"Trading Spaces" has a most original concept for a television show about DIY home decorating. Two neighboring couples, each armed with $1,000 and a professional interior designer, switch homes for 48 hours and transform a room in the other's house into a dramatic showcase of frugal decorating ideas. The show culminates with the "reveal," in which the couples are returned to their own homes to see what their friends have wrought. In a display of real human drama, the reactions range from tears of joy to outright horror.
The show airs daily on The Learning Channel, and its fans are an enthusiastic bunch. TLC's occasional daylong marathons of "Trading Spaces" episodes can keep home decorating aficionados glued to the television all day, and there are several fan sites and chat rooms devoted to debating the merits of the different designers (the show draws from a pool of six regulars). By far the most popular designer on the show, at least according to the Internet, is Atlantan Vern Yip, whose winning smile, innovative ideas and all-round good nature usually portends an entertaining episode.
While Yip loves to philosophize on the how to make a $1,000 makeover look like a $10,000 one, he's not only about making do on a limited budget. A minimalist who would like every room to be "stark white ... and clean," Yip has a client list that includes several (unnamed) celebrities and some of the city's most popular restaurants. He was the man responsible for the cool, calm ambiance of the now-defunct Fusebox restaurant, and he also designed Deux Plex. He's currently doing some work on the five-star restaurant, Seeger's, and is redesigning chef owner Guenter Seeger's entire home.
Yip's life today reflects a radical departure from his original career path. A high achiever of the first order, the 33-year-old MacLean, Va., native was a pre-med candidate when he received double degrees (one in economics, another in chemistry) from the University of Virginia. Just two weeks before med school started, Yip broke the news to his parents that a doctor's life was not for him. Instead he came to Georgia Tech, at that time the only college offering double masters programs in architecture and management. By the time he finished his degrees in 1994, he was already working for the firm of Thompson Ventulett Stainback & Associates, commonly known as TVS.
"I was an architecture intern," Yip recalls in a telephone conversation from his mother's home in Virginia. "Less than a year into it, one of the interior design principles had been observing me, and she said, 'You know what? You would make a great interior designer.' I don't know what I did that made her think that, but the very first project they put me on was the corporate headquarters for Disney Cruise."
Today he does both, architectural and interior design, for his own company, Vern Yip Designs. "I love doing both. I love being able to do a project from beginning to end. I like being able to help someone detail their gutter and then pick out the fabric for their drapes."
Named 2000 Southeast Designer of the Year, Yip has recently launched a furniture line called Collection 88 available at DW Showrooms at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center, one of his favorite stores for fabrics and furnishings. He also likes Renfroe at Miami Circle, and he buys art from Jackson Fine Art. For "Trading Spaces," Yip often shops at Pottery Barn Outlet, William Sonoma Outlet and Banana Republic Home stores.
Whether for the show or for a personal client, Yip emphasizes two things when decorating a room: focal points and lighting.
"My philosophy is always -- because I am a minimalist and I like things layered and clean -- that you provide focal points in a room, that people have one or two things that are phenomenal instead of a lot of things that might water it down."
As for lighting, "That's a part of the room that a lot of people ignore," he says. "But lighting is critical. Lighting is not only a function, but lighting can be a piece of art. Lighting also transforms the mood of a room."
Among some of Yip's most memorable transformations on "Trading Spaces" have been a red-wine kitchen, an upholstered bedroom wall, and an icicle bed canopy made from glass Christmas tree ornaments.
But he isn't into creating shock value with his "Trading Spaces" projects (fans wonder if fellow Atlanta designer Hilda Santo-Tomas will ever live down that hay-covered wall). No matter what the project is, there is one thing Yip hopes to convey on "Trading Spaces," and that is "to show people that $1,000 can go a lot farther than you think if you can just take your blinders off and think outside the box."