When it comes to our homes, many of us have specific ideas about how things should be set up. Aside from the obvious need to have a home function properly (you’d never put your coat rack in the bathroom, would you?), many of our ideas are rooted in cultural superstitions and customs that have been passed down through generations. Have you ever stopped to think about just where these ideas really come from? To get to the bottom of it all, we did a little research and spoke with a few experts who helped us uncover some of the more popular and not-so-popular customs from around the world.
Many of the more familiar practices come by way of Feng Shui, the ancient art of placement. A nearly 3,000-5,000-year-old Chinese philosophy, Feng Shui is also referred to as the “acupuncture of the home,” says Joan Stigliano, Feng Shui practitioner/educator and principal of Joan Stigliano Interior Planning—Feng Shui & Eco-Design in Locust Valley. “In an interior space, Feng Shui is really all about the movement of energy, or chi. By arranging one’s home according to Feng Shui principles helps an individual create a balanced environment, one that encourages good health, prosperity and happiness.”
That being said, how many of us are insistent on having plants in our homes? Of course science proves they remove carbon dioxide and fill our homes with oxygen. “But they also boost the flow of positive chi, or energy, often bringing luck,” says Stigliano. “Think about it: why do we bring an ill family member or friend a bouquet of flowers? It’s to boost their spirits and their energy.”
However, if you are bringing flowers to someone’s home in China, you must be careful of the type of flower you choose. “We are very careful to never use carnations when designing wallpapers for the Chinese market,” says Paula Berberian, creative services manager, Brewster Home Fashions/Wall Pops Art. “The carnation is considered the flower of death.”
Another popular Feng Shui principle is to make sure that your front door is clearly visible and easily accessible from the street. “Having this clear path allows positive energy to enter through your front door and circulate throughout your home,” says Stigliano. And, she says, painting your front door red doesn’t hurt either. The color red is known to attract positive energy.Moving on to other cultures and countries around the world, Italians are certainly known for their superstitions. One my personal favorites (taught to me by my husband) is to always make sure any bread in the home is always right side up, otherwise it’s bad luck. Good to know for dinner parties or when you’re hosting your in-laws for dinner. Speaking of dinner parties, it’s always better to serve an even number of dishes and make sure to never sea t someone at the corner of a table—they may never marry.
Another surprising superstition both the Italians and the Irish firmly believe is to never have birds (decorative or real) in the home. “I can hear my grandmother now,” recalls east coast interior design expert Edward Tracey, “You should be able to look at birds outside, not inside. Birds are meant to be free.” Too bad, since so many of us have been embracing the recent trend of decorative bird cages in our homes.
Berberian echoes the disappointment in this custom. “Birds are very popular in home design today. You see them in bedding, tabletop, fabrics, wall art—everywhere,” she says. “It’s surprising that so many cultures consider birds in the home to be bad luck!”
Now on to some good luck. There is a reason that so many of us in this country are obsessed with de-cluttering our homes. Not only does it help us find our car keys in the morning, but often, it can bring a positive change into the home. “Clutter blocks the physical and emotional energy in our lives,” explains Stigliano. “Clearing it out makes room for new, positive things to enter your life.”
While it would do good for all of us to keep these customs and superstitions in mind (who couldn’t use a little more good luck?), new homeowners should pay special attention to the customs that focus on, well, new homes.
Italian and Chinese cultures (by way of Feng Shui) believe it is important to rid a new home of any evil spirits or bad energy left by the previous owners. For the Italians, many would invite a priest to come and bless the home or even go so far as perform an exorcism. Here, today, most Italian-Americans may settle on placing a new broom in the home to “sweep away” the evil spirits and sprinkle salt in corners to help purify their new abode.
As for followers of Feng Shui, some form of renovation will do. Whether that be a fresh coat of paint, the replacement of floors or another larger form of renovation, the key is to rid your home of any bad chi or energy that the previous owner may have had.
Whether you do or don’t believe in superstitions, follow any of the customs mentioned above or perhaps have some of your own, embrace all of it. It’s what makes your house your home.