I’m drawn to home decluttering and design projects. I’ve dabbled in feng shui, KonMarie’d, and gotten my hygge on. Having a mother who is a hoarder makes me especially sensitive to the objects that constantly accumulate. Still, somehow none of these methods helped me find a genuine sense of ease in my space. Then I found Vastu, known as the “yoga of design.” Vastu is a traditional Indian system of architecture that’s for all kinds of buildings—temples, businesses, homes—yet its key principles can be used to rectify energy imbalances in existing homes (read: clutter) and to cultivate spiritual and physical calm. As a system, it’s neither dogmatic nor rigid. You don’t have to be building a house to incorporate what it has to offer. It plays out as a remarkably fluid, even common-sense method, to generate a domestic version of holiness. It can be as simple as using beautiful ceramic plates every day instead of saving them for special occasions, pruning your mantel of detritus so that it becomes an alter rather than a knick-knack conglomerate, or opting for natural textiles and materials instead of synthetic wherever possible.
In her book Vastu: Transcendental Home Design in Harmony with Nature, author Sherri Silverman, an internationally recognized Vastu sacred space design consultant, describes Vastu philosophy this way: “The structure of our homes is representative of our own bodies: what goes on in one affects the other, and our own little universes of body and home embody the same forces that compose the vast universe.” As I learned more about Vastu, it resonated as a trifecta of solutions that could answer several of my spiritual longings at once: interconnectedness, thoughtful design, and alignment with the divine. About to embark on a basement remodel, Vastu felt like an organizing principle I could get behind. I suddenly could envision my home as a microcosm of the sacred. I wanted to use Vastu principles to do-over my entire home, to reconfigure our unruly constellation of possessions, and to act as a template for the new rooms we were building out downstairs.
See also Clearing Clutter for a Simpler Life
With the goal of transforming domestic chaos into a sacred refuge, I reached out to Silverman. She was eager to spread the word about Vastu and agreed to be my consultant on our home project. (Even amongst yoga devotees, Vastu still gets short shrift, despite being considered yoga and Ayurveda’s third sister in the pantheon of vedic sciences.) The ethos that drives Vastu is as applicable today as it was a millennia ago. It involves flexible design guidelines for space, sunlight, flow, and function. The idea was for my home to feel alive, supportive, and nourishing. I could get there with whatever style best suited my taste. Vastu can encompass the whole gamut of individual style choices, from rustic to beach to uber modern. But what distinguishes Vastu from other home organization methods, says Silverman, is the attentiveness to beauty. “Vastu requires beauty. If you follow all the rules but omit beauty, it’s not really Vastu,” says Silverman. “Beauty adds vibrancy to spaces. Without beauty, it’s just empty, vacant, sterile. Add beauty and the space comes alive.”
I sent Silverman photos of my home, along with the plans for our upcoming basement remodel. She gave me detailed recommendations for how I could bring in more haven, less havoc. What follows are the vital takeaways—attention to sightlines, freeing up the center of the room, bringing in a touch of nature—that I gleaned from our collaboration. Along the way, I learned how beauty is a natural conduit to presence. When things were aligned in the right way, my eyes said “ah, ah,” and I could feel my soul exhaling. I invite you to apply some of following Vastu principles to your own home to help you manifest your own sacred spaces that bring you exquisite relief—and delight. As for the things you can’t change or rearrange, I’ll share Silverman’s generous words regarding my plight: “Do what is possible and let go of the rest.”
