Question-and-Answer Session with Vern Yip

HGTV Urban Oasis designer Vern Yip shares details about this year's apartment, located on the 35th floor of Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago.

Vern Yip, Host of Deserving Design and Judge for HGTV Design Star

Q. What was your method for deciding what went in and what was out? — michellekl26

A. The first thing I do on every project is to create a space plan that will optimize both function and views in every room. The plan always informs my shopping decisions. As I comb the city for unique and site-specific items, I take pictures and measurements of everything I might use and plug those dimensions into the space plan to assure that items will work. At the end of the day, an item has to be justified from a functional perspective. After that, I go for pieces that make a statement and that I think will make the citizens of Chicago proud.

Chicago skyline

Q. What first struck you about this particular apartment? What was the biggest challenge when designing the interior of this space, other than the size (since most apartments are not that spacious anyway)? — CplusE

A. I was first struck by the unit’s spectacular view. You can see Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, two bends of the L train track, Navy Pier, parts of Millenium Park and numerous Chicago skyscrapers. The volume was the next thing I noticed. Some areas of the unit boast 10-foot ceilings, which really increase the sense of space and allowed me to do some innovative things not possible in a space with lower ceilings. The biggest challenges were editing down great finds from local Chicago stores and staying disciplined enough not to buy things for my own home. It was tough!

Wall Sconce Tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright

Q. What Urban Oasis decor item will say to me, "You're in Chicago"! — smokesmom

A. As evidenced by the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour, one of the city’s most popular attractions, Chicago takes pride in its architecture and design. That passion for design served as inspiration for my custom cheery wood “sconce”, which incorporates reproductions of Frank Llyod Wright’s Tree of Life design.

Ingraham Self Starting Mantel Clock

Q. What antique furnishings did you use? — DeerSpring

A. Decorative items with history infuse a space with an instant narrative and lend a patina that new items cannot replicate. This year, I found a vintage wood clock from a demolished Chicago area soda shop, vintage silver serveware from the dismantled Chicago Athletic Association and a glazed terra cotta eagle salvaged from the façade of the Charles Brewer building, a Chicago structure that was demolished some years ago.

Hand Painted Wall in Master Bedroom

Q. I know you work with non-profits like UNICEF. Did you include a special piece of decor that's very meaningful to you in this year's Urban Oasis? — DBCoop

A. I chose pieces that were significant because of their relation to Chicago, their functionality, or their maker, the most meaningful pieces to me this year. Ted Harris, a local lamp artist, made some really special lamps for the living room. Todd Mack created an interactive piece of artwork that serves as a guide to some of Chicago’s most iconic sites and areas. A local furniture group, Newbreed Furniture Network, crafted a beautiful walnut coffee table for the space. Decorative artist Michael Boudreault painted Louis Sullivan-inspired designs on the bedroom walls, thereby turning walls into artwork. I think it is so important to support the artisan community, and I had the opportunity to do that this year.

City Street in Downtown Chicago

Q. Which age bracket did you design for? I heard that people are migrating back to the city for retirement. — ulali60

A. I did not design for a specific age bracket. Rather, I designed the unit to be a reflection and manifestation of everything that makes Chicago a special and unique city. At the end of the day, my hope is that people from all age brackets will gain some insight into this wonderful city by experiencing the unit, either on television or – hopefully – in person.

Stackable Washer & Dryer in Apartment Laundry Room

Q. Is there going to be a laundry area? — Funfordot

A. There is, indeed, a really nice laundry area in the unit. The space plan is pretty ingenious. Within the half bath, a second set of doors leads into a laundry area that features a stacked washer and dryer and several shelves that act as an organizational space for laundry supplies and additional linens or towels.

Preserved Yellow Roses Used as Accent Piece

Q. Did you use any green products? — pixelecho69

A. I try to incorporate eco-friendly design in all projects I work on these days. For Urban Oasis 2011, I purchased many vintage and antique items — one of my favorite ways to be green. Antiques and vintage items are already existing resources that add character and soul while requiring no new raw materials or energy. In both the living room and the master bathroom, I have created floral arrangements that incorporate natural roses preserved in a multi-step, eco-friendly process. The flowers are designed to last up to three years, which saves water and resources. There are so many ways to be environmentally friendly in design; I am always looking for new ways to incorporate them.

