A sense of harmony exists in the orange house on Orange Avenue in Los Altos occupied by Kuulei Lara Pai, her husband, Randy Gard, and Hula, their 5-month-old black Labrador.
The name Hula is apropos for the wiggly puppy because Lara, as she is known, is Hawaiian and dances in a hula troupe. She also is a practitioner of feng shui and has her own interior design business, Harmonious Interiors. Randy, a patent attorney, is a partner in Gard & Kaslow LLP in Los Altos.
Lara has applied the principles of feng shui in the redesign of their 1931 cottage. It is a far cry from the 4,000-square-foot ranch-style home in the Willow Glen area of San Jose, where they lived for 18 years.
“Randy was skeptical,” Lara said of their decision to downsize and move closer to his work in 2004. “But once we embraced the feng shui philosophy of less is more, we gave away 80 percent of our furnishings and bought our fixer-upper cottage.”
They are the fourth owners. The original, one-bedroom, one-bath house was built as a getaway by a wealthy San Francisco family. It has since grown to three bedrooms and two baths, but Lara and Randy have plans to add on.
The exterior makeover was her first challenge.
“I let the land and the surroundings talk to me, hence the terra-cotta color of the exterior of the house,” she said. “It came from a piece of bark from the redwood tree in our front yard.”
Lara created four intimate tropical courtyards around the house. The inviting front courtyard has an open-gate policy and neighbors and passersby often come in to sit and relax. A fountain on the wall facing the house gurgles happily away.
The placement of the water feature is in keeping with feng shui principles.
“You don’t want water going away from the house,” Lara said. “You want water coming toward the front door to keep the money coming in.”
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (astronomy) and Earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive chi (energy flow).
The pathway leading to the cottage’s front door is curved because “energy doesn’t move straight,” Lara explained. “And curves are welcoming.”
Speaking of which, a welcome mat at the front door should be as wide or wider than the opening of the door to provide a true welcome for chi. A quarter placed heads up under the mat draws abundance to the house.
“Some type of black or blue near the front door helps with energy,” Lara said.
The front door of the cottage is special. Lara took the existing wood door, faux-painted it and hammered in gold clavos. At a glance, it looks like an authentic Spanish-style plank door with wrought-iron fittings.
“Interior design doesn’t have to be expensive,” she said.
Lara believes in repurposing. For example, the black leather headboard in the master bedroom began life as a room divider and is now hung horizontally on the wall behind the bed
A three-panel screen from a consignment shop hangs on the wall in the breakfast room. In addition to being decorative, the screen is there for a purpose. It offers protection for Randy, who sits in front of it while he has his morning coffee.
According to feng shui philosophy, readings from the lunar calendar determine a person’s top directions, Lara explained. Catering to the breadwinner is paramount.
“The direction he or she sleeps, where they face when they work or relax is important,” she said.
In fixing up the cottage, Lara addressed the nine areas of the feng shui bagua, a chart that relates the various areas of your life to the sections of your living space. They are life path, relationships, family, creativity/children, abundance, travel, fame/recognition, health and knowledge.
In the living room, for example, she addressed three areas of the bagua on the fireplace wall. To the casual observer, it is a stunning wall – art-filled niches on either side of the original stone fireplace. (The niches formerly were bookcases, but Lara removed the shelves and faux-painted the space to mimic the stone fireplace.)
But, in fact, the area to the left of the fireplace is the “abundance” wall. Coins are hidden behind the artwork and a chiming clock is placed in that area to amplify the value of the coins each time the clock chimes. The fireplace is the “fame” area and is painted red. To the right is the “relationships” area, with hidden and exposed pairs of things.
“Specifically, the fame area helps with recognition in the workplace, home and community and in conjunction with the front door (life path) helps with new or improved career opportunities,” Lara said.
The decor and color palette of the cottage are influenced by the elements of feng shui: fire, earth, metal, water and wood.
“I’m fire and Randy is earth,” she said. “Any color seen in a flame is supportive of a fire person. Likewise, browns and terra-cotta for an earth person,”
Look around and those are the colors you see.
Randy’s man cave is done in earth tones. It is here that he relaxes and listens to music. He built his own sound system and has an extensive record collection.
“I only go in to clean and bring food,” Lara said. “Maybe that’s the reason for 25 years of happy marriage.”
Furnishings throughout the house are eclectic and meaningful.
“We cleared out things we didn’t need or that didn’t have meaning,” she said.
The hutch in the Spanish-style dining room belonged to Randy’s grandmother and is filled with glass from Italy and dishes from Mexico, collected by Lara on her travels as an account executive for Qantas and American Airlines. The library table from the Willow Glen house is now the dining room table.
Officially, Lara has been an interior designer for 11 years; unofficially, since she was 7.
“My mother would say, ‘go play,’ but I would rather move furniture around and make drapes,” said Lara, who has been practicing feng shui for eight years. “I feel I have a spiritual gift from my Hawaiian background.”
Lara believes the study of feng shui has enhanced her interior designs.
“The journey of helping others live better lives is truly my passion,” she said.