Yip, Yip, hooray!

TV designer Vern Yip has a new house plan: Being dad to 2 kids

STICKY FINGERS | Having children has helped Yip embrace the value of chaos — something he never did on ‘Trading Spaces.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It’s a rainy late spring day, and Vern Yip is late for his personal appearance in North Dallas. It’s the kind of thing that — as anyone who has watched Yip over the years on home-improvement shows like Trading Spaces, Deserving Design and Design Star can attest — probably drives the persnickety, precise man insane.

Of course, that attention to detail is also what has made him one of the most popular and respected people in a reality TV industry that often values flash over substance.

Still, with the new season of Design Star about to begin airing, Yip is as enthusiastic as his collected demeanor will allow.

“We’re back in New York again,” Yip says of the upcoming season. “It’s a really, really good season. We walked into my favorite room ever in the history of the series. It’s a very tight competition.”

High praise coming from Yip, a direct and constructively critical judge who does not suffer fools gladly and which can sometime come off as curt. Well, only if you aren’t any good.

“I think I’m very fair,” he says with a touch of defiance.  (At least one contestant from this season — Dallas’ Leslie Ezelle — agrees; see story on Page 34.) “For me, the person who wins this gets their own TV show! That is a huge deal.” And he wants to make sure the prize is deserved.

“We release you into people’s homes. When you design someone’s house, you’re dealing with the biggest investment they will make in their lifetime. I want to make sure you are fully capable of executing your concept.”

So what about clients who have horrible ideas and want you to make them happen? In true Type A personality mode, he says judgment must trump emotion.

“The homeowners are not designers. It up to you as the designer to get to the core, the essence of what they want,” he advises. (Interior designers, he explains, have to pass rigorous testing; those without such certification can only call themselves “decorators.”)

He is not afraid to hold others to his high standards.

“Back on Trading Spaces, if you were on my team, I was a task-master,” admits the compact, handsome and surprisingly energetic designer — though that last title hardly gives him adequate credit. Yip is a licensed interior designer and a practicing architect in addition to his hosting/judging duties on several HGTV series and his extensive charitable work and designing a line of products for I.O. Metro, a retail store with a branch on Alpha Road in North Dallas. And then there’s his latest job description: Dad.

Yip and his partner Craig Koch have two children through surrogacy — the most recent born just a few months before our interview.

“I’ve never been away from my daughter before,” Yip says upon his trip to Dallas. “I’ve always wanted children, to be a dad. It’s an integral part of the human experience. But it’s a balance of the personal and professional lives.”

And the new family is putting all his skills to the test: He’s in the process of putting a 2,400-square-foot addition to his own house.

Wait a sec: How does the notoriously fussy perfectionist with the exacting, geometric style adjust to the chaos that is a house filled with sticky-fingered babies?

“It has already made me a better designer,” Yip says. “Being a dad has made me more aware and loosened me up a little, which I like. I am very O.C.D. Kids make that impossible. You manage the chaos. It’s not like I like having toys everywhere, but it has allowed me to appreciate imperfection.”

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YIP’S TIPS: 10 SIMPLE  DECORATING IDEAS

Not everyone can afford a designer — or get on an HGTV show. For the rest of us, Vern Yip offers these suggestions for making your space work for you.

Make your space a reflection of you and your personality; go eclectic! Design no longer has to be relegated to one style for an entire house or even an entire room. Your home should be a reflection of you and a manifestation of your unique personality. Since people are multi-dimensional, your home should be too.

Invest in quality items that will endure. Your home is not a set for a photo shoot or a place that should be off limits; it should be a special atmosphere designed to support the most important moments in your life shared with your family and friends. Invest in quality that will endure. Quality does not equate with price: Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean that it is of high quality. Likewise, just because something is inexpensive doesn’t mean that it is of poor quality. Great quality items at accessible price points can be found in the right places.

Pepper your space with unique pieces! Although the majority of your home will have high quality furniture that will likely be found in other homes across America, or even your neighborhood, look for a handful of furniture pieces that have a unique, hand-crafted quality that really sing to you. Items that have character and show the heart and soul someone put into making them often are wonderful conversation starters.

Don’t be afraid of big and bold. Scale is important in the overall scheme of a room design, so embrace a few bigger items that really can make a statement. Appropriately used, scale makes a room feel balanced and complete. If you fill a room with pieces that are all of the same scale, nothing will pop and the result will be bland and boring. Take a cue from Mother Nature who juxtaposes large trees next to small bushes. It will help make your room feel comfortable to be in.

Use color to stimulate and excite! Color is a powerful design tool and mixing in doses of color into a room can be an easy and fun way to update a space and make it feel like a real reflection of you. Paint is a wonderful way to inject color into your home, but don’t forget throw pillows, throws, rugs and curtains — all phenomenal, easy and often inexpensive ways to liven a room.

Mixing wood tones enriches a space. Many people feel that all of the wood tones in a room have to match; it simply isn’t true. Mixing woods in a singular space can make it feel rich, sophisticated and unique. It is true that sticking to general wood color areas helps pull a room together, so be cautious about mixing woods with tonally unrelated backgrounds (for example, cherry-red undertone doesn’t necessarily look great with maple-yellow). If you look at wood carefully, you will see all kinds of colors in the graining and background.

Invest in open and closed storage. You can never have enough storage! Storage keeps your home looking pulled together and functioning while life happens. Open storage pieces, like bookshelves and consoles, are wonderful for displaying objects and as designated surfaces for decorative pieces that make a home feel warm. A room full of open storage, however, doesn’t function very well because there is no place for the visual pollution to go. That’s where closed storage pieces come in: buffets, end tables with doors and trunks offer easy places to tuck away messier items that don’t necessarily deserve displaying.

