Vern Yip's Design Wise

Your Smart Guide to a Beautiful Home


By Vern Yip

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 13, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

HGTV and Trading Spaces’ trusted interior designer Vern Yip shares his favorite design secrets to creating living spaces that have flow, balance, and harmony — while opening his doors to show how he’s made these principles work in his own beloved homes. This New York Times bestseller provides both the inspiration and the clear, essential guidelines you need to create a home that perfectly reflects you.

Have you ever wondered exactly how high to hang your artwork? How about the light fixture over your dining table? Do you know how to ideally size a rug for any room, or the best way to arrange your furniture? Beloved designer Vern Yip answers these questions, and more, by revealing the right formulas and measurements that can make any room feel just “right.” And once you know these key design principles, you’re free to confidently create a home that uniquely celebrates your needs and style. With gorgeous photos throughout, Vern Yip’s Design Wise is a book you’ll return to again and again.






The hard and fast principles of good design result in remarkable room transformations—no matter what style you choose or are drawn to. There is no mystery to these rules and principles, nor do they inhibit your creativity. In fact, once you know the right formulas and combinations, or at least have them handy and accessible, you can design any room with great confidence and originality. This section takes a scrapbook approach to both visuals and information to give you the design information you need to make whatever style you choose look great—pleasing to the eye and to the body (because you should be comfortable when you sit down with your friends and family); proportional; well-lit; and in color harmony.

As you choose the finishes, furniture, and fixtures, you’re also making important style decisions. Design definitely goes through cycles and trends. We have to be careful not to fall into what can be very seductive trend traps. When I was on Trading Spaces, Tuscan kitchens and sponge-painted walls were quite popular. I worked with several homeowners on the show who dreamt of installing an “authentic” burnt-orange Tuscan kitchen in their split-level or mid-century ranch. I had to find out what elements of the trend attracted these homeowers to make sure they sincerely loved the look, and weren’t just being drawn to it because it was popular. Thankfully, that particular trend isn’t as ubiquitous as it once was. The industrial look is another trend, but that too will fade, as people grow weary of its cold, hard surfaces. Some other design du jour will take its place.

The best approach in a world filled with the next new thing is to create something timeless and enduring that speaks to your life and personality and tells your story. The solution? Surround yourself with quality pieces and personal items that you love and feel passionate about. This path transcends trends, so no matter what the fashion dictates, your home will be a manifestation of you. As long as you follow this approach, your home will never feel dated. Another bonus: When you walk through your front door, you feel at home. It becomes your favorite place to be more than any other place on the planet. Everyone deserves to have that feeling.

Achieving that feeling starts with knowing what to buy and where to put it. Once you know how long your sofa needs to be, for instance, you can focus on finding the one that delights your heart, puts a smile on your face, is built to last, and feels “right” in the space where you place it. Logistics may not be the most glamorous part of design and decoration, but once you know the facts behind the fancy, selecting pieces that make you happy and that you love becomes fun. No more design paralysis or fear of making the wrong choice.




Get past your fear of numbers and get out your calculators and tape measures. What follows are important numbers that make designing and decorating a room much easier and more pleasurable. Knowing the right numbers takes the anxiety out of shopping and pulling a room together. Think of this first chapter as a guide to basic dimensions, which you can build on as you proceed on your design journey. Measurements may not be the most glamorous part of design and decorating, but the application of correct space planning allows your rooms to convey lasting aesthetic integrity and personality. People usually don’t get excited about numbers; it’s like asking someone to get excited about bookkeeping or taxes. Yet getting the numbers right is so helpful in giving you a roadmap of where to go with furniture and its proper placement.

One of the important lessons I learned from working on television with many different kinds of people with differing budgets and tastes, is that space planning is the great equalizer. It really doesn’t matter how much you have to spend—all furniture, no matter its price point, comes in standard dimensions. Your economic situation isn’t tied to your personal size requirements for furniture. You can find six- to eight-foot sofas for hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars. However, the tighter your budget, the more important it is to get measurements right, simply because there is so little room for error. This is another lesson I learned from my years on television, especially on Trading Spaces, where we were working with a challenging budget of $1,000 for an entire room. You can create amazing rooms with next to nothing if you understand proportion, dimension, and space.

