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Vern Yip on His HSN Line, Fatherhood, and Designing For UNICEF

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Welcome back to Curbed Interviews, wherein Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.

As one of HGTV's early breakout personalities, architect and interior designer Vern Yip set the standard for being a cool head in the over-the-top world of reality TV. He's been the voice and face of flyover-friendly Trading Spaces to charity-oriented Deserving Design to talent incubator Design Star. On Tuesday, Vern Yip Home debuted on HSN. We spoke at length with Yip about his new line, how the lotus motif has influenced him, and his dream of designing schools for UNICEF.

You've been on television for over a decade and have held off introducing your own home line. What about HSN convinced you to take the plunge?
When I began talking to HSN about the potential of doing a line, I immediately realized this was the perfect fit. They understood the vision I had for the line, the fact that I wanted to design products that has a lot of design “value”—that were well-designed and high quality and at the same time affordable.

The really great thing about working with HSN is that not only did they allow me to fulfill that vision, but they work in such quantities and numbers that they can get those quality materials and get the labor in at the right price point and therefore make it more accessible. You know anybody can do high quality and anybody can do great design, but it’s really hard to do those things and still make it accessible to everybody and that’s what the foundation of my career has always been built on. When I told them that that was my requirement and they said, "That’s great," and they had the same vision, I immediately realized this was the perfect place to do it. Then it really just came about creating the products that we really felt were going to most benefit the customer.

What were some pieces you knew just had to be in the collection?
Bedding always a great item to include in a line because it takes up so much square footage and so much real estate in your home, and so it’s one of those places where you can immediately create a massive impact with a very simple change. So I definitely knew I wanted to do that. They were totally on board for the inclusion of artwork and the inclusion of lighting, and, of course, furniture. And they were open to the ideas I had for making things really multifunctional and scaled so that they have a long life.

If you look at the collection, you will see that the sofette is a really great size that accommodates anybody who, for example, is starting out in a limited space like a studio, one-bedroom apartment, or small house. It can grow with you. When you move to a two-bedroom or three-bedroom or bigger house, it’s great as additional seating in your guest bedroom. It’s also great as a reading area in your own master bedroom.

How important was it for you to incorporate traditional Chinese motifs into the HSN collection?
The Lotus medallion I created for this collection specifically is something that has a lot of personal history for me. My parents fled China during the Communist revolution, and they moved to the States when I was two months old (I was born in Hong Kong). The very first business that they started was a company called Lotus, because the lotus in the Chinese culture has always been a symbol of rebirth and renewal. So with the launch of this first collection, I really wanted to weave that in and I designed the lotus in kind of an updated fashion. It’s an abstract lotus; it’s very architectural. Because I always find that there’s richness in abstracting something, giving it more longevity and life.

With so many TV projects, how much time is left for private design clients?
It’s not a tremendous amount of time, but I think that’s the motivation for being able to really do a collection. I have something to say about design. It would really not be interesting for me to put out a line of things if they were really just like everybody else’s things, but they just happened to have my name on it.

In other words, it's my way of actually being able to make myself available in more homes without physically being able to go there. Everything in the collection, for example, is designed to work together. It gives you the freedom within the entire collection to just pick and choose the things that you really respond to and that you really love. And that way, it’s sort of my way of helping you to personalize it. It really makes your home a manifestation of you versus having to buy things that all match—it’s just a more organic process. And again, it’s a great way for me to get into more peoples’ homes because I don’t have a ton of extra time with all of the television projects.

You have a “Design Library” reference spot on your website. I’ve never seen another interior designer share such information so freely. What prompted you to do so?
I think information is power. It’s always what I’ve been trying to do since the start of my career: empower people to really make their homes as amazing and as special as possible. You know, I have this mantra that when you walk through your door you should have a huge smile on your face. Your home should be the ultimate destination for you. You want to be there more than any five-star resort, more so than any other great hotel you can think of. And I think that the way that you get there is by being really being informed on design and by being able to customize it and make it representative of you and your family and making sure that there is a confluence of function and aesthetics. So if I share that information with folks I really feel that I give them some ammunition to be able to really improve the quality of their lives by improving the quality of their space.

You have two children under age two. Has becoming a father changed the way you design?
It has, actually. And I don’t think I really anticipated that. I do have two kids under the age of two and they are growing up the way that I grew up. They are very much exposed to everything. You know, there were no “off-limits.” I was able to touch pretty much anything I wanted to in the house. I understood what was “gentle” and all those kinds of things, and my kids they’re growing up the same way. But I think the part that I didn’t necessarily anticipate was having a daughter. Because she’s just given me a whole new appreciation of color and a different color palette. I really have enjoyed exploring that new territory, and I think it’s reflected in the collection.

What would be your dream project?
I’m a worldwide ambassador for UNICEF and I have been for several years. I think my dream project really would be to do something with them, whether it involved the Education Fund or being able to help pull together schools at the local level that really were designed in a way where kids felt stimulated or felt like they had a cleanly designed space that they could learn in. You know, those are the kinds of things I think about, especially now that I have kids and especially considering my past where my parents gave up everything to be able to afford things for me.

Every year I have this incredible opportunity to design the UNICEF Snowflake Ball in New York. I relish it because I love being an ambassador for UNICEF and I love the fact that through design I get to contribute. Because I pretty much suck at everything else. (laughs) I know how to design.

· Vern Yip Designs [official site]
· Vern Yip to Launch Exclusive New Collection for HSN in July [Curbed National]
· Vern Yip Home [HSN]
· If the Lamp Shade Fits [official site]