1. Vastu Tip for the Entryway: Create a Spine of Light
In Vastu, your home ideally has a spine of light, vamsa danda—a clear straight path through it from the front door to a back door or window. This direct line enhances the flow of prana (life force), allowing it to radiate through the entire house without getting blocked or kinked, says Silverman. For our spine of light, she suggested we keep it clean and clutter free. When she saw the before photos I took, she commented that the coat hooks in the entrance created a chaotic, cramped feeling. For the makeover, I slimmed down the amount of stuff we had in our entry and hall. I pruned through the coats, took down the photos and art we had clipped to a stainless-steel curtain wire, and got rid of a Lego station we had tucked into the landing at the top of the basement stairs. My biggest challenge was figuring out what to do with all the shoes. After living in India for eight years, where no one wears shoes inside the home, I continued to maintain a shoe-free home. But this meant that my entryway was overly crammed with shoes. Silverman suggested finding a better way to contain all the pairs, as well as put away the infrequently worn pairs. I put away many non-essential pairs of shoes and used shoe racks (Ikea Tjusig Shoe Rack, $20 each) for the rest. Immediately, our “spine” felt more spacious and airier. The hall welcomed me in rather than squeezed me through. If your home doesn’t have a direct line from the front door to the back but there’s another uninterrupted space that goes from one end to the other, call attention to it. Add some beautiful furnishings to accent the through line. At the very least, make your entryway clean, inviting, and uncluttered.
2. Vastu Tip for the Kitchen or Dining Area: Feast on Beautiful Plates Every Day
The red crackle Target plates we had gotten for our wedding over ten years ago sparked disappointment, not joy. They felt dated and were beginning to show serious signs of wear. In her book Vastu, Silverman recommends to “enjoy your meals in a serene, attractive setting with unchipped dishes and flatware that fits your hand. The whole experience should be aesthetically pleasing.” I took Silverman’s advice and went for a set of ceramic (in Vastu, natural materials are preferred over plastic) dinnerware (Crate and Barrel Jars Tourron 16-Piece Dinnerware Set, $410) that ignited a secret thrill every time I used them. The glaze alone—a vibrant indigo—made my third eye swoon. Upgrading to a handcrafted dinnerware set and using them every day (not just for special occasions), brought a sense of celebration and honoring to every meal.
To bring in light and openness to my dining room, I removed several knick-knacks from the window sills and a mobile hanging over the sliding door that was competing with the light fixture. I also shortened the table by pulling out one of the leaves so it would have more space around it.
3. Vastu Tip for the Living Room: Choose Art that Transmits a High Vibration
While vacant walls and shelves can make a home feel sterile, an assortment of objects that have no expressive personal meaning smack of clutter. A mantel is the West’s version of an altar. Choose what you place on your mantel with care—or even devotion. Silverman advises to “avoid harsh, jagged images that seem to attack.” Instead, she says, look for art that expands and enlivens your soul.
For six years or so I have been tracking the book sculptor Valerie Savarie. Her altered book art—part sculpture, part painting, part narrative, and part collage, evoke a whiff of the mystery that lives within and around us. I used finishing our basement and my birthday as justification to finally treat myself to one of her pieces that spoke to my soul.
4. Vastu Tip for a Home Office: Open Up the Room’s Center
In Silverman’s book she quotes the author and poet Alice Walker as saying, “I always think of the place I work as holy.” Prior to the makeover, my office was an unholy clutter fest, with bulging file holders oozing papers and magazines. Silverman said, “Definitely some overwhelm here. You need to contain all that stuff and not have it on open, overflowing shelves. You are a writer by profession. You need a more professional setup that supports you in pursuing your craft and livelihood.”
Silverman recommended expanding my desk area and minimizing furniture that feels heavy and oppressive. Previously, a huge bulky office chair filled the room with its clunky, sterile energy. I swapped out that chair for a sleek, armless low-profile Container Store Black Bungee Office Chair ($120) that opened up the central channel of the room and added a better flow.
