Design Experts

Inside design: Vern Yip

Inside design: Vern Yip Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: Vern Yip

Vern Yip could talk about creating chic on the cheap for hours. “There's just so much to say. I'm really passionate about it,” he exclaims. An architect and an interior designer by training, Vern has been sharing his passion for decorating with viewers of TLC's Trading Spaces for two seasons, helping them find the right shortcuts to chicdom. In fact, the Atlanta-based designer is something of an evangelist for the cause of decorating egalitarianism, unabashedly proclaiming his belief that stylish rooms should be affordable. “I refuse to give up sophistication for a tight budget,” he says. “There's always a way to make a hundred bucks look like a million.” Here, the designer reveals some of his cheap-chic secrets.

S@H: Everyone wants to have fabulous-looking rooms, but few of us can afford all of the high-priced elements that make them so fabulous. How do you get around that?
VY:
I don't. I tell people not to compromise on the one or two things that to them will really make the room. That could be a sofa or a chair or a great piece of art or an end table – it doesn't have to be a large piece. I'd rather spend the budget on one or two things that count and that you'll have for a lifetime – and then find creative tricks to make the rest of the room look chic on the cheap – than spend the money a little here and a little there. I think that's a really crucial point. If you acquire good-quality pieces, then the next time you redecorate, you can hang on to your stuff.

S@H: So less really is more?
VY:
The surest way to cheapen a room is to fill it with too much stuff. Learning to edit is a smart way to go. You need to understand how your room is coming together. A room is successful – budget or no budget – because it's planned out. I like to spend money on fewer and better things that provide a focus in the room, then fill in the gaps with accessories or wall colour.

S@H: What mistakes do people make when decorating?
VY:
Furnishings are the items people waste the most money on. They make the mistake of going into showrooms and buying an entire room as one set. It's a great way to spend a lot of money without looking as if you've spent any money, and it's not representative of you. I like to look for pieces with character that might add an element of drama to a room.

S@H: Is creating an element of drama an important part of decorating on a budget?
VY:
It's all about thinking creatively and being bold. Think outside the box. The ceiling, for example, is a design plane that many people ignore. But a single light fixture can set the tone for an entire room and give it that extra bit of panache. I also like to paint the ceiling a colour other than the conventional white or off-white. If you find a colour palette that you really like, take it up or down half a shade for the ceiling. Think of the ceiling as another design plane that contributes to the room's overall atmosphere. It shouldn't say, Hey, look at me!

S@H: Colour is an easy and inexpensive way to add style to a room. How do you use colour when decorating?
VY:
There's an inverse relationship between the colour choice for the walls and the sophistication of the things in the room. For example, if the art on the walls is fabulous, I'd use a neutral wall colour to make the art really stand out. If you don't have great art, or even great furnishings for that matter, be bold with colour on the walls to create instant atmosphere. I like to use two shades in the same colour family – two different reds, for example – and use them both in the same room, either in a broad stripe or painting three walls in one red and the focus wall and ceiling in another. Paint is perhaps the easiest way to achieve chic for cheap.

S@H: Is there any budget that's simply too tight? Have you ever been completely stymied by too little money?
VY:
No way. Even if you told me you only had a hundred bucks, the first thing I'd do is edit and see what can be salvaged, then I'd buy one or two accent pieces. I'd save myself a little money for paint and go crazy.

Vern's guide to getting more style for less

• Start with what you have. A coat of paint may be all that stands between your grandma's dining chairs and utter fabulousness, and slipcovering a piece in bold fabric will likely be less pricey than reupholstering or replacing it.

• Don't forget lighting. “Lighting creates instant mood,” Vern says, “and can be affordable.” All it takes to make mismatched lamps work together is shades in the same fabric.

• Invest in pillows. They can tie together or change the colours of a room and add a luxe look. You won't need much fabric, so go high end – say, shantung silk.

• Think multiples. “An easy way for a small item to look dramatic is to create a grouping of more than one,” says Vern. “If I find an inexpensive vase, I'll buy 10 and line them up on a mantel.”

• Create your own art. “What makes artwork stand out is that it's done with passion,” says Vern. “Get a canvas and make something that has meaning for you and will evoke feelings in others. You'd be surprised what you can do.”

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Design Experts

Inside design: Vern Yip