Q & A With Interior Designer Vern Yip

vern-yip-closeAward-winning architectural and interior designer Vern Yip will appear at AmericasMart’s Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market on Saturday, July 16, from noon to 2 p.m. to introduce Burnes Interiors, a new home décor collection from Burnes of Boston.

  • Noon-1 p.m.: Meet-and-Greet in Seminar Room 930B/934, AmericasMart, Building 2. Presentation begins at 12:15 p.m. Light luncheon served.
  • 1-2 p.m.: Burnes of Boston Showroom, Suite 1529, AmericasMart, Building 2. The first 25 buyers will receive one of Yip’s Burnes Interiors photo frames, personally autographed.

Q&A

AmericasMart (AM):  Most people understand what the role of an interior designer. But you’re also an architectural designer. Can you explain what that is?

Vern Yip (VY):  Unlike most interior designers, I went to architecture school. I have a master’s degree in architecture and an mba from Georgia Tech. After college, I landed an internship with a major architectural firm that specialized in three areas: convention centers, office buildings, and shopping centers. Of course, as an intern, you get the job that nobody is particularly that excited about – like laying out the public bathrooms. Six months into the internship, the firm’s head of interior design saw something in my drawing style – everything was hand‑drawn then – and thought I had potential as a designer. So I started interning in interior design as well as in architecture. Eventually I was able to take the six-part NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualifications) test that allowed me to call myself an interior designer.
        It was a very natural progression for me. Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to design. Because of my background, I bring an architect’s perspective to my interior design projects. For example, I always place a greater emphasis on line rather than on pattern or color. I still do some residential architecture work. In fact, I just finished designing a 2,400‑square-foot addition to my house.

AM:  How did you go from designer to television star?

VY:  I had a big break while still working at my first architecture/ interior design job right out of graduate school: designing the corporate headquarters for Disney Cruise Line just as Disney was launching its cruise division. I absolutely loved it and continued to do both architectural and interior design work until for that firm until I went out on my own in 1999. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and business owners … so going out on my own was a natural progression. In the year 2000, I was fortunate enough to be named Southeast Designer of the Year.  Winning that award put me in all sorts of trade publications, and one of those publications landed on the desk of the production company that was putting together the first season of a show called Trading Spaces.
        They asked me to come in and audition and immediately afterwards, I was offered the job. Initially, I turned the job down. I had just started my design firm and was very focused on building a client base. However, they were persistent, and I finally agreed. Now, I’ve been on television for almost 12 years, and I’ve loved every minute.

AM:  That show was Trading Spaces, which was sort of a breakthrough of its own.

VY:  Trading Spaces was the first of its kind. Previous home-centric shows had been very instructional. Trading Spaces was the first to entertain the audience while also providing accessible design tips people could use around the house.  It launched a whole new type of programming. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.  I did that show for four seasons. Now, with hgtv, I’ve just finished the sixth season of HGTV Design Star and the second installment of HGTV Urban Oasis, where we give away an urban home each year. This year, HGTV is giving away a luxury unit, designed by me, inside the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago … and it is a phenomenal building!

AM:  How do you describe your design style?

VY:  I bring an architectural perspective to everything I do. But I’ve also been tremendously influenced by my travels. I’ve visited 42 countries in the past five years. It’s a huge part of my life and always inspiring. So I’d describe my style as the confluence of my architectural training and global perspective.

AM:  How is this reflected in your Burnes Interiors collections?

VY:  Anyone who looks at my Burnes Interiors collections will see the clean, architectural lines. I’m very sensitive to balance, proportion and scale. I innately bring these into every design – the geometry of things. Nothing super fussy, but yet substantial.
        For Burnes Interiors, I wanted to create the ultimate home environment – eclectic items that work together. These are multi-dimensional design tools to help you fully express who you are through your home design. I always say that your home should be a real reflection of who you are and what you are about. My collection for Burnes Interiors is designed to enable you to pick and choose items you gravitate towards – with the confidence that they will work together seamlessly.
        You’ll see more of my global perspective in my second-generation of Burnes Interiors designs. These include bowls and clocks that were all inspired by things I saw while traveling.

AM:  How does your Asian heritage influence your designs?

VY:  I’m Chinese-American, I grew up with Asian design, and I’ve traveled a lot through Asia. I’d say the clean lines I use and my preference for line over pattern is partially Asian-inspired. But it’s just one dimension of my style. I celebrate my Asian heritage, but I always expand on it.

AM:  How does a busy designer stay on top of the latest trends? 

VY:  I think traveling is one of the most valuable things a designer can do. The world is shrinking; we can contact any corner of world at any time. Understanding how others operate is important to all aspects of our lives, and that includes interior design. I want to see and experience how other people and cultures approach their daily lives – and then let it inspire my work.
        But perhaps even more than that, I want to think about design every day.It’s my greatest passion; I would do even if it weren’t my job. I want to be constantly aware of what is happening – in movies, fashion, books, travel, politics – let it feed my soul, and then see how it materializes in my designs.

AM:  How – and why – did you get involved with Burnes of Boston and the creation of Burnes Interiors?

