House and Home

Vanilla Ice: From Rapper to Renovator

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 (DIY Network)

To many, Vanilla Ice (aka Robert Van Winkle) is a ‘90s music icon, but the rapper’s most recent projects involve a very different kind of art: home renovation!

In our exclusive interview, Vanilla Ice tells us how he turned his hobby into a full-time gig as host of his own show, “The Vanilla Ice Project” on the DIY Network. He may flip million dollar mansions, but his show inspires just about everyone to become a do-it-yourselfer … and his friends hate him for it. Find out why:

How did you go from rapper to renovator?

I found another passion. When I first came into money, I bought a bunch of houses, some in L.A. and some in New York, but then I went on tour for three years and never saw these houses! So, I sold them and made MILLIONS on them and thought, "You've got to be kidding me …  Let's go buy some MORE!" That's how I got the bug for real estate.

The decorative side was another ballpark. I had a mansion, which I had professionally decorated. It was Art Deco-ed out; every room was a different color — I even had this acrylic staircase with fish swimming in it! It looked cool, but it’s true what these colors do — they irritate the hell out of you after a while. It was like living in a nightclub. I didn't want to stay there anymore. I hated it!

So, instead of hiring another decorator and having them mess it up again, I did it myself. I started educating myself — I found out about earth-tone colors, and how to make a home warm and cozy. It took me about a year, but it was so rewarding. I was so proud of myself. Now, when I come home from a long tour, it's like I'm coming home. That’s how I got the bug and I haven’t stopped since.

You have a great eye for design! How would you describe your style and where do you draw your inspiration from?

I try not to stay within the boundaries. I do know about them and I know you can’t mix certain things, but I design through trial and error. I follow my own guidelines.

I’m the kind of guy who really likes a challenge. It’s more rewarding. The last house I did, for season two, had a transitional theme —  the Gilded Age of Palm Beach, in the late 1920s. But back then they didn’t have iPads, electric drapes or elevators. How was I going to make it a “smart house?” I would ask my professional designer friends and they thought I was crazy!

The "Vanilla Ice Project" mainly focuses on big-scale, rock-star style projects. What can a person renovating their home on a budget take away from your show?

The show is very inspirational … It’s not a reality show; it’s a construction show. Since the economy collapsed and the housing market turned upside-down … a lot of people had a mind-frame of, “If my house doesn’t have the equity in it anymore, I don’t feel like decorating it. I’m just wasting more money.” Instead, it inspires people to say, “It’s NOT about how much money your house is worth. This is my house and I own it and I want to decorate it!”

Actually, a lot of my friends are like, “We love your show, but I’m a little upset … because my wife loves your show and she’s got me running to Home Depot and every weekend I’ve got a new project!”

What's your favorite part of the renovation process?

It changes. At first, I’d love doing the garages, the man-cave or whatever it’s called, but I’m way over that now.

I like the challenges. I like to take walls down on the inside. I’m sick of seeing everything square! I want to see angles. I want to see 45-degree angles … I want to see ROUND! That’s a challenge — and more money, and more time to turn a wall that used to be just square with drywall and framing, and now you have to curve it, making the drywall and framing go in a big radius. I like making rotundas!

As for murals, I like to keep the scene, but not be ridiculous with it. It tells a story instead of a blank painted wall. I’m so over seeing sponge painting — I don’t care what kind of faux painting it is. I’d rather spend a little more money on some elegant wallpaper … or spend A LOT more money and have a mural painted on it. Make it a conversation piece!

What are your top 3 renovating tips for the do-it-yourselfer?

  • Make your kitchen a nice place to hang out. If you look at the statistics, people spend most of their time in the kitchen. Aside from the backyard, it’s one of my favorite places to renovate. Add a backsplash or a TV. Put in an island so you can sit around and talk. You can do so many cool things! 
  • Hide ugly appliances.  Instead of seeing a big ugly microwave above your stove or oven, Viking makes this microwave that's a drawer. It not only makes your kitchen look bigger, but it also makes it look better because it shows off the beautiful woodwork of the cabinetry. It also has Feng Shui. People wonder, “Why doesn’t my kitchen look good?” Well, you’re messing up the Feng Shui by putting a freakin' microwave in the middle of it! Hide that thing! 
  • Make kitchen cabinets with vaulted ceilings work.  After installing the cabinets, there’s usually a two or three foot gap between the cabinets and the ceiling. Some people will put stuff in there, like plastic plants … and it’s wasted space! Why not add a whole new row of cabinets and crown molding up there? You might need a ladder to get to it, but you still have the extra storage. And if you really want to get fancy, put a frosted glass front on it and a light behind it, and it REALLY looks cool!
  • OK, we must know: Do you have any design pet peeves?

    If I do — and I do — I work around them. Most people get aggravated by that stuff, but I turn it into something fun. I might have to sit and marinate on certain things. Sometimes, ideas flow and you just want to run with it and go … and sometimes you just can’t come up with a conclusion. But when you figure it out in the end, it’s rewarding. I think, “A-ha! I’ve gotcha!”