Since it's premiere in 2006, "HGTV Design Star" has not only made people more aware of how interior design is done but also brought competitive designers from across the country together to vie for the prize of hosting your own design series on HGTV. Popular interior designer and judge Vern Yip is joined by two new judges this year � Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson � and, as Yip told our Jim Halterman, the competition is tougher than ever on the new season that kicks off Sunday on HGTV.
Jim Halterman: How is the new season of "HGTV Design Star" different from the previous three seasons?
Vern Yip: Actually, there are a lot of changes. We've got two new judges this year with Candice and Genevieve and I think they're fantastic additions to the show but I think the biggest change is probably the contestants themselves this year. For whatever reason, whether it's a tipping of the forces of the show or maybe the economy as well, there are more people with creative talent wanting opportunities and the contestants this year are so elevated in their creativity. Some of them have formal training, some of them don't but they're all very, very creative this year and I love that. It makes it more fun to judge and more fun to watch.
JH: What is it that the three judges are looking for with the contestants work?
VY: Being the winner of "Design Star" you get your own TV show so you have to be able to design on incredibly tight deadlines with real budgets and you have to be able to execute your design. In the real world, interior designers don't necessarily have to be able to do their own installation, they don't have to physically be able to make that happen but in TV land that is part of the job. You have to have that knowledge. Another thing is to be able to explain your design. That's something you're not required to do in the real world but in TV world you have to be able to explain for the audiences at home to get what you're saying so the audience can take that information and apply it to their own homes. So it's really nice to have three judges who have the jobs that [the contestants are] seeking and we're able to look out for who is going to be able to do that job.
JH: When you're picking each season's contestants, how much does personality come into play along with their design talent?
VY: Speaking for myself, design talent is definitely number one. It's the thing that has to be there. If you don't have design talent, you're not going to make it as a contestant on this show. That's the big, big requirement. But then after you have found the contestants that have real design talent and have a point of view and really demonstrate that they have something unique to offer, you then have to think about their ability to explain and ability to execute. Both of those things are super important and are definitely part of the requirements but, for me, design talent is number one.
JH: You and all the judges don't really hold back your reactions even if you are horrified. Do you have to work hard to not edit yourself so feelings are not hurt?
VY: I think the point is to never hurt anyone's feelings and I would never want to intentionally do that but as judge your job is to evaluate the design that has been put in front of you and to evaluate it fairly. If we can make the criticism more constructive, that's great. We want people to understand why something doesn't work and not just express that we don't like it. It's always more helpful to explain why we don't like it. These contestants know what they're getting into when they sign up and only one person will win so that means each week we have to figure out who has performed the best and who underperformed.
JH: Are you and judges privy to any of the footage of the contestants working together or do you only see the end design?
VY: We only see the end design. We don't get any of the footage of what happens in each competition or how people work together but inevitably, as you'll see in the first episode and if you've seen the first three seasons, all that comes out anyway. When you're dealing with really creative people, people who have original creative voices, it's a given that you're also dealing with people who are very passionate and who want to be able to defend what they've done. They want to be able to explain why they've done what they've done and that often times goes into how things worked out as a team.
JH: You're currently also playing the other side of the fence as a contestant on the HGTV show "Showdown." How's it going competing against other accomplished designers?
VY: The season finale is airing right before the season finale of "Design Star" and it's myself going against Angelo Surmelis. When you go from being a judge to being the contestant it's sort of like "Iron Chef" for interior design world and also for the interior designers showcased on HGTV. What they've done on our particular episode airing Sunday, they asked for submissions from people all across the country that had kitchens that really needed renovating and they picked a really nice couple who bought a house but they just had an absolutely disastrous kitchen. They replicated the kitchen with the adjacent mudroom twice on a stage and Angelo and I did not get to see the kitchen beforehand. We're on the stage and we hear the story of this couple and they're flown in and we see the kitchen for the very first time and we have six hours to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and it's adjacent mud room putting in flooring, counter tops, appliances, everything and we have six hours to do it. We each have a team of five additional people that are all skilled and we can use anything that is in the soundstage that is four or five stories high worth of materials. There are refrigerators and stoves and cabinets and paint�it's difficult! Six hours for a kitchen is tough. In interior design, we renovate three rooms in three days, which I always think is tough but to do a kitchen in six hours is definitely tougher.
JH: You've said before that you never intended to be a television personality but if it suddenly went away would you miss it?
VY: It is a big part of my life and I like it because, for me, it's an opportunity to really get design across to America. There was a day and time when interior design was relegated to the top rung of the socio-economic ladder but with the advent of more interior design shows and transformation shows�folks like Target, Pottery Barn, all those folks provide products that are more design-sensitive. Without all of that in place, interior design would still be relegated to just those folks who could afford to have an interior designer so it's really nice to be able to communicate what's happening in the world of design and how you can integrate it into your life in a reasonable fashion. I feel like interior design is not just about making a room pretty. For me, it's about transforming somebody's life by transforming their space and television is the medium that allows you to be able to do that on a much broader special.
JH: You also host "Deserving Design" where you help deserving people make their home a better place to live. The stories can be so emotional. How do you not become an emotional wreck?
VY: If you've watched the series I am an emotional wreck. That show to me is something I can do the rest of my life. It's a dream job! Who gets a job like that? Every single week the person is the best of humanity; people who don't even want to be on the show because they're not looking for any kind of recognition. They just want to continue to do the work that they're doing to make the world a better place and we're dragging them into the spotlight. We want to tell their story since they're an inspiration to others. It's so affirming. You meet these people very single week and what's really cool about it is that there is a plethora of people. You would think that people doing good things would be scarce because when you watch the news all you hear about are all the horrible things that happen in the world but when you dig underneath the surface you don't really have to dig that far. You discover it's the guy sitting next to you at work or the person next to you in traffic or the neighbor that you don't talk to that often, all these people are doing things in their spare time to make the world a better place. For me, that show is one that I can do forever. It has totally reaffirmed my faith in humanity.
JH: Not that you'd have the time, but is there anything else you're working on?
VY: I'm shooting a couple of episodes of the series "Bang For Your Buck." I'm also shooting a few episodes of a new series called "Armchair Designer." What I'm really excited about is this opportunity I have this year to work with UNICEF. This year, I was asked to design their annual Snowflake Ball. The Ball happens in New York and Beverly Hills and it's also a big, big fundraiser for UNICEF. As I've gotten older and shows like "Deserving Design" have filtrated my life � and that was a show that I wanted to do forever � I really feel like I can give back to the world at the only thing I'm good at which is design. I suck at everything else. So to be able to give back outside of television is really great and I'm very, very excited about the opportunity to do the Snowflake Ball and get more involved in UNICEF.
The new season of "HGTV Design Star" begins this Sunday at 10:00/9:00c on HGTV with Vern Yip also appearing on the season finale of "HGTV Showdown" an hour earlier at 9:00/8:00c.