No matter what design approach you’re drawn to—from Colonial to contemporary—or what budget you have, space planning is the first step toward making an empty or awkward space into a smart and beautiful room that reflects you and your family. The basics help your personal style evolve and shine. It’s truly remarkable how a carefully placed coffee table can make guests (and you!) feel “right” when sitting on a sofa, and how one that is placed too close or too far away makes socializing awkward and uncomfortable. Likewise, art that is hung incorrectly brings disharmony to a room, when it should be adding aesthetic warmth and character—furthering the “narrative” you are weaving. Good design depends on the quality of the context you create within the spatial parameters that define the room. Our homes provide for our most basic needs: shelter from the elements, a place to prepare and serve food, a place to gather with family and friends, and a place to bathe, dress, and rest in safety and comfort. These are the fundamentals we must honor when we design rooms to serve their intended purposes.



A seating area that is easy to access and enjoy, and that encourages conversation and comfort, is one of the most important elements in making your home a haven. If you have the right numbers, you can design a space that works, and no one need ever stumble over tables, fall over a couch, trip on electrical cords, or battle other impediments again.


Multiple conversation areas can (and should) be established in a single room, especially in large or “great” rooms. Correctly arranging seating and other furniture in living areas is the key to making socializing and relaxing enjoyable and natural, as are the pathways you create within a room to navigate through it.

  42” to 120”: The general comfortable distance between seating pieces in a group to establish the most welcoming and functional seating zones. Distances less than 42 inches can feel cramped and invasive of personal space while distances greater than 120 inches make it difficult to hear and converse comfortably without speaking loudly.

  24” to 36”: The usual distance needed as passage through a room or between a piece of furniture and an adjacent wall. Although it may be physically possible to pass through a distance less than 24 inches, if you must, your room layout will end up looking crowded and tight.


Americans like a lot of space when they sit down to socialize or relax. Don’t fence them in! I really do think it’s a cultural thing. Europeans and Asians don’t seem to mind as much about converging into one another’s personal space, at least in terms of sitting on sofas, as Americans do. That said, personal boundaries with your friends and family are important no matter where you’re from, and this should be taken into account when determining the length of a sofa. How many people do you entertain when you host a gathering? Do you plan to use the sofa for stretching out, or lying down and taking a nap? The answers to these questions help determine what you need—along with the amount of space you have in your room to accommodate a sofa or sectional, of course.



  72”: Seats up to 2 people.

  84”: Seats 2 people comfortably, 3 people who are familiar with each other.

  96”: Seats 3 people comfortably.

  108”: Seats 3 comfortably lounging or 4 people sitting upright.

  120”: Seats 4 people comfortably, although it’s rare that 4 people would actually want to sit on the same sofa unless it’s a friendly group watching a sporting or entertainment event.


  108” to 168”: Typical lengtha of sectional sofas.

  72”: Typical lengtha of the couch component of a small L-shaped sectional. With an attached loveseat depth (or chaise width) at 36 to 42 inches, the overall length measurment results in a small sectional couch ranging from 90 to 114 inches.

  90” to 114”: Typical total lengtha of a small sectional sofa set. Seats 3 or more.

  114” to 138”: Typical total lengtha of a mid-size sectional sofa set. Seats 4 or more.

  138” to 168”: Typical total length of a large sectional sofa set. Seats 5 or more.


There is a wide range of seat depths and back heights in the world of sofas, and these measurements do have an impact on how comfortable a sofa will be for an individual. Select the perfect height and depth with your specific needs and room conditions in mind. Here are the numbers you need to know.

  34” to 38”: Typical sofa back height. Lower back heights might not provide enough back support, while taller back heights can look awkward or overwhelming in rooms with ceiling heights lower than 9 feet.

