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I’m a feng shui expert. These are the only colors I would paint my kitchen
I’m a feng shui expert. These are the only colors I would paint my kitchen

The term “feng shui” usually conjures up images of furniture arrangements, but you can apply these ancient Chinese spatial laws to other aspects of your home beyond optimizing room layouts. To learn more about how to bring the good vibes to our kitchen, we tapped certified feng shui expert Laura Cerrano for simple, actionable tips for making the most of an oft-used space that carries particular significance when it comes to feng shui.

“According to feng shui, the three areas of your home that relate to your well-being include the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen,” Cerrano says. “They are also known as ‘the energy triangle.’” Incorporating a few key principles into your kitchen can be especially beneficial to improving the overall well-being areas of your home. “The kitchen in its own respect relates to nourishing the body and serves as a space where families gather to share stories and meals, so making the time to establish a homey kitchen, no matter its size, can offer many benefits,” Cerrano says.

Read on for Cerrano’s foolproof feng shui kitchen tips, including the best colors for your cabinets, the reason you should always keep a bowl of fruit on your countertop and the surprising home accessory that could double the energy of wealth in your space.

Consider lighting 

To bring the good vibes to your kitchen, particularly if it’s a small one, “good lighting is vital,” says Cerrano. “Avoid fluorescent light bulbs if you can, and experiment with different levels of lighting. Become present with this simple change, and sense the shift in energy each one of them brings.

“For a space to have a better quality of energy, at least two to three layers of lighting are recommended, which can include natural lighting from the windows,” she explains. “The use of a mirror in a small kitchen could offer the opportunity to expand the spatial perspective and bring in more light.”

When incorporating a mirror into your kitchen, placement is everything, according to Cerrano. “If you choose to hang or lean a mirror within the kitchen, be sure it reflects your entire head, shoulders, and chest,” she says. “This is called, ‘capturing your aura,’ or in other words, it’s a metaphor of seeing yourself, others, and life with clarity.”

Respect your stove

“This suggestion is from the Black Sect Esoteric Buddhism School, developed by professor Thomas Lin Yun,” explains Cerrano. “He transformed ancient Buddhism and Chinese philosophies to be adapted to the modern life and to address modern issues and challenges.”

To determine whether or not you’re giving this key kitchen appliance its due, Cerrano suggests keeping these key questions in mind:

1. Is it working properly?

2. Is it clean?

3. Do you use it to cook, or is it just sitting there?

4. If you do cook, how often do you alternate the burners you use?

“If you answered no to having a clean stove, no to it properly working, no to cooking, and no to alternating the burners, you may want to rethink how you treat your stove,” says Cerrano. “Why? In BTB feng shui, it’s believed that all things, including inanimate objects and appliances, have a spirit and tell a story. The stove is associated with wealth (even if it’s not in the wealth life section of your home).”

So what does it mean if you answered no to any of the above questions about your stove? “When it’s not properly working, it’s said to represent ‘lack’ and how that could be translated is different for each person,” she explains. “When you’re not alternating the use of your stove’s burners, it’s said that you could be subconsciously choosing to not allow possible new opportunities into your life. By not keeping your stove clean, it’s said you are not honoring wealth (however you wish to define wealth). And if you do not use the stove at all, it’s said wealth is not being ‘ignited’ and promotes more stillness.”

What can you do to ensure you’re respecting your stove? “If anything, at least once a year, give your stove a good cleaning, and use it from time to time,” Cerrano says. “Remember to alternate the burners, and if you can’t use all of them, at least go back and forth between two of them.”

If you want to take it to the next level, Cerrano has a clever suggestion for ensuring your stove plays a central role in your kitchen’s feng shui. “You could also consider placing a mirror behind the stove,” she says. “In essence, the mirror’s purpose would be to ‘double’ the energy of wealth by reflecting the stove burners. Not only that, but it could also help expand the spatial feeling of a small kitchen.”

“Adding a mirror behind your stove also comes in handy if the cook is arranged in an un-commanding position, meaning you can’t see who is approaching you from behind,” she says. “The mirror allows you to see behind you, thus reestablishing a command position.”

