The 5 Elements of Feng Shui

Learn how a balance of wood, fire, earth, metal and water can bring balance to your space and your life.

By: Stephanie McWilliams

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Feng shui divides the world into five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. If you have a room that doesn't feel quite right, try balancing the elements to make it more comfortable. Each element invokes a different mood, creating a customized space that's beneficial for your personality and goals. Here's a look at each one and how to incorporate it into your home, yard or office design.

1. Wood

Wood harnesses the power of creativity and expansion while representing traits such as growth, birth, strength, flexibility and intuition. Too much wood can make you feel overwhelmed, rigid, stubborn and inflexible, whereas too little can show up as a lack of creativity or depression, ambivalence and stagnancy.

When designing with the wood element, use shapes that mimic the vertical, column-like shape of tree trunks and the softness of leaves and flowers. Like the leaves and sky, wood's colors are green and blue. Consider incorporating the following types of objects:

  • fresh and silk flowers
  • plants and trees
  • cotton and other natural fabrics
  • wood furniture
“The bedroom feels like home with lots of cultural references,” Joy reflects. Those references range from patterns and furniture to the large West African fiddle leaf fig that stands proudly in the corner of the room. “I love how fresh and open it feels,” she confesses. “Every afternoon a ton of sunlight floods in.”

Creating a Bright and Colorful Bedroom Corner

Adding a wood element can be as simple as incorporating a houseplant, such as this fiddle leaf fig, into your decor.

Photo by: Megan Easterday

Megan Easterday

Adding a wood element can be as simple as incorporating a houseplant, such as this fiddle leaf fig, into your decor.

2. Fire

Increase enthusiasm and leadership skills by maximizing the fire element. Use this element in design to encourage expressiveness, inspiration and boldness. When there's an overabundance of fire, it can show itself as anger, aggression, irritability and impulsive behavior, whereas too little can show up as emotional coldness, lack of vision, inexpressiveness and a lack of self-esteem.

To expand the fire element in your space, add:

  • candles, incandescent lights and sunlight
  • any shade of red, pink or purple
  • electronic equipment
  • animal prints
Patterned Roman Shades Flank Warm Wood-Trimmed Fireplace

Cozy Bedroom Fireplace

Fire elements in this whimsical bedroom include the cozy wood-trimmed fireplace as well as the magenta painted rattan chair.

Photo by: Kip Dawkins

Kip Dawkins

Fire elements in this whimsical bedroom include the cozy wood-trimmed fireplace as well as the magenta painted rattan chair.

3. Earth

Earth affects physical strength and order while generating an overall feeling of grounding, balance and stability. When there's an overabundance of earth in a space, people will often notice a heavy sensation and experience more boredom, sluggishness and seriousness. When there's too little earth, people may feel disorganized, chaotic and unfocused.

To bring in the element, add:

  • anything in earth tones (brown, green or sand)
  • square and rectangular shapes
  • low, flat surfaces
  • images of landscapes
A neutral landscape painting in the guest bedroom is an artistic nod to the coastal North Cape Fear River locale of HGTV Smart Home 2022 and plays off the room’s color scheme.

Artistic River Accent

A neutral landscape painting in the guest bedroom is an artistic nod to the coastal North Cape Fear River locale of HGTV Smart Home 2022 and plays off the room’s color scheme.

Photo by: Joseph Bradshaw

Joseph Bradshaw

A neutral landscape painting in the guest bedroom is an artistic nod to the coastal North Cape Fear River locale of HGTV Smart Home 2022 and plays off the room’s color scheme.

4. Metal

Metal affects mental clarity and logic. The presence of metal within a room can be felt in personal characteristics such as organization, focus, righteousness and analytical abilities. When surrounded with too much metal, you can be seen as chatty, overly critical and prone to speaking without thinking. When there's too little metal, you may notice a feeling of quiet, cautiousness and lack of focus.

When enhancing a space with metal, add:

  • round or oval shapes
  • anything made of metals, including iron, aluminum, gold or silver
  • rocks and stones
  • white, gray, silver or light pastel colors
Closeup of Round Drawer Pulls on Textured Metal Chest

Round Drawer Handles on Hardy Metal Chest

This vintage riveted metal chest has all the elements of metal, from the material itself to the silver-gray color to the round-shaped pulls.

This vintage riveted metal chest has all the elements of metal, from the material itself to the silver-gray color to the round-shaped pulls.

5. Water

Water's domain encompasses spirituality and the emotions. A balance of water brings about inspiration, wisdom and insightfulness. Too much water can create the feeling of unbalanced transition and the sense that you're drowning emotionally. It can make you feel overwhelmed and overly social. When there's too little water, you may experience a lack of sympathy, loneliness, isolation, stress and pettiness.

When incorporating the water element, add:

  • the color black or any deep, dark tones
  • reflective surfaces, such as mirrors and gazing balls
  • wavy, free-form or asymmetrical shapes
  • water or water features, such as aquariums and fountains
Reflecting Pool

Reflecting Pool With Waterfalls

A reflecting pool creates spa-like calm in this backyard. Greenery tumbles over the edge of the planter boxes and the waterfalls layer in peaceful sound.

Photo by: Spacecrafting Photography

Spacecrafting Photography

A reflecting pool creates spa-like calm in this backyard. Greenery tumbles over the edge of the planter boxes and the waterfalls layer in peaceful sound.

Pulling It Together

Now that you understand the basic characteristics of each element, keep in mind one more thing: The objects in your home very often have several elements reflected within each of them. For example, a red flowerpot full of white tulips would represent four of the five elements. The red pot represents fire, the clay pot itself is earth, the flowers represent wood and the white of the tulips are metal.

Begin playing with the arrangement of elements by starting small, with an entry table or a dresser in your bedroom. Add your red flowerpot of tulips and a few other items, such as a mirror for water and an arrangement of polished stones for metal.

To tackle an entire room, start by noticing and labeling all the objects within a space. If you find yourself using a specific room less than others or avoiding it altogether, the elemental balance may need some adjusting. Be on the lookout for rooms made up of only one or two elements. By adding in objects that represent those missing elements, you'll be well on your way to creating a balanced and inviting room.

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