  34” to 40”: Typical overall sofa depth front to back (versus seat depth only). On average, I have found that overall sofa depths in this fairly standard range work well for most people. Deeper sofas (up to 42 inches) are more comfortable for taller individuals and those with long legs. However, those looking for more support might be more comfortable with a depth closer to 36 inches. Those looking for casual lounging and afternoon naps might find a depth closer to 42 inches is just what they need for a truly satisfying snooze.

  16” to 20”: Typical sofa seat height. Sofa seat heights have gotten progressively higher as people have gotten taller and bigger. When purchasing a sofa, make sure that your feet are able to comfortably touch the floor. Remember that sofa seat cushions can compress greatly, depending on cushion composition, so a lower sofa, designed for lounging, won’t work well if you will use it in an upright position, or plan to pull it up to a dining room table. You might feel like a kid at the grownup’s table.

  20” to 24”: Typical sofa seat depth. Seat depth can range widely, since new sofa designs seemingly continue to get deeper each year. Shorter individuals or people who have shorter legs will generally be more comfortable with a seat depth between 19 to 21 inches, whereas taller or long-legged individuals will be more comfortable with deeper seats closer to 22 to 24 inches. As with most upholstered seating it’s best to try it out before purchasing.

  23” to 26”: Typical sofa arm height. As with other elements of a sofa, there are a variety of arm heights and styles, but most that are meant to support your arm will fall within this range. Some sofa styles have arms at the same height as the back. In these instances, you obviously won’t be able to rest your arm comfortably on it, so keep this in mind. This style of arm might also not be ideal for those who use the arm to support their head during sofa naps or while reading in a reclining position.

a Length refers to the longest side of the overall, configured sectional.


Comfortable, upholstered chairs are a real asset in a living space—they break up the monolithic look of a large sofa or sectional, and many people prefer sitting in a cozy armchair for conversing, reading, or engaging in other hobbies, from reading the Washington Post to knitting or mending tasks.

  36” x 36”: Typical armchair width and depth dimensions. What’s most comfortable will depend on the user. For the average person, dimensions smaller than this might feel more like an occasional chair; much deeper dimensions might lack sufficient support while much wider dimensions (the ubiquitous “chair and a half”) might threaten to overtake many spaces.

  16” to 20”: Typical seat height of an upholstered easy or club chair.

  12”: The minimum distance a pair of armchairs can comfortably sit apart in a seating arrangement.

  12”: The ideal distance between a lounge chair and an ottoman paired with it. This distance allows you to easily slip into a chair while being close enough to prop your feet up on an ottoman.

  24”: The space needed between two armchairs to fit a small cocktail or “drinks” table between them.

  42” to 120”: The space between seating options (couch, arm chairs) to help conversation flow without making people and furniture feel either too crowded or too far apart.

  16” to 18”: Typical height of an ottoman, which means they can be paired well with most armchairs. However, because ottomans are so versatile, manufacturers have started to make them in a wide range of heights, widths, and depths to make them more functional for use as stand-ins for coffee tables and extra seating. So just make sure your ottoman hits the right height for your chair so you can put your feet up, kick back, and relax in comfort. In general, your ottoman should never be higher than the height of the seat you’re pairing it with.




Sofa cushions generally come in three styles: bench (single), two-cushion, or three-cushion. In general, I’m not a big fan of the two-cushion style since three people will rarely sit on a sofa that visually looks like it’s for two people. Moreover, the two-cushion sofa creates an undesirable “gap” between the two cushions, an uncomfortable area generally avoided by everyone. Sofas that are 84 inches or less benefit from a single cushion; it’s an elegant, clean solution. For sofas longer than 84 inches, three cushions are more inviting for three people, and certainly quite comfortable for two people. It’s also easier to flip and maintain three cushions than one cushion, which can become unwieldy at longer sofa lengths.




Size matters: A coffee table can become a major focal point in a space due to its fairly central location in a room, and because it’s highly functional. It can be a place to put your feet up in lieu of an ottoman, or it can become an impromptu dining surface, not to mention a place to hold books and objects.

  15” to 18”: Height of typical coffee tables.

