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Interior Decorator Vs. Interior Designer: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

May 11, 2021
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

“The essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live. It is about the realities of what makes for an attractive, civilized, meaningful environment, not about fashion or what’s in or what’s out. This is not an easy job.”

Albert Hadley

There’s a truly lovely gentleman in my area who bills himself as an Interior Designer, when in actuality he’s an Interior Decorator. So what? Right? You may be asking yourself why am I even bringing this up. Well, I’ve run into some of his not-so-happy clients over the years at my store and it always makes me wonder. He’s really a pretty wonderful Decorator, but people who believe him to be a Designer are often the not-so-happy ones because they expect a lot more from his services than he’s actually able to give them. I think the problem lies in the not-so-clear distinction between the two jobs. I think if he were truly honest about his skills, most people would hire him anyway, like I said, because he’s a great Decorator. A lot of design clients really need a Decorator. When you need a Designer, however, a Decorator just won’t do and it’s important to know the difference if you’re getting ready to start a home design project.

So, first, let’s start with a by-the-book definition that I happened upon in Chron, the online version of The Houston Chronicle that states it ever-so-clearly:

Designers study people’s needs to create functional, structural living or work spaces to satisfy those demands. Decorators furnish interior spaces with furniture and accessories, creating an aesthetic environment.

So the biggest takeaway here is that Decorators plan and arrange the furnishing inside the space and Designers work to create the space. Designers my decorate but Decorators don’t design. There are a few other distinctions that are important to know:

Schooling Is Different

Anyone can call themselves an Interior Decorator. I, for all-intents-and purposes, am one. I have done my fair share of interior redesign and interior decorating for paying clients and faithful friends. I have a degree in Marketing from GW and a background in corporate advertising and retail, yet I am free to call myself an Interior Decorator. An Interior Designer, however, I am not and I would have no business or right to call myself one. An Interior Designer goes to school to be an Interior Designer. They have highly specialized training and specific schooling and upon graduation often apprentice under another Interior Designer. They study color and fabric, computer-aided design (CAD), drawing, space planning, furniture design, architecture, and more. A Decorator may also have a college degree, but it is often (or in my case, not) in a related field like Art or Graphics.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Credentialing is Different

Like I said previously, anyone can call themselves an Interior Decorator. No license or degree is required. There are definitely courses and certifications available to Decorators like the certificate in design offered by the Certified Interior Decorators International (a great thing to look for if you are hiring a Decorator). Designers, on the other hand, are often (but not always) required to pass a state exam to earn the distinction of Interior Designer. This does vary state-to-state, however, so make sure you check out the credentials and/or degrees of those you are considering.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

Skills Are Different

Interior Designers have the skill to plan your space and renovate interior details (like adding or taking away walls/windows). They work closely with architects and contractors to make or make-over your space in its entirety. Interior Decorators make the space that exists look beautiful by adding fabrics, furnishings and accessories. Designers also work with furnishings and accessories but Decorators don’t renovate the interior, they just work within the frame that already exists.

So Why Is This Important?

You would not call a plumber to fix your WiFi. You wouldn’t call the cable guy out to paint your house. So understanding the difference between a Decorator and a Designer is kind of the same thing. You need to think about the job. Do you need walls to come down? Do you need help re-imagining the space into something else? Or do you just need the space to work better? Look better? Both of these types of professionals have their roles. If you understand them more clearly you will be better positioned to hire the right one, the first time.

Now For a Little Music Before We Go…

“The details are not the details. They make the design.”

Charles Eames

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Henry Killingsworth
    May 9, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    It’s great that you mentioned that interior designers have the skill to plan your space and makeover your space. My wife and I moved into our new home last week, and we have no idea what to do when it comes to organization and decoration. It seems like an interior designer would be able to help us create the perfect space in our home.

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