Using Vitruvian Principles and Feng Shui to Create Harmonious Living


Whether you live in a bungalow or a mansion, tend toward modern style versus traditional, or prefer stark desert foliage over lush greenery, there’s generally one thing all homeowners agree—they all want harmony and peace of mind when they walk through the door at the end of a busy work day. For over 5,000 years the Chinese have been implementing the principles of Feng Shui—the Chinese art of placement. Fundamental to it is Yin and Yang; a representation of balance and continual change.

If you’re asking yourself, how Feng Shui relates to home design, the answer may surprise you. Back in the first century, B.C.E., there lived a Roman architect and engineer by the name of Vitruvius. He believed that an architect should focus on three central themes or principles when preparing a design for a building: venustas (beauty), firmitas (strength), and utilitas (functionality). It’s his Vitruvian Principles of harmonious functionality that architects follow and these ideas coincide with the principles of Feng Shui. Today Dwellarc takes you through three examples of how the Vitruvian Principles of architecture and Feng Shui come together on three very different projects to create harmonious functionality.


Washington House—Water Feature—Beauty

My very first thought when walking by this property was one of realization: the fountain was a unique feature. It stands out. It’s different. It’s special, and yet, it didn’t seem to belong.

Part of the reason it didn’t feel right was that it wasn’t actually part of the original home design. You can see in the photo above how it was sort of pushed in between the archways without any rhyme or reason; half of it facing the street and the other half inside the entry courtyard. It was also stagnant and empty, not being utilized and it felt like it was ‘draining energy’ from what would otherwise be an inviting entry space and patio.


The owner liked the idea of the fountain and the fact that it had been there when they purchased the home, so we discussed remedies to repurpose or fix it. Upon closer examination, I realized the tile that was used for it was a large Mexican terracotta floor tile. The scale of these 1×1 floor tiles, while often beautiful as an outdoor patio, overwhelmed the delicate features of the smaller tiles and art feature above the fountain. The terracotta color was also in direct opposition to the mustard color that had been used on the walls of the home. It was a Feng Shui and Vitruvian misfortune.

To create necessary symmetry we filled in and closed the gaps between the columns so that the fountain no longer feels like a separate segment of the home. It’s now connected and feels like it belongs. The original terracotta tile was removed, and the exterior now blends in completely with the home’s new white exterior. In Feng Shui, water is represented by the colors black or blue, thus the decision to retain the thin band of teal blue tile inside the fountain was made.

As Yang is typically associated with the functional aspect of an object and its energetic qualities of movement and expansion, we added water and circulation at the final moment. Now the water feature brings life and energy to this welcoming entryway.


Laurel Hills House—Symmetrical Living Space—Strength

If you read my earlier blog series on How to Design an Entryway: From Curb to Front Door, you will be familiar with this beautiful hillside home and the work done to both the interior and exterior. Today we touch on how Vitruvian principles determined the split of the living room and how the air and space of the room relate to the principles of Feng Shui.

The original space of the living room was a long rectangle with an L-shaped sunroom attached to it, separated with a wall and different flooring. And, metal doors separated the two spaces. The sunroom was useful for gatherings and parties but not on a daily basis. Also problematic was a doorway leading to what would be the new master suite. It was not aligned correctly.

Vitruvian Principles are all about symmetry and relating to a concept of interconnected elements to calibrate and create a sense of beauty that comes from wholeness and harmony of proportion. Using these principles we decided to open the space into one rectangular area. It was also important that the owner’s view from the living room reached all the way through to the bedroom on the other side of the house. By realigning a door so that one could see from one side of the house to the other, occupants have the experience that the house is expanding.

We also enhanced the Feng Shui air element by drawing the eye to the gently sloped ceiling with a dark-colored T-shaped beam and vertical post. The ceiling rises up towards a south facing glass wall that fills the entire living room with natural light. Nine-foot long roof overhangs protect the indoor and outdoor spaces from the summer heat.

In the house, elements of fire (at the hearth), water (in the adjacent open kitchen), wood (in the furniture and accessories), earth (in the brick chimney and the marriage of indoor and outdoor living), and metal (in the frames of the sliding glass doors as well as the furnishings) all pertain to the elements of Feng Shui to create harmonious living and the architectural principles of beauty, strength, and functionality.


85th Street House—Fire and Ice—Functionality

This South facing yard was in need of a lot of work. The home was originally stucco and the deck was pine. Pine looks fabulous but after years of use, if it’s not tended to, stained and repainted, it can get shoddy. That was the case with this deck, which was falling apart.

The owner desperately wanted a dining table and more space to entertain. It was decided to renovate and remodel the deck. After carefully reviewing materials, we decided to use Trex. Trex is an incredibly durable and sturdy composite made from an innovative blend of 95% recycled wood and plastic film. The company uses some of the most earth-friendly manufacturing processes in the country, reclaiming factory waste and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals.


Since the family wanted a gathering place in their backyard, we discussed using either a fire or water feature to create that destination spot. When the owner couldn’t decide, Dwellarc came up with the idea to encompass the best of both elements.

Two custom-designed features—a bench made with Trex decking (with cushions customized to match the color of the new door frames) and a rotating overhead light featuring the Louis Poulsen Wohlert pendant complement the new fire and water feature which becomes a new focal point for the deck. The fire provides warmth during chilly evenings and the surrounding water provides ambient sound. Both elements give the area the Feng Shui it needs. These basic elements of fire, water, metal, earth and air, from Feng Shui compliment the Vitruvian architectural principles of harmonious functionality.

Now, whether it’s sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or hanging out with a group of guests, this multi-use space is both flexible, aesthetically pleasing and one the entire family can put to use.


Project Design: Brit Billeaud
Writer and Media Management Consultant Taylor Van Arsdale provided research and contributed to this article.


DwellArc Architecture + Design
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tel 310-587-3306
[email protected]
Principal Architect
Brit Billeaud, AIA, NCARB

“Let us create the home you love.”