Keep color in mind

Beyond layout and appliance arrangement, color can have a significant impact on your kitchen’s feng shui, according to Cerrano. To make the most of a smaller kitchen, “keep the wall and cabinet colors light,” she says. “Lighter colors help expand small rooms.”

If you’re looking for impactful color suggestions, Cerrano has you covered. “To calm the overall atmosphere of a kitchen, whites, greens, yellows, sky blues, earthy colors, or even soft grays” are great choices, she suggests. Keep in mind, “you do not need to paint the entire kitchen all of these colors. You can choose just one color or a two-color combination. You could have an accent wall or colors could be within the countertop, cabinets, or the backsplash behind the stove.”

Despite all the benefits of color, don’t feel limited by painted cabinet options. There are feng shui benefits to other cabinetry materials as well. “Frosted or half glass kitchen cabinet doors can create ‘breathable’ focal points so everything is not completely solid and closed in,” Cerrano says. “If you use glass cabinet doors, you need to really keep the inside of that space organized.”

Looking for another way to incorporate color into your kitchen? “Displaying a bowl of fruit is always a great go-to feng shui cure for the kitchen,” Cerrano says. “Fruit signifies abundance for health and wealth, while also providing key nutrients for you to eat. If you can’t always fill your bowl with fresh fruits, the next best option is to use artificial ones.”

Hang art 

Art is another easy way to incorporate color into your space. “Be mindful of the type of artwork you choose to display within your kitchen,” Cerrano says. “Select artwork that helps stimulate a healthy appetite or even promotes the concept of gathering or cooking in general.”

“The subject matter could revolve around the imagery of food itself, an indoor or outdoor cafe-diner scenery, or any other type of imagery you wish to use within your kitchen,” she says. “It could be realistically rendered, abstract, cartoony, or somewhere in between. Connect with artwork that suits the personality of both you and your kitchen.”

Clear clutter

If you’re familiar with the concept of feng shui, then you probably know an organized kitchen is a given. “Keep your kitchen countertops clear of clutter,” Cerrano says. “Be sure your cabinets and drawers are dedicated to storing only what is really needed in the kitchen.”

Go beyond clearing off your countertops and really evaluate the contents of your cabinets and drawers. “Be practical with this feng shui suggestion,” Cerrano says. “Know how many people live in your apartment or home and that will indicate how many dishes, forks and cups you really need.”

“If it’s just you and one other person, you probably don’t need 15 dishes, mugs or water glasses,” she says. “If you entertain often, perhaps dedicate one cabinet or the pantry closet (if you have one) to store those extra dishes and mugs for special occasions.”

Cargo containers gain steam as building blocks of new homes
Cargo containers gain steam as building blocks of new homes

Cargo containers, long a staple of international trade, are designed to be affordable, sturdy and water-tight. So it's no surprise that for decades they've been used by the military, the needy — or just the hip — for other uses, including dwellings.

What's new is that the enormous Corten steel boxes are now gaining mainstream popularity as building blocks for affordable homes in a variety of sizes and types.

"When we built out first container home about eight years ago in upstate New York, the locals all laughed and said, 'What in the world is that?'," say Tim Steele, founder of Steele House, a New York company that designs and builds container structures.

"Now we tend to get a building permit in about a week. As soon as a community gets one, then it's easier to build the next one. In the past 10 years, they've become pretty mainstream as homes, actually," he says.

The containers' strength and durability explain their appeal, says Steele.

For a two-container house, his company tries to keep the cost in the $100,000 range. "That's a 640-square-foot one bedroom — something that's definitely in the tiny house category," he says.

John Nafziger and Sarah Strauss, co-founders of the Brooklyn, New York-based architecture and design firm Bigprototype, which has worked with Steele on some container-home projects, say inquiries about designing homes using shipping containers are way up in the last couple years.

"Before, containers were mainly for low-income or disaster-relief housing. Now it's got a lot more stylistic cachet," Nafziger says.

He calls the homes "great eye candy on the block. It's recycled material, and for people interested in being environmentally conscious, it's a very attractive idea."

The containers come in standard 20- or 40-foot sizes. They can sell for as little as a few hundred dollars each, so it's not surprising that they have caught the eye of architects and others.

But Strauss points out that many people underestimate the cost of retrofitting a shipping container for use as a home.