Coctail Cabinets Doubles as Space for Printer

Q. When you approach a new space like Urban Oasis, how do you choose the right balance between style, form and function in your design? — dreamn_again

A. The foundation is rooted in a solid space plan that maximizes functionality while the aesthetics are true and celebrate those unique features that make Chicago a phenomenal place to live or visit. The living room, for example, is designed to maximize the views and also seat up to 10 people comfortably. There is an upright desk that discreetly houses a wireless printer and laptop as well as cocktail glasses and accoutrements. Custom mahogany art pedestals in the master bedroom elevate sculpture but also open up to reveal storage.

HGTV Sherwin Williams Global Spice Palette

Q. How did you choose the color scheme? — Wat1962

A. Like many other items in the unit, the colors are rooted in Chicago’s architectural history. Frank Llyod Wright’s original home and studio in Oak Park was an amazing source of inspiration for me. When I visited, I could immediately see why he chose the color palette he used in most of his Prairie-style homes. He was inspired by the local landscape and what he saw outside his windows, and brought those colors inside. The warm greens, ochres, caramels, reds and browns really resonated with me and I was able to celebrate them on the walls of our unit using the new HGTV Sherwin Williams Global Spice palette. I also wanted the unit to be incredibly warm and inviting, so creating that warm envelope was critical for me. The minute you walk in the unit, I want you to feel embraced.

Downtown Chicago

Q. What’s the hardest part of designing within a completely blank space? — Lauralee41

A. There was nothing difficult about the blank slate — the space is great! Chicago has so much inspiration from which to pull and so many great stores in which to shop! The hardest part for me was trying to quickly acquaint myself with the city at its most intimate level and visiting the plethora of home decor stores. I had the best time pulling it all together!

Gift Shop Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

Q. Did you find that perfect little place that you returned to for just the right accessory? Is there a flea market that is a "must visit"? Tell us your shopping secrets! — irishsprite

A. In the Chicago area, I found so many antiques markets and treasure-filled specialty stores. Some of my favorites include the Frank Llyod Wright store in his original home and studio in Oak Park, the gift store at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Scout, Foursided, Post 27, SG Grand, Urban Remains, Jayson Home + Garden, Stitch, Broadway Antique Market and the Edgewater Antique Market. As you can see, there are many places to visit if you are a home decor fanatic like me!

Kitchen Spice Shelf Used in Urban Oasis Kitchen

Q. Chicago is a city known for cold winters and hot food and music. Did you design the kitchen to reflect that divergence? — arora1st

A. I wanted to make sure that on those colder days in the city, you could escape to a warm retreat. The kitchen consists of beautiful maple cabinets stained in a warm caramel tone. Special detailing, like an extensive spice rack and a row of glass wall cabinets, echo window detailing found in many Chicago buildings, including the famous Water Tower. Solid-surface countertops were selected to reference the famous and beautiful beaches of Chicago, and the backsplash consists of glass, stone and ceramic mosaic tiles all in roman brick proportions and all in warm tones. I guess if you wanted to experience the colder side of Chicago while standing in your kitchen, you could always open the refrigerator or freezer!

Vintage Walnut Baker Dressers Used on Urban Oasis

Q. How did you use space to your advantage here? Storage is always a huge issue. How did you tackle these things? Did you use fewer items or more multipurpose items? — pammi5sunshine

A. Storage is a big issue for everybody, no matter how big or small the space. I’m very sensitive to it, so I devised plenty of places to put things. The unit is blessed with four substantial closets, including a walk-in. That is pretty rare in an urban home, so I was off to a good start. Three generous drawers incorporated in the master bathroom vanity along with medicine cabinets offer plenty of storage in that room. Custom-crafted art pedestals that support sculpture in the master bedroom open up to reveal storage space. A third pedestal is part of an angled media unit with plenty of storage inside for media components and then some. Upright desks in both the living room and the master bedroom keep work and papers in order and visually out of the way. Twelve dresser drawers in the master provide plenty of space for all of those Michigan Avenue purchases!

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