5. Vastu Tip for Closets: Bins are Your Best Friend
While Vastu is less of an organizational system and more of a design ethos, the principles apply to every space in the home. When Silverman saw how overflowing my children’s shared closet was, she responded, “When there are open containers with a bunch of stuff that is not orderly, it creates a feeling that work is never done. There’s a bit of a temporary, precarious feeling that we can alleviate. It’s worth it to invest in beautiful, breathable containers.” For my 11-year-old son’s new room in the basement we needed a fully functional closet with an intuitive clothing containment system to help him stay on track. Enter the a customizable Elfa shelving & drawer system (starting at $100) that allows you to configure your closet to your exact needs. The system provides an efficient scaffolding that you can further customize by adding bins, baskets, and boxes. As your organization needs change, the shelves and drawers can easily be repositioned. The Elfa closet design alleviated the jammed precariousness and presented a serene order that felt immediately calming.
To soften the industrial look of the brackets and drawers, we opted for bins made out of canvas or covered with fabric. For the laundry hampers, we chose neutral baskets in gray to warm up the overall effect (Container Store bins and baskets, $12–$40).
6. Vastu Tip for the Bathroom: Elevate your Senses with Good Lighting, Fresh Towels, and Warm Textures
Bathrooms are where we purify, cleanse, detoxify, and pamper. Yet many people designate bathroom décor as a low priority. The unexpected pleasure of a beautiful bathroom can send a secret thrill to the senses. As a space, a few key touches can transform a utilitarian space into a transcendental one. If your bathroom lacks a window, for example, Silverman recommends paying special attention to good lighting and adding plants for a sense of freshness. The modern lines of the Hudson Valley Lighting Milford Light ($404) combines an elegantly crafted fixture with xenon bulbs— a lamp that sheds a bright white light that’s a close second to natural sunlight.
You can also transform a bathroom by adding subtle notes of color with towels, shower curtain, and bathmat. One pet peeve of mine is towels that smell moldy. I’ve fought the good fight against the funk, but nothing worked as well as natural bedding and towel brand Coyuchi, specifically designed to dry quickly (Coyuchi Airweight Organic Towels, $8–$178).
The antidote to a bathroom’s inherently cold, even clinical ambiance is to add warmth from natural elements. The Native Trails Vintners Collection: Chardonnay Vanity, Sink, and Mirror (starting at $695) textures do this in spades. Native Trails, a groundbreaking kitchen and bath furnishing company, is dedicated to generating the smallest possible ecological footprint and salvages the wood used in their Vintner collection from oak wine barrels. The weathered wood, graceful proportions, and truth-to- materials ethos exude rustic charm. The gestalt of this bathroom works (successfully) to transform the banal activities of daily living into a micro-dose of spa-like pampering.
7. Vastu Tip for Central Spaces: Make a (Meditation) Room of One’s Own
When we designed the blueprint for our basement, I made sure that it incorporated a yoga and meditation room. Being married with children meant I no longer had a bedroom of my own, and even my home office was shared with my husband. I longed for a room that would be completely mine, that brooked no compromise regarding décor or function. According to Vastu, the ideal location for a meditation room is the center or the northeast sector of the home. Each quadrant of the home corresponds to one of four elements—fire, water, earth, and air—with the center of the home, and of each room, linked to the element of space, or ether. As it worked out, my meditation room landed in center of the house, called the brahmasthan. Silverman deems the brahmasthan one of Vastu’s most vital features. As the holy zone of the house, it’s meant to be kept clean and free of any heavy objects. Not only was my meditation room Vastu-compliant in terms of location, but it provides a pranic upgrade for the entire home. According to Silverman, the best thing you can do to improve the supportiveness of your space—besides building according to Vastu principles— is to do spiritual practices inside of them.
The play of light and shadow is fundamental to a Vastu home, which encourages the alignment of the body’s rhythms with the sun’s rhythms. According to Kathleen Cox, another Vastu expert and author of Space Matters, “most of us end up confusing our priorities” when it comes to window treatments. Instead of focusing on the quality of illumination the shade transmits, we perseverate on how the window treatment looks. Since the view out of the basement windows were uninspiring metal window wells, I wanted a shade to highlight the beauty of the basement’s diffused daylight, the subtlety changing scrim of light and shadow. Luckily, The Shade Store just released their innovative Zen Roller collection (from $550): textured, translucent panels of delicate, nature-inspired patterns. Reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens, but made from a much more durable material, the austere beauty of the panels is accentuated by thin strips of nickel or wood that create a modern version of a lattice effect.