"Once you do all the work involved in designing and building a container home that meets building code requirements, the cost is actually about the same as for building a comparable traditional home," she says, estimating the final cost to be around $150 per square foot.

"It is a metal box. So it presents some serious design challenges in terms of keeping warm in winter and cool in our climate, plus it's humid in this part of the country, so the walls tend to have condensation," she says. "And as you put in the necessary insulation and do everything else that has to be done, that adds to the cost."

Other challenges include the fact that, as with a cardboard box, punching out sections of the container weakens its structure, so windows and doors must be carefully planned and adequately reinforced.

And because the containers were meant to withstand marine conditions, they have plywood flooring heavily treated with formaldehyde. The flooring must be removed and replaced to avoid off-gassing once the structure has been insulated and sealed for use as a home, Strauss explains.

Once all that's been accomplished, though, the containers can make for truly comfortable and unique homes.

"The attraction for us was living in a contemporary, light-filled house," says Terry Maxedon, who shares a 1,760-square-foot home in New York's Catskill Mountains with his wife, Amy Fisch. The house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was built out of four used shipping containers.

"When you tell people about it, everyone thinks you're living in a tin can, but we have tons of windows and a beautiful view," Fisch says. "And one really great thing is that we can hang things on the wall with magnets in the places where the steel is exposed."

The house, built by Steele House, is sided with wood and doesn't stand out in the rural community where they live, Maxedon says.

"And it feels great knowing that we have a home that's environmentally friendly and that is just, well, kind of cool and interesting."

Yardsmart: Gaura plant resembles whirling butterflies
Yardsmart: Gaura plant resembles whirling butterflies

A perennial tough as nails yet as delicate as sprigs of baby’s breath is always a winner in the West. In the furnace of the California desert, Gaura lindheimeri has proven its mettle against staggering conditions.

During the high heat of midsummer that exceeded 110-plus degrees Fahrenheit this year, they never pause new bloom production. Their fine stems continue to nod and sway with the desert wind, unlike so many others that are easily broken and battered. Above all, they become a billowy mass of small, feminine flowers that resembling a flock of whirling butterflies.

This little known perennial species originates in east Texas, where it’s adapted to extended drought and lean soils. Gaura is a true wildflower in its home range, where early residents seeded them into gardens. It became a common sight to find white blossoms shining in the yard during the worst weather imaginable.

Yet Gaura didn’t come into widespread cultivation until the 1990s when the first hybrid, Siskiyou Pink, was introduced to California garden centers. This added a vivid red tinge to the foliage and clear bright pink blossoms. Although very popular at first, it didn’t take off like it should due to return of adequate rain years when nobody worried about water. Then the inevitable drought struck, and suddenly everyone is discovering what a great perennial this is for dry gardens.

It’s the openness of the large plant that gives it such incredible value in the landscape. Consider Gaura similar to ornamental grasses in character and density, but with great floral color. Use it the same way as grasses to fill gaps or spice up neglected hot spots.

Its long blooming season means this may be the only flower blooming during the dog days. For that reason, spread them around the landscape to ensure you have lots of interest in this difficult time. They’ll bloom till frost in most locations.

Gaura is a perfect companion for cactus and succulents. Succulents are rigid and visually static for the most part, so little animation occurs where they grow. Spot in a few Gaura for its whirling butterflies and you have a livelier scenario. Due to the transparent nature of the upper flower stems, you get glimpses of succulents through them in the garden for wonderful surprises.

In dry areas where so many plants were lost to drought, Gaura is a replacement you can count on to look great all season. It’s a true chameleon for achieving that abundant English cottage garden look with little water. However, beware of too much water as it’s their Achilles heel, so group only with drought lovers. Slopes or well drained soils are a must.

At the end of the growing season or early winter, Texans cut back their Gaura the same way we cut back dormant ornamental grasses. This forces all new growth the following season for maximized vigor and bloom. Failure to do so makes the next year’s plant become floppy with too much new growth on top of the old.

