By Maggie Grainger | Photos by Rick Baraff
When the only world you know is full of chaos, finding a peaceful place to call your own becomes key to survival. Bay Area designer Karla D’Aguilar grew up in Venezuela during turbulent political times and came to find her calm in the form of feng shui.
D’Aguilar is now a successful Feng Shui designer who travels the world helping people find balance in their lives. This is largely because her path to peace wasn’t so smooth. Growing up in war-torn Venezuela, D’Aguilar knows all too well what imbalance and desperation can do to an entire nation.
“In high school, the political situation in Venezuela was bad,” remembers D’Aguilar. “Looking back, I don’t know how I survived.”
In 1989, Venezuelans were fighting for their lives after to-be President Hugo Chavez attempted to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez in a political coupe. His attempts failed and he ended up in prison. But riots broke out all over the city, killing hundreds and turning civilians against each other. D’Aguilar remembers being savagely attacked on her way home from school because she was wearing a military school uniform.
“They would throw stones at anyone who looked like police,” she explains. “It was terrifying.” Thankfully, that day D’Aguilar had a guardian angel on her side. A kind lady quickly grabbed her, yanking her by the hem of her clothes as she shouted and screamed, “these are students!” Although the crowd persisted, the lady did not give in to their fear-led violence. Instead, she stood guard and lectured the crowd on how their actions were not right. “She was a blessing,” says D’Aguilar.
She eventually made it home safely, but her mother removed her from the private military school, transferred her to public school, and moved the family out of the nation’s capital of Caracas to the calmer suburbs. “I want to thank that lady,” D’Aguilar says. “That moment helped me understand and appreciate life . . . I grew up a lot.”
In fact, it was because of this defining moment that D’Aguilar decided to make it her mission to help others. She left accounting university to study holistic health, where her true talents blossomed. She eventually ventured into a more holistic lifestyle, working as a psychotherapist and studying Feng Shui. “Feng Shui affects everything. You sleep differently, you can apply it to business and your business will have success,” she says. She goes on to explain what drew her to Feng Shui: “I come from a humble background, so this practice is close to my heart. I want everyone to be successful and happy in life.”
She also loves seeing the renewed energy Feng Shui brings to people. One of her teachers is an elderly master whose energy is “amazing.” He would hike the Grand Canyon, leaving everyone else behind, and was the epitome of vitality.
Life eventually led D’Aguilar to the United States, where she continued to practice in a rather unconventional place for Feng Shui: Louisville, Kentucky. “There was an article written about me in a Louisville country club newspaper but there were no photos of me,” she remembers. “I was invited for tea at this mansion and the hostess looked at me and was surprised I wasn’t Chinese. She expected an old Asian lady at her door.”
Understanding that many people have misconceptions about her profession, even people in China, D’Aguilar is patient. When she traveled to Asia to train, people were shocked she was Latin. She laughs. “Feng Shui isn’t just Chinese; it’s got lots of Native American roots: sun rises and sun sets. It’s based on harvest cultures.”
D’Aguilar now proudly calls California home, and she’s the first to admit that life in California is better than good, it’s great. For her, California exudes a relaxed attitude. She revels in seeing people enjoy life, which makes her grateful to be here. “I can sit down, enjoy my wine, take a hike, and walk on the beach. Anything I want!” she says with a wide smile. “We have to work hard, but we get to enjoy; I feel deeply blessed.”
It’s a far cry from Venezuela, where she recently went back to visit family. During her trip, she hired a driver and security because it’s difficult to get around and dangerous. However, she still has fondness for her homeland and hopes one day she can return to help mend a broken nation.
“My job is to help people,” she says. “Feng Shui affects our surroundings, all our environment. Environment affects people, and people make a society a country.”