Zen in the den

Is a closed toilet the path to spiritual harmony? Dallasí feng shui followers think so.

To her surprise and delight, in the ensuing months Kasmir picked up several corporate clients, including Blockbuster. A client with a private collection recently sent her to Europe for three weeks to attend the Art Fair in Basil, Switzerland, and the Venice Bienalle, among other art shows. "I've been getting to do more interesting and more successful projects," Kasmir says.

And shortly after she changed her environment, Kasmir finally got to the bottom of a medical malady that had been plaguing her for years. For the last eight years, Kasmir has suffered from chronic neck pain, the cause of which continued to elude doctors. Several months ago, she heard about a special MRI machine at UCLA and made an appointment for a consultation. She flew to California where tests showed she had an entrapped nerve. She is scheduled to return to UCLA this September for surgery. Though this may all be coincidence, Kasmir believes feng shui had something to do with it.

"I'm not really a crystal person," says Kasmir. "I'm not New Age, but I have an open attitude about things. Feng shui seems to have worked for me. My mood and life seem to be smoother and calmer."

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Connie McMahon, a filmmaker and director of marketing at the Dallas Theater Center, isn't sure she buys into all the Chinese reasoning behind feng shui. But the idea of analyzing her living space and making sense of it appealed to her.

Among the changes she made in her home were installing two mirrors to ward off bad chi and adding some yellow objects in the den, which is in the center of her house. This area represents the earth, and it was a room that needed grounding.

Not long after she implemented the changes, McMahon says, some additional funding for a film project came through, some locations she was trying to get came through, and she had an opportunity to work in California.

"I can't prove that feng shui was responsible," McMahon says. "But it's like Shakespeare writes in Hamlet: 'There are more things in Heaven and Earth...than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'"

It was hard not to argue that the restaurant space on McKinney Avenue just north of Knox Street was jinxed. Between the early 1980s and early 1990s, more than a half-dozen restaurants located there had failed. Maybe the food or service had something to do with a few of the failures, but one of those restaurants was run by the chef who would later go on to open the restaurant Fish to rave reviews and respectable success.

Phina Nakamoto knew all about the hex, but still she was drawn to the location and was determined to open her Pacific Rim restaurant Anzu there in 1992. After all, Nakamoto had a secret weapon. In addition to hiring premier Dallas restaurant designer Paul Draper, she was going to employ the services of the feng shui master who had helped her family for decades.

Nakamoto and her siblings were born in Japan to parents of Chinese descent who had always followed feng shui principles in their home and businesses. The family moved to Dallas in the early 1980s. A short while later, they opened Nakamoto, a Japanese restaurant in Plano. For that enterprise, they brought in feng shui master Pai Kuo, who was living in St. Louis at the time and had been a family friend and resource for decades.

The feng shui touches he added to Nakamoto were minimal compared with what had to be done at Anzu. Before the Nakamotos even signed a lease for the McKinney space, Pai Kuo arrived with his trusty compass to determine whether he could cure the location of its many ills. Kuo prescribed some initial cures. The shape of the restaurant had to be turned into a perfect rectangle, easily accomplished by adding a small patio. And the previous restaurant's bar had to go. It was sitting at an angle, with a pointy end facing the restaurant's front door. Kuo said it was as if the bar were stabbing everyone who entered.

Once renovations were under way, Kuo and Draper had to strike their own sense of balance and harmony first, which was not a problem, since Draper had worked in Asia and was familiar with feng shui. Kuo nixed Draper's plans to put in skylights throughout the ceiling, because they let energy escape a room. Draper was gracious about Kuo nixing his color scheme in favor of using oxblood and gold leaf, which is supposed to bring good luck. And together they came up with a way to rid the restaurant of its pesky exposed metal truss problem.

"The exposed beams are like ribs poking through skin," explains Nakamoto. "It is a sign of poverty and vulnerability."

Putting in another ceiling was cost prohibitive, so Draper devised a simpler, but more profound solution. Recalling that gifts of 1,000 origami (folded paper) cranes portend prosperity and good health, he decided to cover the ceiling in paper birds--almost 5,000 in all.

Business has been steady ever since Anzu opened five years ago. But the Nakamotos fly Kuo in each year to inspect their restaurants and give them something akin to a ch'i checkup, which is particularly important for Anzu, where the surrounding terrain keeps changing because of demolition and new construction.

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