VY:  Of course, I was familiar with Burnes of Boston. Who hasn’t bought Burnes of Boston picture frames? So when they approached me I was intrigued. But just because you have a well-known name or the ability to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. I wasn’t interested in rehashing designs that already exist in the marketplace and putting my name on them. But I saw a real opportunity to improve people’s lives through the innovative approach that Burnes Interiors is taking. When you put something out there that has a point of view – especially something that hasn’t been expressed before – then it becomes valuable. Then you have something to contribute.
        The idea of working with Burnes to develop a line of home accessories was an exciting opportunity. Small items can have a huge impact, and they are so crucial for fully expressing your personality. I felt I had something different to say – and this was a chance to help people pull their spaces together without fear.
        I’ve been in countless homes, and people always say, “We couldn’t have done it without you.” Well, I can’t be in every home. And yet, the way Burnes Interiors is set up, it’s almost as if I can – because the design value is built into the product. Burnes Interiors products are created with a designer’s eye; they are correctly proportioned and have built-in function. These items are designed to work in your home – and they have the flexibility to adapt to different rooms and spaces. So if you move or change your décor, Burnes Interiors will grow with you. That’s the value you’re getting.

AM:  I’ve noticed that candlelight often plays a role in your designs. Now you’ve created wall sconces for Burnes Interiors. What does this kind of lighting add to a room?

VY:  Light is a critical component for setting the mood or tone in a home. It’s one of a designer’s most powerful tools. There’s not a light bulb in the world that can replicate candlelight. It automatically creates a special environment. I relished the opportunity to incorporate candlelight into Burnes Interiors. The way the flicker of a candle is reflected in a mirror‑backed sconce is magnificent. It’s a powerful and elegant tool that harkens back to well-known vistas like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. With my mirror-backed sconces, people can recreate that look in their own homes and do it affordably. Burnes Interiors is sophisticated and looks pricey … but it is affordable while also being of quality. There is a lot of design value built into this collection.

AM:  I understand you gave Burnes Interiors its working title: “The Thread Project.” What does that mean?

VY:  We live in a world where environments are eclectic. Expressing who we are, rather than adhering to one design style, should be the norm these days. Not everything matches any more – perhaps because you got married or moved in with your partner, or you inherited some furniture, or simply because you have diverse interests. That is wonderful, and it is very reflective of how people live today. We should be celebrating what makes us unique and special through our eclectic environments. 
        Most people, however, panic trying to pull together an eclectic environment. Almost everyone struggles with it. But there are ways that common threads can link diverse items together. With Burnes Interiors, these common threads have been built-in because we’ve done the thinking for you and are showing you directly how to pull together eclectic elements and feel secure about it. This allows you to have a multi‑dimensional, personalized home filled with adaptable elements that can change with you … and that help make you home that destination that always puts a smile on your face at the end of the day. For me, that’s what home is all about. It should be the ultimate environment – better than any hotel or five-star resort. Home should be the place that makes you happiest. 

AM:  What are the most frequent mistakes people make when decorating their homes?

VY:  One of the biggest mistakes is that people tend to save the walls for last.  When they realize their walls are naked, they often just panic and choose artwork or accessories in the wrong size or wrong scale. That’s something I addressed with Burnes Interiors. The heart of the collection includes mirrors and sconces all properly scaled for scenarios that most people encounter … such as a bare area above a sofa, entry table, or headboard. These are elements that come in common sizes that we all have, but most folks don’t know how to use that space.  With my Burnes Interiors collection, items are thoughtfully scaled to address these scenarios and adapt in the future as people’s homes and lives change. As I said, I want you to be able to decorate without fear. At the end of the day, this should be fun!
        Also, people feel they have to adhere to one style within a room or space. Most know they don’t have to do the entire house all one way, yet they hesitate to mix it up within a room. But the most beautiful rooms don’t have to have “a specific style.” They just have to be your style.

AM:  What tips would you give people who consider themselves clueless when it comes to home decorating?

VY:  Dig deep. Have an honest conversation with yourself about who you are and what your life is about. Choose things that speak to you. You don’t have to follow any so-called standards or rules.
        Also, buy quality. Quality has nothing to do with price. Expensive doesn’t equal quality; inexpensive doesn’t mean poor quality. There’s a lot of accessible design that offers the kind of craftsmanship and durability I’m talking about. In fact, the quality of Burnes Interiors is one of the things I’m most proud of. Every item is well made, enduring in design, and affordably priced.
        Finally, people should embrace color – especially on their walls. There’s a lot of fear in this area. But color gives a room a sense of completion and a sense of design … and it is another powerful tool for expressing who you are. If you don’t like the color you’ve tried on the walls, you can change it! Painting is easy and relatively inexpensive.

AM:  What else are you currently working on?

VY:  It’s really been a dynamic year; I’m very lucky. In addition to HGTV Design Star and HGTV Urban Oasis, I’m launching a home collection with Home Shopping Network (HSN) on July 26 that’s inclusive of bedding, furniture and lighting. A lot of furniture and soft goods:  sheets, duvets, loveseats, headboards, beds. The Vern Yip Home Collection for HSN is actually a good complement to my collection for Burnes Interiors.
        And my family is growing. I have a three-month-old daughter and a 17‑month-old son. So it’s been a very good year.

AM:  When can we next see you on television?

VY:  HGTV Design Star returns for the sixth season on July 11, and HGTV Urban Oasis 2011 debuts on August 24. It’s going to be a busy summer.

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