HGTV’s Vern Yip on why decking the halls is serious business

The Design Star judge shares his holiday traditions
Vern Yip Holidays
Illustration by Clare Mallison

On the scale of  ho-hum to ho! ho! ho!, I’m pretty sure my family defines the extreme edge of tolerable holiday enthusiasm. With two kids under the age of six, it’s not hard to get the momentum going—though, truthfully, it’s we adults who need reining in. Unabashedly embracing the holiday spirit was nonnegotiable in my partner’s and my searches for a soul mate. When we both realized that we’d met our holiday match, I’m pretty certain fireworks went off at the North Pole and Frontgate raised its year-end revenue projections.

In the decade-plus that we’ve been together, our list of holiday family traditions has grown impressively. Instead of turkey, Peking duck is the centerpiece at Christmas dinner. Though our house is overflowing with bodies, there are always more pies than people. Most importantly, however, we enjoy serving as home base for the festivities. Yes, we are the overly eager relatives who’ll pester you to come back next Christmas while you’re still opening this year’s gifts. Those gifts, by the way, are covered in carefully concocted wrapping schemes determined through advanced research and deliberate negotiations. Gift tags are homemade, substituting given names for witty but apt descriptors of both recipient and sender. When it comes to presentation, we mean business.

Our seasonal decor is fully up and running (outside and in) by the Friday after Thanksgiving. And it takes all hands on deck, little and big, to accomplish the task. After all, six trees don’t dress themselves. And our four dogs can’t hang their own stockings or launder their new beds.

From Bali to Paris to Moscow, ornaments from past destinations come out—revealing our peripatetic nature and reminding us of magical journeys. A Taiwanese hand puppet adorned in a red silk robe embroidered with fierce gold dragons reigns atop the family room tree.

Delicate hand-blown glass ornaments from Bergdorf Goodman adorn our trees too, thanks to another tradition. As a UNICEF Ambassador since 2009, it’s been my honor to create the decor for the annual post-Thanksgiving UNICEF Snowflake Ball in Manhattan. This also means an annual family trip to the Big Apple and an opportunity to marvel at the 28-foot-tall crystal UNICEF Snowflake impossibly floating above the intersection of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. Adjacent stands the iconic Bergdorf Goodman flagship with its always-spectacular holiday windows. Starting the year before our children were born, my partner and I have acquired one ornament for each of them every year from Bergdorf’s top-floor holiday department. We noodle obsessively over our children’s personalities and which ornament will inspire the biggest smile. This year they’re finally old enough to noodle themselves, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll pick. And when they’re grown and inevitably leave the nest, they’ll each take a set of ornaments curated with them in mind.

In the 20 years that I’ve been an interior designer (plus 15 as a television host), I’ve always maintained that a home should truly reflect the people who live in it. After working with countless families across the country, I’ve come to appreciate the sometimes-odd items and rituals that people find meaningful. Holiday decor should reflect our unique journeys. Hotel lobbies and shopping malls replete with perfectly coiffed trees are fine, but they lack the complex layers of home decor. So this year, celebrate your own journey for all to see. And if you’re craving something different, trek to Buford Highway for a Peking duck.

Over the last 10 years, Vern Yip has become one of HGTV’s most recognized designers, hosting his own shows and starring in top-rated series like HGTV Design Star. This winter he will be featured on Delta Air Lines flights through an exclusive in-air program, On Creativity. A columnist for the Washington Post, he is scheduled to release his first book (Running Press) in fall of 2016. His latest product collections include fabric for Fabricut (Vern Yip for Trend), home fragrance and accessories distributed by OneCoast, and lighting for Stonegate Designs.