Emily Grosvenor is a certified feng shui consultant, editor of Oregon Home magazine, a Fulbright scholar, and, I’m proud to say, a former contributor to the pages of this magazine. Emily grew up in Pennsylvania with a mother who would go to home sale open houses just for fun. As a young adult, Emily continued her love of homes and design by taking vacations to places where she could see historic homes in person, even touring Edith Wharton’s home on her honeymoon. Her keen eye for design and knack for storytelling comes together in her lively book, just published in June: Find Yourself at Home: A Conscious Approach to Shaping Your Space and Your Life. Her book is all about identifying what needs to change in your home, and then figuring out how to do it, with tips and questions to help frame your thoughts. For instance, in an exercise called “What’s Your Vibe?” she lists attributes like bright or moody and shiny or matte, to help discover your own style. Here, we ask Emily a few questions about design discovery, and provide an excerpt from Find Yourself at Home.
Your philosophy is based on the idea that our home environment affects us, even if we aren’t necessarily aware of it. Tell me more about that.
Most of our thought processes are unconscious. We see a door, and we know to turn the knob and then step through it to get from one space to another, but we don’t consciously think about doing all of those actions. So the design of our spaces cues us to certain behaviors, and then we do them automatically. The idea behind my book is that you make the conscious decisions about how your home is set up to cue certain behaviors, and then eventually it happens automatically, without you even thinking about it. Similarly, if your home has elements that are set up to cue you to behavior that isn’t desired, it will continue to support that behavior until you make a change. For an easy example, if you always throw your dirty laundry on the floor and it makes you depressed, you could get a larger chair for your discard pile or one of those laundry hampers. It’s not a huge investment, but it can give you a large psychological win.
How do people connect with the energy of their home and how to change it?
I have an exercise in the book about seeing your home with fresh eyes, and that’s really all it takes. Most of us get this feeling a bit when we’ve been on vacation and come back and smell our home. Our home smells like that? Day-to-day, our home smells like safety so our minds don’t recognize the scent at all. We only notice it when we’ve had a break from it. The world of feng shui has quite a few elements you should look for when accessing your own space that have to do with flow, so that’s a good place to start. In feng shui we say that energy flows where the eye goes, so take a look at your home and notice where your gaze wanders naturally, what it sees, what bothers you, and how you feel when you encounter different parts of your home.
One of the pieces of advice you give is that your home should change as you change. I’m guilty of keeping the same furniture and the same art in the same spots for years! What do you recommend to get out of that pattern?
It’s not necessary to change who you are. If you are a person who likes things to stay the same, then by all means, keep it the same until they carry you out the front door. But if you notice that you are feeling stuck in different parts of your life, when you yearn for newness in any area of your life, that’s a good time to look at switching something up in your house. It can be a fun practice to dance with the seasons a bit through decorating, but not everyone loves seasonal decor. The key is having self-awareness — recognizing that you have entered a period of stagnation and that changing something around you can help carry you through or out of that state.
Your steps involve figuring out the story you want your home to tell, and then discovering the design tools to actually tell that story. Tell me a little more about how people can do that.
A lot of designers talk about the design story they want to tell in their spaces, but not many of them actually describe what that means. The story is the sum total, it’s in the mix, it’s the overall feeling you get from a space that highlights parts of the homeowner’s personality or interests. But there are so many different stories you can tell about a person! Home, after all, is the story that we have decided to live with. That could mean incorporating classic design elements like color, texture, and lighting, but it could also be showcasing heritage, an affinity for the past, a specific interest, or what you value most. Lots of people do this naturally — they love their family so they plaster their walls with pictures of their family. But the possibilities are many, so much more than what many people consider when they first start setting up their home. It’s such a joyful process to figure out what you care about and how you want to immortalize it in the home.
Color is so important. How can people figure out what colors work for them without buying every paint sample jar at the store?
Color can be so difficult, so I always lean on the experts. Most paint companies have gorgeous color palettes that work brilliantly when used together, so that’s an easy and safe way to choose color. Sherwin Williams, for example, has these wonderful palettes based on personality types. Paint companies are getting so much better at helping customers through this process. I’ve even seen some that recommend palettes based on your star sign! Or, you could go with a Miller Paint Northwest Paint Collection, which has paints that look really good in the various landscapes of Oregon. Another fun tip is to simply google what home renovation experts love. For example, if you love displaying flat art, try googling “best light gray for wall art” and you’ll get a ton of options. It can be confounding that we live with so much information at our fingertips, but that level of information also allows us to get really specific in our requests. If you are really struggling and need direct help, many of these paint companies offer home or virtual consults to help you pick the right color.
Do you have any advice for people who live in small homes without much space to really move things around and experiment? Or people who are still trying to figure out adult spaces, kid spaces, and work-from-home spaces in what may be a limited area?
