Browse through the internet pages of vacation accommodation sites in Australia and you’ll be hard pressed to find any with exposed beams. As a general rule, Aussies don’t do beams.
Then try a similar search in England. The English went through a whole phase in the 16th Century known as the Tudor period when beams were all the fashion, and there are many Tudor and mock-Tudor properties still standing today.
But Italy takes the cake. Looking for a vacation rental there this week I expected to find a plethora of properties with fabulous high vaulted ceilings and other such architectural delights. But no. In my search for a vacation house or apartment I found beams, beams and more beams. Mostly sharp, dark-stained, low-ceiling wooden beams, which are the worst. Maybe it’s different outside the area of the Italian Riviera but it took me almost a whole day of searching to find a decent place to stay for two weeks that only has beams in one room.
Why beams are a problem
The reason why beams are a problem is because they dissect the energy of a space. In feng shui this is known as ‘cutting chi’. Show me a marital bed with a beam running down the centre overhead and I’ll show you a couple who have arguments and a marriage that is likely to end in divorce. First the cuddling stops, then the sex, then the stonewalling begins, and finally you have two people living separate lives divided by a beam. I’ve seen it all too often.
Sleeping under beams can also cause health problems. I’ve seen countless cases of people developing medical ailments in the area of their body where there is a beam crossing over their bed. A few nights, weeks or even months of sleeping like this is fine for most people, but extend this to longer periods and the problems start to show. When I see this in a client’s home, I only have to ask how long they have had the bed in that position to diagnose the severity and location of where they are experiencing problems in their body, and I am nearly always 100% correct. The soft tissues of our bodies do not flourish when constantly exposed to cutting chi, and they are particularly vulnerable during the hours of sleep when we are more etherically open.
Beams also create a feeling of being burdened by problems. The darker the colour and the lower the ceiling height, the more ominous the feeling of oppression. However these effects are mitigated if the ceiling is a high one or the beams are broad and flat rather than thin and sharp. Rounded corners on the lower edges of the beams also helps a lot.
In living areas, people intuitively do not want to sit under beams. Given the choice of a sofa directly under a beam and one that is not, most people will unconsciously choose the beam-free one without ever knowing why.
Beams can be particularly problematic in boardrooms. A beam running the length or breadth of the table will inevitably divide the two sides, making it difficult to arrive at an agreement. I’ve seen the same effect with dining room tables, where family arguments become the norm at mealtimes.
When booking a workshop meeting room, I always ask my organizer to send me photos of the ceiling as well as the room itself. It’s sometimes possible to successfully teach in a room that has flat beams running lengthways if the ceiling is high enough, but a room with beams running crossways is like driving a car over a hundred miles of speed humps. It’s a presenter’s nightmare. By the time my mesage gets to the back of the room it is either lost, distorted, or simply falls flat.
Remedies for beams
So is there any hope I can offer to anyone reading this who lives or works in a place with beams? In most cases, yes.
The best (although admittedly most expensive) solution, if ceiling height permits, is to install a false ceiling to cover all the beams. Problem solved.
A much cheaper solution, which for many people is the most practical, is simply to paint the beams the same colour as the ceiling so that they recede into it rather than stand out from it. White or cream is generally the best choice, to lighten and uplift the space. The beams are still there but their effect is substantially lessened.
Another solution is to drape fabrics between the beams to hide them, creating an oriental feel. It can work quite well in some rooms but do remember to take the fabrics down and clean them regularly. Otherwise they will create a staleness in the space, hanging over your head like a fog.
Bamboo flutes, did I hear someone say? Tacking a bamboo flute or two to a beam at a 45 degree angle to the ceiling is a traditional Chinese feng shui cure for beams. The reasoning is that the airiness of the instrument will uplift the space. Does it work? Not in my experience. It just causes visitors to raise an eyebrow and ask why there are bamboo flutes tacked to the beams. Maybe it’s different in China where this is a long-established practice and people are conditioned to make the association, but I have never seen it work in a western home. It’s true that any upward-slanting or air-oriented object will cause an uplifting effect in a space but I have never found this to be substantial enough to offset the effects of heavy overhead beams. It’s no contest.
Why would anyone want beams?
Having read this far, you may well be wondering why so many places have beams? Why would anyone design a home with such oppressive structures, reminiscent of axe-blades overhead?
Something I’ve observed is that beams occur most frequently in countries that have turbulent histories. Tudor houses in England, for example, were built at a time when you could lose your head at the drop of a hat, so to speak. Architects would have unconsciously designed buildings this way because it reflected the mood of the times. It would have felt “right”.
Why some architects continue to build this way today is a source of mystery to me. Perhaps they, and the people who buy these homes, think the historical association brings more character or style to the place. The odd beam or two in a storeroom where people rarely go is no problem, but to regularly eat, work, relax, and especially sleep or meditate under a beam is to invite a multitude of problems.
The final word on beams
So, to recap, the larger, lower, sharper, darker and heavier the beam, the greater the effect. Anything you can do to soften or alleviate any of these characteristics will bring about an improvement.
And would I live in a home with beams? Not a chance. Life just doesn’t have to be that hard.
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