McLean welcomed home one of its more famous sons, as former “Trading Spaces” star Vern Yip served as a panelist and judge at the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s Enchanted Forest at the Doubletree Inn in Tysons Corner.
A graduate of McLean High School’s Class of 1986, Yip was voted “Most Artistic” and “Most Yuppiest” for the class superlatives, in addition to being named “Best Dressed” and “Most Sophisticated.”
“I don’t think anyone today knows what a yuppie is,” Yip said at the Enchanted Forest, during a break between signing autographs and presenting “Vern’s Pick of the Forest,” four trees he selected for their decorations and design.
An academic and athlete in high school, Yip said he wasn’t able to “moderate” his activities, which won him the yuppie moniker.
After graduating from the University of Virginia with bachelor’s degrees in economics and chemistry, Yip was about to enter medical school to become a doctor when he realized he wasn’t following his dream.
“I would’ve been an OK doctor, but I had to do what I loved,” he said. “I was always interested in architecture, but I was a geek, and there weren’t any electives at McLean I could take for that,” he said.
While at McLean, Yip was a member of the McLean Madrigals singing group, along with being a member of the wrestling team, peer counselor and vice president of his senior class.
“I had a great time at McLean,” he said. “We weren’t a very large school, but we were very diverse. There were people from all over the world. … There was an amazing cross section of people, and I was exposed to lots of different cultures. You don’t really appreciate it until you move to an area that’s more homogenized.”
AFTER GRADUATING WITH a master’s degree in architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology, he was about six months into his first designing job when he was offered the chance to design the headquarters of the newly created Disney Cruise Lines.
“From then on, I’ve worked on architecture and interior design,” he said.
Coming from a family that never watched much TV, Yip said his parents still ask him if he needs money for groceries.
“They don’t ever watch the show,” he said with a laugh, adding that he doesn’t either, because he’s frequently on the road. “It’s still hard for my family to realize that I’m doing fine.”
Changing career paths from being a doctor to being a designer and architect was difficult, but his family is very supportive. “They want me to be happy and have a secure profession,” Yip said. “Very few architects really make it, so I got a degree in business as a backup.”
His fame is “nothing I ever aspired to do,” he said. “It’s been very surreal.”
One of the most surreal moments was a trip to New York City.
“A couple of summers ago, I was staying in a hotel in Times Square and didn’t realize a ‘Trading Spaces’ billboard had been put up,” he said. “I woke up the next morning and looked out the window and saw my own face staring at me.”
He had been on “Trading Spaces,” a popular home design show on TLC where neighbors swap houses for two days to redecorate one room in each other’s house for a budget of $1,000. His new show, “Home Interventions,” expands on the concept: It features homeowners who began a home project and have not finished. Yip and contractors help the homeowners finish the project and, if it’s completed in the two-week time limit, furnish and decorate the home.
Yip also operates a Web site, www.vernyip.com, which features his own line of decorating products and offers tips and ideas for home decorating, based out of his Atlanta office.
“I’M AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER on my new show, which is a new creative outlet for me,” he said. “I’ve been talking to companies about designing my own line of furniture. It’s all about growing and being challenged.”
He also has a book coming out in April titled “Designing Spaces,” which is already available for pre-ordering at Amazon.com’s online bookstore.
“I can see myself branching out to do different things,” he said. “I’ll never go back to a desk job.”
Yip took time out of his busy schedule to come back to McLean on Sunday because he felt it was important to support the local charity.
“There are some very dedicated volunteers working hard to support the homeless in the area, and I wanted to support them,” he said of the Junior League.
“I love this area, and it’s always worthwhile to back any cause that has a real purpose behind it,” he said.
Tanya Hilleary, public relations co-chairwoman for the Junior League, said that Yip is the “biggest television personality” the event has had in its three-year existence.
“With the local connection, that’s part of his appeal,” she said. “He gets a lot of requests for events, and his schedule is very full. He just flew in Sunday morning and was on a plane again that afternoon, so we were delighted to have him.”
YIP SAT ON a design panel that took questions from an audience, and Hilleary said he was “very generous” with his answers.
“It was a fairly brief discussion because of the time restraints involved, but the room was packed, mostly to see him,” she said. “He was great with their questions, and he was just very gentlemanly about the whole thing.”
She said she agreed with the four trees Yip picked as his “Picks of the Forest,” which included trees from Marymount University, the Shirley Contracting Co., Jill Turrell and Northern Virginia Community College’s ASID Chapter.
“He picked a variety of themes, and I thought it was interesting that two of the trees he selected were designed by students,” she said. “We as a league are extremely fortunate that we had such fabulous personalities this year that believe in our mission and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“WITH SOMEONE LIKE HIM believing in us and our event and the programs it supports, we’re thinking about maybe expanding the event next year,” she said. “He’s an all-around great guy, and he deserves every success that comes his way.”
Kristin Janger, co-chair of the Enchanted Forest this year, said her idea for inviting Yip “just hit” her one day.
“He went to high school with my husband,” she said, although her husband, Jay, was three grades below Yip at McLean. “So I thought, why not invite him. I had the idea of getting some celebrity types to come to the Enchanted Forest to increase our attendance, and he’s local, which is even better.”
So Janger asked members of the Junior League if any of them knew Yip personally or had any connection to him or his family, which still lives in McLean. When that proved fruitless, she went onto his Web site and sent an e-mail to him, explaining what the Junior League was doing and what the Enchanted Forest entailed and asking if he’d be interested in attending.
“I sent the first e-mail in July and waited a month without any response,” she said. She re-sent the same e-mail in August and got a response a few days later from Yip’s manager, asking for a little more information about the event, when it was happening, and what would be expected of him.
“It wasn’t a yes or no, but it was enough for me to hold out hope,” Janger said with a laugh. The e-mails continued back and forth until mid-September, when Yip was able to confirm that he’d attend.
“EVERYONE WAS SO EXCITED and seem to love him,” she said of the Junior League members. “When I ask anyone who their favorite people on ‘Trading Spaces’ are, it’s always Vern and someone else. They were thrilled to have him,” she said.
The first time she got to speak with Yip was the week before the event, when he called to confirm some information. “I met him when I picked him up from the airport Sunday morning,” she said.
Janger, in her first year with the League, hopes to invite local celebrities every year, but ideally “would love to have Laura Bush or Lynne Cheney” appear. “They’re both involved with Junior Leagues in their hometowns,” she said. “Sandra Day O’Connor is a member, too. People like that would be fantastic,” she said.
“It would be really neat to have White House participation, because that’s something we have access to here that not every place in the country does,” Janger said, but any local participation from designers, well-known members of the community and organizations is fantastic. “It’s good to work together to raise money for these kids that need it.”