Beliefnet

"In water we see the nature of flow," writes Laura Sewall, author of "Sight and Sensibility." Perhaps this is why most of us find a rushing stream or a cascading waterfall so appealing.

But more and more, people are discovering that they don't have to go into nature to enjoy water's sensory pleasures. Small, plug-in, pump-operated tabletop fountains are making it possible to bring that experience into our homes and offices.

"They're really wonderful products to have around," says David Zasloff, CFO of Water Wonders in Santa Maria, Calif. "The sound of running water gives you a release from stress. And it also humidifies and ionizes the air, like when you're at the beach."

As interest grows in the Chinese art of feng shui--aligning your living and working environment with the patterns of nature--people are also using fountains to attract wealth and career success, which are governed by the energy of water. "Water represents the flow and abundance in your life," says Joan Stigliano, a Long Island interior designer and feng shui consultant. "When placed in certain sectors of a space, water enhances it--like when you water plants. I put one in the family and health corner of a therapist's office because she does psychotherapy and is dealing with personal health problems. I also thought it would be soothing for her patients."

"Eastern philosophy is more about process, and Western philosophy is more about outcome...people are trying to integrate the two. Westerners are becoming more interested in the flow, in just letting things happen."

Steven Post, a feng shui teacher who is now on the internet at www.geofengshui.com

, agrees that there are some positions in the home where water can be beneficial "It can be very good at an entrance for attracting money and opportunities--and of course it can be a very calming influence if people are agitated."

Whatever the reason, upscale retailers like Lord & Taylor and The Sharper Image, as well as specialty stores such as the Discovery Channel stores and mass outlets like Sears report brisk--and growing--fountain sales. "Even brides are registering for these things," says a sales associate at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan, which started with three models last November and now carries 1l, priced from $29.99 to $69.99.

"Once they hit the floor they go out.we can't keep them in stock. We sell about 20 or 30 of each style every week, but when there's a sale on that might double or triple." At the SoHo Smith & Hawken, in New York City, the fountains have proved so popular that the store is offering a make-your-own fountain class where students can choose their own containers, stones, and plants.

Styles and prices vary widely, but the most expensive fountains are handmade and produced in the U.S. from natural materials like slate, granite, and copper molded into simple, geometric shapes. At Design Concern, a Seattle gift store, owner Kris Kadoshima reports that right now her more expensive fountain ($257) is outselling the $109 model. Produced by Vital Designs of Highland Park, N. J., it has an Oriental feel, with water cascading from a square copper spillway into a square pool set with smooth rocks in a round black disk. But sales of both styles have definitely gone up, she says, since she started carrying them last September.

Vital Designs creator and owner Keith Bul, however, is not entirely happy with trends in the industry. "Fountain sales in general have skyrocketed," he says. "They're everywhere--at Macy's, the Sports Authority, even Target. But they're becoming a mass-market thing. The trend is a race for the bottom in terms of price and often quality."

More and more manufacturers are taking homegrown U.S. designs to China to be produced, he says, and these cheaper models, made of polyresin, are flooding the market here and abroad. Robert Emmons, a buyer for the Nature Company, confirms that trend and says his fountain sales will peak this year because of the influx of less-expensive Chinese versions. The market-share leader, Homemedics, based in suburban Detroit--which manufactures its fountains in China--projects that retail sales in the industry are likely to hit $200 million this year. This means about 5 million units walking out of stores nationwide.
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