Small spaces are so fun because they require you to really dial in the design. In fact, my favorite design stories to read are about how to make the most of a small space. I think the most important thing is to recognize when something isn’t working for you. I think most people have already gone through the pandemic-era period of setting up their home workspace or establishing a designated kidspace, so right now might be the time to make it even better. If you’ve gone work-from-home, really value the work by getting yourself a desk that feels appropriate for your level of professionalism. If you’ve accepted that you’re probably not headed back into an actual office, you can make that acceptance feel permanent by making your home office feel more usable, more inspiring, or more legitimate. How you set up an office has a huge impact on how much you, and others, value the work that you do. When all else fails, go for the upgrade.
One of the things you suggest is including artwork of animals with qualities that you admire, such as a monkey for playfulness or a butterfly for rebirth. What other small tips do you have for people?
The biggest tip of all isn’t mine at all but was carved into stone at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know Thyself. When I talk about finding yourself at home, that phase has multiple layers. Yes, many of us found ourselves at home for long periods of time in the past few years. But you can also discover much about yourself through the process of home-making. So I think anything that encompasses working on your home space — that energetic bubble that you spend so much of your time in — will benefit your life. That’s a small tip but it’s a big idea. Beyond that, I really, really love big art. Don’t be afraid to go big with decor items for a big impact.
Excerpted from Find Yourself at Home: A Conscious Approach to Shaping Your Space and Your Life by Emily Grosvenor. Published by Chronicle Prism, an imprint of Chronicle Books. Copyright 2023 by Emily Grosvenor.
Be Prepared for Change
By shifting the energy of our home, we are inviting change, but that can still be difficult. Further, we can’t control the results (wouldn’t that be nice!). Energy work for the home can be unpredictable—that’s part of its charm—and so we have to respond to what life throws at us with ingenuity and adaptability. For instance, we might create a family altar hoping to repair a relationship with an aunt, but we find our interactions with our brother start to flourish instead. We might ask for more respect in our current job and end up getting another offer entirely out of thin air. Shifting energy always seems to work in our favor, or achieve something positive, but outcomes aren’t always what we imagined. There is rarely a straight line from before to after.
Though the outcomes of energy work cannot be predicted, our intentions when shifting energy matter. When I go into a client’s home, I take a good look at what’s going on in the environment (what I call “reading the room”), and then I make suggestions for changes based on what I know about the client’s story and their current struggles. My own sense of style and the specifics of what I would do are unimportant. I’m just an idea person helping someone meet and overcome their problems by suggesting possible design solutions that might shift things for them.
I’ve seen amazing results with home energy work. I’ve had clients get new jobs out of the blue and start partnerships after a long romantic dry spell. I’ve also seen difficult, decades-long relationships end after spatial changes were made. I’ve helped small-business owners attract new customers by reworking the entrance to their offices, and I’ve helped a homeless shelter shape the behavior of young people coming in off the streets. Once, after an older woman finally redid the bedroom in a home she had lived in for forty years, she abruptly moved eight states away in order to start over. Did the new bed, carpet, and paint cause it to happen? Of course not. Did the changes spark a necessary identity shift that allowed her to take one of the biggest leaps in her life? Perhaps.
One thing has become clear to me as I’ve explored how making mindful shifts within home spaces supports humans. Taking any action at all within the home—whether it’s cleaning up a messy counter or painting a wall or just moving around objects—may feel like a quiet response to dealing with the constantly changing world outside, but it is also a potent one. Staying limber at home and enjoying the process helps us adjust at the soul level to the challenges of whatever is happening outside our walls.
THE FIVE STEPS OF FINDING YOURSELF AT HOME
My goal is to provide you with the tools to make any place you live, any space, feel like “home.” This is a feeling you can cultivate whenever you want or need to. By applying the tenets of environmental psychology and by noticing and respecting your intuition for what feels authentic and resonant, you can use décor and spatial design to cultivate a more meaningful life. In that sense, I hope you approach reading this book as a way to give yourself permission to prioritize the big picture of your life.
I have divided the process into five steps (which align with the book’s five parts), but these are not meant as a list of prescribed tasks you must accomplish. There is no single “right way” to turn your home into an essential collaborator in your life. Everyone’s situation is different, and whatever the current state of your house, it is already collaborating with you.
Through these five steps, I will show you how to use the tenets of design, object placement, environmental psychology, and storytelling to foster an empowering conversation with your living space. Not every suggestion may work in your space or for who you are and what you want. While some suggestions can involve spending money, nothing requires you to spend money; this process can be successful with any budget. You get to decide which ideas to pursue and how to pursue them.
Step 1. Connect with the mystery and power of your home
Train yourself to see your home as a place entwined with your own energy and story. Reimagine your home as a partner in all you do.
Step 2. Prepare your environment for your story
Set the stage for shaping your story at home. Clear your environment of past energies and set your intentions for your space based on the person you’d like to become.
Step 3. Discover design tools to cue your behavior
Take simple actions to send yourself desired messages in your space. Create a color story, use visual cues, incorporate primal urges like scent and animal symbology, and adjust the space where you do your most important work.
Step 4. Bring your aspirations into your space
Using a feng shui–based home energy map, connect your home’s layout to your personal aspirations. Using this, you can make intentional changes in different areas of the home to produce shifts in confidence, type of energy, and openness to change.
Step 5. Take your purpose into the world
Discover ways to ask for what you want and put your mission out in the world.