Rugs and curtains finish a room! Rugs act as warm, grounding forces in a room while curtains finish off the vertical space flanking windows, adding needed visual comfort. Select your rug and your curtains before selecting your paint to ensure that your room comes together perfectly. The chances of finding a rug and curtains to work perfectly with a predetermined paint color are much worse than starting with a rug and curtains and selecting from the endless array of paint colors that are available. You can customize paint to curtains or a rug but not the other way around.

Every room should have touches of white and black. White is the reflection of all color and black is the absorption of all color, making these two colors the ultimate in neutrals. White and black will literally go with anything. Touches of white in a space will catch the eye and act as a highlight while bits of black will recede and add depth. Adding a little of each to every room through furniture, accessories, textile items and artwork.

Include all kinds of lighting. Recessed cans are great for providing overall illumination in a room, but they won’t complete a room on their own. Table and floor lamps are an important source of warmth and function that inject light at levels that recessed lights can not. Additionally, pendant lights are not only critical sources of light but also offer a chance to hang a floating piece of art.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Study shows same-sex couples in Texas are among most likely to be raising kids

Courtesy of Gary Gates/UCLA

Roughly one in four same-sex couples in North Texas are raising children, a rate that’s among the highest in the country.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranks 12th on the list of metropolitan areas in the U.S. where same-sex couples are most likely to be raising children, according to a recent study by Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA who studies U.S. Census data.

According to Gates, 3,178 of the estimated 12,761 same-sex couples in North Texas are raising children, or 24.9 percent.

San Antonio is No. 1 on the list of 52 metropolitan areas nationwide with populations of more than 1 million, with 33.9 percent of same-sex couples in the Alamo City raising children, according to Gates. Houston is No. 7 at 27.2 percent, while Oklahoma City is No. 10 at 25.4 percent.

Last week, The New York Times reported on Gates’ study, noting that child-rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region. Gay and lesbian couples in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England. From the NYT:

Experts offer theories for the pattern. A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships, Gates said. That seemed to be the case for many blacks and Latinos in Jacksonville, for whom church disapproval weighed heavily.

“People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” said Darlene Maffett, 43, a Jacksonville resident, who had two children in eight years of marriage before coming out in 2002. “What did we do? We wandered around lost. We married men, and then couldn’t understand why every night we had a headache.”

Moreover, gay men who have children do so an average of three years earlier than heterosexual men, according to census data, Gates said. At the same time, there are fewer white women of childbearing age nationally, according to demographers, while the number of minority women of childbearing age is expanding.

—  John Wright

Lesbian mother wins first fight in custody battle

Judge’s ruling gives Debie Hackett standing to fight for visitation with son from previous relationship

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dallas District Judge David Hanschen ruled in June that a non-biological mother could assert her right to pursue visitation with and access to a child she raised since birth.

Kim Ferris, the biological mother, argued that Texas law prohibits the non-biological parent from seeking the right of visitation.
She and former partner Debie Hackett decided together to conceive a child with donated sperm and raised and cared for the child together.

Hanschen’s ruling was one simple sentence.

“After reviewing the pleadings of counsel, relevant case law, and my own hearing notes, the court denies Kimberley Ferris’ plea to jurisdiction in the above referenced cause,” he wrote to the three attorneys involved.

The ruling did not grant visitation, but denied Ferris’ move to dismiss the case and allowed Hackett to continue her pursuit of parental rights.

Hackett said she knew Ferris for 10 years and they had been in a relationship since 2007. They discussed having children early in their relationship and decided Ferris would have a child first, based on her age, Hackett said.

Ferris conceived with sperm donated by Carlos Rojas, a gay man who both women had known for seven years.

The women’s relationship ended in November 2009. “When Oliver was 11 months old, she asked me to leave,” Hackett said. Hackett moved out of the house and said she gave Ferris 30 days “to come to her senses.” After the women broke up, Ferris filed to change the child’s name from Hackett-Ferris.

After reading a story in Dallas Voice in December about a court decision in favor of Kristie Vowels, a non-biological mother, Hackett retained legal counsel.

Attorney Jonathan Winacour, who represents Hackett, said Texas law gives a non-custodial parent that has cared for a child for at least six months just 90 days to file a motion.

Ferris and Rojas retained separate attorneys in the case, but neither returned calls from Dallas Voice.

Before the child’s birth, Ferris wrote that she wanted Hackett to have “all the rights and responsibilities available in the state of Texas as a parent.”

The hearing established that Hackett shared full duties as a parent. To prove her involvement, she produced records that showed she paid for clothing, food, diapers, development classes and health care.

Their pediatrician testified that she understood that Hackett had medical decision-making power.

Winocour emphasizes that this case is not about establishing same-sex marriage, but simply about what is best for the child.

In his arguments, Winocour made the case that the father is not a legal resident and is less likely to be able to maintain a residence within 100 miles. The father’s paternity was not established for a year and was not on the birth certificate until after Hackett and Ferris broke up.

Winocour said that waiting a year is grounds for establishing abandonment in Texas.

Hackett said she is not trying to prevent Rojas from participating in raising the child. She simply wants standard visitation rights. She said she is in the best position to provide health insurance and has a stable home and income to benefit her son.

“The three of us made a contract to bring a child into this world. I’m not going away. This is my son,” Hackett said.

On Wednesday, July 14, Winocour filed a motion seeking an order compelling mediation in advance of a hearing on temporary orders. All sides would be required to appear before a mediator.

If mediation were successful, Hanschen’s court would presumably instate those orders. If not, the case would return to his court for further hearing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas