It is my mission.  It is my passion.  It is my calling.  Prepare to be taught.

One thought…

Your homespace is a window to your soul.

“Spike” The Next Generation. Photo credit: Sammi Blake