When buying Gaura, remember the tap root. Start off with a quart-sized pot so you’ll get a healthy tap root. Older plants from nursery stock may have a distorted tap root from encountering the bottom of the pot. While larger plants do fine under increased irrigation, this shortens their life span. Where water is limited, those youngsters with the tap root will out-perform them in the long run, naturally. Starting with young plants is essential in very dry locations where extreme drought tolerance is required.

Like so many native wildflowers throughout the West, Gaura is the most reliable under variable conditions. It is a perfect match for fall planting with California natives and most Mediterranean garden favorites. Above all it is the beauty of light and movement that transforms spaces around them with whirling butterflies, that never seem to land no matter how still the day.

You and the law
Before you spend too much on a bottle of wine

Dennis Beaver

Today’s story will be of special interest to anyone who enjoys wine, or who, like San Luis Obispo reader, Jamie, wants to surprise a friend.

“Katie loves Cabernet Sauvignon and in mid-August, the afternoon of her birthday dinner, we learned there was a particular vintage that would make a great present and required visiting a number of Central Valley high-end liquor stores.

In the shop that had the wine I got this feeling, like a voice telling me ‘Do not buy that wine here,’ but I ignored it, paying over $150 per bottle.

“Walking to our car, I recalled being told that good wine and heat do not go well together. I must tell you that the store was uncomfortably warm, feeling well above 80 degrees.

“When poured, instead of something with a lovely appearance and tasting great, it was rusty brown and had a terrible odor. The birthday girl knew what we had spent and gently scolded us, explaining, “This is what happens when a merchant does not care about customers or the wines.”

Our reader asked, “How can you better protect yourself from this kind of expensive and disappointing experience?”

For an answer, we turned to New York-based wine journalist and bestselling author, Peter Hellman. He has written on wine for the Wine Spectator, Food and Wine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and New York Times. “Along the way,” Hellman observes, “I’ve tasted thousands of different wines, sadly, also having my share of wines which, due to bad storage, ranged from lifeless to just plain ‘cooked.’”

Hellman’s most recent book, "n Vino Duplicitas, The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire," is a “wine thriller,” describing the amazing story of a brilliant, Indonesian con-man who took billionaires for millions of dollars, selling them fake wines which he concocted in his Los Angeles home.

Have you ever thought, “Why does it appear that so many writers have no idea just how beautiful English really is, cranking out stuff that is just plain boring?” If so, Hellman will have you savoring each word, taking your time as I did, a kid in the candy store of beautiful language. In Vino Duplicitas should be required reading in university English classes.

Upon walking into a wine store, what should I be aware of?

Storing wine at an improper temperature, even for short spans, Hellman says, “is a slap in the face of both the winemaker and customer. If you go into a wine shop at any time of the year and do not feel a little chill, that should be a cautionary moment. Find another store that has good air-conditioning. The 80-degree temperature your reader described is simply unacceptable.”

How does heat damage wine?

Hellman explained that heat accelerates the normally slow aging of fine wine, causing oxidation which results in, “a dull, bitter, flat taste, the color of white wine going from clean and clear to a scary shade of amber or brown, while red wine looks rusty-brown.”

Why do some wines cost far more than others?

“To put a well-made wine on your table you should not have to pay more than $20 a bottle, maybe even $15. So what is the difference between a bottle that is sold for $20 and one that sells for $100? There are differences in how carefully the grapes are treated in the vineyard and winery. The costs of that greater care will be reflected in the price of the wine. Hopefully, you will taste the difference.

“But the reason some wines cost dramatically more than others is, by far, reputation and there are customers who want only the most expensive wine. A lot of wine is priced way beyond the cost of the wine in the bottle. Expensive or cheap wine - the empty bottle costs the same. There is minimal difference in the cost of the packaging of the wine.

“The sweet spot for buying wine is in the $15 to $25 dollar range. You are getting a wine which is made with care. However, with Two Buck Chuck you are paying for the bottle, the cap, the cardboard case it is in, shipping and so on. The cost of the wine is effectively zero. For any wine that costs under ten dollars a bottle, you are paying for all the packaging, shipping, promotion, everything but the wine.”

“Once that $10 bottle goes up to $20 dollars, you should be getting an extra $10 of quality wine in the bottle. Any wine that sells for under $10 a bottle might be a decent commercial beverage, but not something that wine lovers will appreciate,” Hellman concluded.