David: For the past 20 years, I was running hospital foundations that managed philanthropic dollars. I came to Pitt and was associate vice chancellor for the medical school in that same capacity. I found it to be a very unsettling and unsatisfying environment. It just wasn't my style. But rather than trying to move, I thought, "This is an opportunity to totally change careers."
What is feng shui?
David: What feng shui means literally is "wind and water." Going back centuries with the Chinese, they felt that man's body and being and lifestyle should have the same type of harmony that the earth does. When everything is in harmony and in sync, life goes very nicely and we have a nice 80-degree, no-humidity day versus a tidal wave. The same thing is reflected in our own lifestyles. And what feng shui does is allow individuals to utilize the approach so that there's a flow, so that energies flow properly.
How do you apply that practically?
David: The idea, structurally, is the flow of the house. In this case [their first for-sale renovation], we totally relocated the staircase that was in the center of the house, dividing the kitchen and the living room, but also dividing the bedroom so that it was a very, very tiny room. We relocated the stairs to the back of the house, again creating a more logical flow. We tore a three-layer brick wall down which was the back of the original house, so that we could have a very practical and large and magnificent kitchen. We kept everything bright, we kept it airy.
Helen: On the house tour, people would go through our own house and say, "I could move right in. This is so comfortable." And to me that's the goal of any home.
Why does feng shui seem strange to people?
David: Most people are so busy that they don't think about what they like and what they don't like. And you've got to ask yourself questions like, "What makes me happy?" What kind of music does a person like? Do they like art? Do they like to eat, is it an important part of their lives? When you listen to music, where do you like to sit? You've got to ask yourself these questions. And when you do, then you can have a harmonious home that's comfortable, peaceful, in balance.
Is there any home that is not feng shui-able?
Helen: There is nothing that you couldn't turn into a good feng shui area. But rectangles and square homes are absolutely the best shapes.
Are there special feng shui stores?
David: We very rarely have purchased a new piece of furniture. Everything that we've purchased is from a yard sale, a flea market, a Salvation Army, an auction, or the side of the road.
Helen: I curb-shop a lot.
David: Last week we had one of the best trash-picks we ever had. From Mount Lebanon to Oakland in two days, we furnished a room.
How is this as a new career?
David: It's been terrific. I enjoy the people that I work with because they're craftsmen and they're artists who take a great deal of pride in coming up with a good finished product. In the business world, it's very easy to bury your work. With this line of work, you can't bury it because it just stands right there.
Helen asks me all the time: "Are you having fun?" And the first couple times, I got really defensive. I said, "I'm not having fun! I'm working hard!" Well, you know, yes, you should have fun when you work. It should be something that you can really give a hundred percent of yourself.
We have talked about doing something like this for a long time. But it was just never in the cards, or I was always afraid to break away from that job, and that paycheck. And it's not that I could afford to break away from it right now. It's just that I said, "I'm not going to do it any more." I'm prepared to live in a cave if I have to.
Helen: I'm not moving to a cave.