Design School — Empty Space
Understanding the art of nothing — designing with less clutter and more clarity.
Back in March, I wrote about the ancient practice of Feng Shui and how this design style is still relevant today. One of Feng Shui’s core principles is caring for the proper flow of chi or as some may describe it as “good energy” throughout your space.
Empty space in design is like the pause in a conversation, the quiet in a bustling city, or that moment in a movie where everything stands still. You need that empty space.
Are you someone who sees empty space as something to fill? Or do you see it as something that was left empty on purpose?
The beauty of minimalism isn’t necessarily the act of having next to nothing - but instead, it’s the act of embracing empty space. At its core, empty (or negative) space is the breathing room around and between elements in any composition – think of the white space in a logo, the open areas in a living room, or the unoccupied parts of a photograph. It’s the design world’s equivalent of a deep, calming breath.
Origins of minimalism and emptiness trace back centuries, where less always meant more. In Japanese aesthetics, for instance, ‘Ma’ (間) represents this exact principle – the powerful pause, the eloquent emptiness. This concept didn’t just inform art; it shaped philosophies and ways of life.
Ma directly translates to “gap”, “pause”, or “space.” Ma is the space in between something’s end and the next beginning. A place of rest between subjects in a frame (painting - photograph - film).
How could a pause help you function better in your space? Could more gaps in your schedule, in your thoughts and in your home create a more peaceful environment for you?
Within our modern age, it’s quite uncommon to ever get a gap in the constant flow of a social media feed, digital notifications, or a 24-hour news cycle. The power of empty space goes beyond just an aesthetic choice and can become a more peaceful way of life.
We are bombarded with knowledge of simultaneous global events and our attention is bought and sold when we become collectors just for the sake of filling empty space when, in reality, we have the power to clear out space for better, fresh energy to flow.
The next time you have a chance - keep your phone flipped down when there’s a short lull in your day. And when you move into your next space don’t hang a picture on every wall. Embrace the art of nothing. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for the rest you receive.
For this energy to flow, there must be a proper avenue inside your space and often it comes from an outside source: sun, wind, and the natural environment.
But what if your space is cluttered? What if the dishes pile up, boxes are left stacked, and you’ve got too much furniture? Or maybe you collect something that you don’t need.
I used to collect Coca-Cola bottles, I had some pretty unique bottles and I had convinced myself that I would one day sell my entire collection for a lot of money on eBay. But those bottles followed me for so long and even though I’d add a new bottle here and there they mainly just took up a portion of my closet space collecting dust.
If dust is being collected more than the collection itself, it’s probably a good time to de-clutter.
If you’re like me, you’ve run into a dozen videos on social media of Cliff Tan often simulating a reorientation of someone’s space for them to feel better in those spaces all under the teachings of Feng Shui.
One of the most significant ways to feel better in your space is to de-clutter. Are you constantly shifting things in your space to get to more necessary aspects of your life?
A question that not many people love to ask is “Do I really need this?”
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