8. Vastu Tip for a Guestroom: Make it Multifunctional and Don’t Forget Beauty
The Murphy bed is enjoying something of a resurgence. By placing it in the meditation room quadrant, I was able to stake out my claim for personal space with the slight concession of turning the room over to the occasional guest. The efficiency of the Bolder Murphy Bed is an engineering marvel wondrous to behold. It gave us square footage and solved the problem of wasting precious square feet on a guest room that sits idle for the majority of the time. When it’s in its custom cupboard, the bed’s presence is so discreet they eye elides right over it. When the cantilever is down, presto—instant guestroom. A deluxe queen-size mattress provides premium comfort, especially when decked out in Coyuchi’s low-impact, high-quality bedding. Murphy beds align with Vastu’s compelling dictate to generate empty space in the center of the room—the central defining quality of the Vastu-compliant home.
In the Hindu system of tantra, beauty is a symbol of the divine. Art exalts the functionality of a space or object and can transport it to a spiritual realm. In Silverman’s book, she cites the Mayamata, an ancient Indian treatise on housing architecture, which recommends placing “joyous scenes and religious images” on the walls. Placing a piece of art –a print by Jamini Roy, a major player in the emergence of Indian modern art that I inherited from my grandmother—behind the Murphy bed instantly exalted the space.
9. Vastu Tip for Bedrooms: Create a “Zone of Chill” with Natural Materials
For my son, finally having his own room was a declaration of autonomy. A child with a highly developed sense of touch, and prone to anxiety, we wanted to help create a room that would be soothing and tactilely appealing—a zone of chill, or as Silverman suggested, “serene and simple.” The KD Frames, made-in-America platform bed ($250), is made from poplar grown in responsibly managed Virginia forests. It can withstand up to 600 pounds, thus a fair amount of throwing oneself on the bed dramatically. The bed’s horizontal lines create a sense of harmony, as do the satin nickels slats that run through the elegant scrim of our light-filtering window treatments.
Coyuchi, a home textile company dedicated organic cotton and natural home furnishings that respect the environment, is a company that embodies the high value Vastu places on interconnectedness with nature. This Coyuchi organic jersey sheet set ($38) and bedspread are soft enough to pass muster with my son, who vehemently protests anything scratchy. The bedding’s natural dyes echo the blues and grays in the flooring to create a restrained, calming color palette. The overall effect is conducive to “be more chill,” coincidentally the title of my son’s favorite new Broadway musical.
10. Vastu Finishing Tip: Add Personal Touches
Cox discusses in her book the power of defining details to inject emotional warmth and personality into your home. “All these defining details,” she writes, “which should be displayed to catch the eye, speak to the soul, and help to put life in perspective.” Everything down to your gong mallet and meditation cushion (Brentwood Home Meditation Pillow, $60) has the potential to spur a frisson of delight—the spark of joy that is the lodestar of organizing consultant Marie Kondo.
Akasha, the space element (brahmasthan) that fortuitously reigns over my meditation room is also linked to sound and silence. Music that quiets the mind and expands the heart is a welcome addition to the Vastu home. For the last several years my husband has been drawn to sound baths (typically utilizing Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls, and/or gongs), which is a type of musical experience that aims to transport listeners to a new level of consciousness using mesmerizing, atonal improvisational compositions. His reward for the countless weeknights and weekends he spent being the general contractor on the basement, as well as doing the HVAC, tile work, painting, trim and doors all by himself, was this magnificent Paiste Symphonic Gong (from $1,360). Similar to the acoustic technology behind mantras, gongs have the capacity to recharge and infuse the environment with pure vibrations.