  0” to 2”: The ideal height above or below the sofa or chair seat when placing a coffee table in a seating area. A coffee table should generally be the same as, or within two inches of, the seat height of adjacent chairs and sofas. This helps ensure that the table is convenient for reaching items or for propping your feet on it.

  20” to 24”: Ideal height for a coffee table convenient for serving food and beverages.

  3” to 6”: The ideal height above the sofa when pairing a coffee table with sofa seat when the coffee table will be used frequently for serving coffee and tea. A higher table makes the rituals of pouring and serving much more comfortable.


Coffee table lengths should never exceed sofa lengths. When this happens, not only are sofas more difficult to access, but you run the risk of banging into coffee table corners more often. Ideally, your coffee table length should be about two-thirds the length of your sofa, except for round tables, which can be more challenging to pair with sofas. Coffee tables can be as small as one-half the overall sofa length but I find that coffee tables this proportionally small are not nearly as functional or visually balanced. You certainly do not want your coffee table to be longer than your sofa, and you do not want it to be too diminutive compared to the sofa’s overall dimensions. For ease, here are ideal coffee table lengths for most standard length sofas. Note that once you go beyond a 72-inch sofa, a round table will be difficult to accommodate seamlessly into your seating arrangement:

  72” sofa: 48” coffee table length, or 36” to 48” diameter for a round table

  84” sofa: 56” coffee table length

  96” sofa: 64” coffee table length

  108” sofa: 72” coffee table length

  120” sofa: 80” coffee table length


You’re often better off using rectangular or oval coffee tables in narrow rooms simply because they fit and function better in these kinds of spaces. Coffee tables shallower than 18 inches aren’t always optimally functional or accommodating.

  18” to 28”: Depth of most rectangular or oval coffee tables.

  36” to 42”: Diameter of most round coffee tables, although larger coffee tables with a diameter of 48 inches or more can also be found.


  18”: The ideal distance between the edge of seating and your coffee table, allowing comfortable access to books, remotes, food, and drinks. Distances smaller than this make it hard to get in and out of your seating, while larger distances make it inconvenient to reach the coffee table surface.

  24” to 36”: The minimum comfortable clear distance that you will need to circulate around your coffee table when there’s not adjacent seating. 36 inches is a good standard distance for most people and most situations. If you have tighter circumstances, 24 inches is acceptable—but not necessarily comfortable—for a lot of people. Anything fewer than 24 inches is difficult for easy and comfortable passage.


The ideal accessory table, which can include both end tables and side tables, is a convenient surface for putting down items such as a drink or a book. This makes them literally at hand.

  0” to 4”: Typical height above the arm of the chair or sofa beside it. An accessory table can be up to 2 inches below the adjacent sofa or chair, but it can be more awkward to use.



  • “Enables novices to find their own aesthetic. His fans and those seeking basic design advice will find much to recommend.”
    —Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

    “Jam-packed with helpful decorating advice… shares tips like how to pick the right-size sofa, how low pendants should hang, and pretty ways to arrange store-bought flowers.”
    —HGTV Magazine

    “Not just a coffee-table book filled with beautiful interiors, but a grab-and-go resource on what it takes to create timeless style at home.”
    —Los Angeles Times

    “Gives you the design formulas and principles you need to achieve that flawless je ne sais quoi in every room of your home. Plus, the beautiful images of his own homes are not to be missed.”

    “Strategic secrets to creating an inviting living space.”

    “Remarkably practical advice.”

On Sale
Sep 13, 2016
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Vern Yip

About the Author

Vern Yip has designed his way across America, having reconfigured countless homes during four season’s on TLC’s Trading Spaces, NBC’s Home Intervention, his own HGTV shows Deserving Design with Vern Yip and HGTV’s Urban Oasis, and through his private practice Vern Yip Designs in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a beloved judge on 8 seasons of HGTV Design Star as well on his own special, Live In Vern’s House. He has a regular column in HGTV magazine and manages his own brand, Vern Yip Home, available at select retailers. He’s also currently appearing on the reboot of TLC’s Trading Spaces. Vern and his family divide their time between their homes in Atlanta, Manhattan, and Florida’s Panhandle.

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