Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
— Steve Jobs

If I had a dollar for every time someone thought I was a decorator... Typical conversation when I meet someone for the first time:

"Hi, Jenni.  Nice to meet you.  What do you do?"

"I'm an interior designer"

"Oh!  How fun!  I could really use some help decorating my house.  Don't you just love those shows on HGTV?!"

Me - awkward, forced smile and nod

At this point, if my husband is present, he quickly steps in to defuse the tension and politely says, "Jenni is actually an interior designer, not an interior decorator.  A lot of people don't realize that there is a difference."

Ok, I'm going to be honest and probably burst some bubbles.  This designer does not watch HGTV.  Never have.  The shows are fake, like most reality TV, and they just don't entertain me.  I do watch every trashy reality show on the Bravo network (including Flipping Out which is a more accurate portrayal of the life of an interior designer).  So, trust me, no judgement at all if you do enjoy the programming on HGTV.  My real beef with the network is that it has perpetuated this misunderstanding of the built environment and interiors professions.    

I want to make it clear that my frustration with being called a decorator is not because I think decorators are below me.  Not at all.  It is simply that decorating is not my passion and becoming a decorator is not what I've worked so hard for.  Knowing the difference between the two professions can be confusing.  Both designer and decorator are in the business of creating aesthetically pleasing interior spaces.  The lines between architect, designer and decorator often overlap.  So, let's try to clear up the difference between decorator and designer right here and now:

Decorator – A decorator focuses on décor, style, textures and colors.  They can specify furnishings, fabrics and fixtures.  Decorators usually get involved near the end of a construction project or after a structure has already been built.  Becoming a decorator or using the title "interior decorator" does not require any formal education or certification.  

Designer - Design is not just about the aesthetics but also about function.  Designers usually require formal education from an accredited program, training and certification.  Designers do space planning and are often involved before a building or space is constructed.  Designers must be knowledgeable about building codes, accessibility laws, ergonomics and construction.  Designers consider all elements of a space that may affect the well-being and safety of those who inhabit it such as use, lighting, sound, clean-ability, durability, off-gassing etc.  Designers must be capable of drafting, detailing and creating construction documents.  Designers do specify finishes, colors, furnishings and fixtures as well.  

The title "interior designer" is sometimes used by those who are not necessarily qualified.  In many states, the law requires you to meet certain education and certification requirements to use the title "interior design", similar to registered architects.  Organizations who represent kitchen and bath designers spend big bucks each year fighting these "title acts" to prevent them from becoming law in more states, such as Washington State.  The reason being that a kitchen and bath designer may not have the education from an accredited design program that is required for certification to use the title "designer".  Some architects are also against the interior design title act because it would make designers liable for their own work and limit their dependence on architects for permitting purposes.  This could possibly take jobs away from architects.  Hence the somewhat failed attempt to make the title “interior architect" a thing.  This title is also sometimes used by interior designers who want the public to know they are not a decorator. 

Decorators do require a high level of patience, charisma and excellent social skills, which is not necessarily required of designers, depending on their focus.  What is true for both designers and decorators is that to be successful in these fields you must have the natural talent for creating, for vision and, simply put, for good taste.  It doesn't matter if you have experience, education and training, you still need to have the natural ability.  

If you or someone you know is interested in a career in interiors, make sure there is an understanding of the difference between the two.  Also, research the different education/training options and title requirements for the state you hope to practice in.  My interior design class at the beginning of my freshman year in college had 200+ students.  Half decided to change their major a few weeks in to the semester because they had thought they were getting in to decorating.  The Architecture 101 studio was a deal breaker for most.  The next half were inspired to go a different direction at some point during the four years of heavy work load, countless sleepless nights in the studio and tough critics.  Maybe only 20 of our original group stuck through to graduation.   I was the only one out of that group to decide to continue on to graduate school.  

If you are looking to hire a professional to assist with your home or work environment, I hope this post will be helpful for selecting the right person for the job.  Please feel free to leave a comment or send me a note if you have any questions or need further clarification.  Coming soon to the blog will be a post discussing the difference between event designer and event planner (and day-of coordinator). 

Our New Cork Floor

Our New Cork Floor

Cleaning House and Saying Goodbye to the Junk

Cleaning House and Saying Goodbye to the Junk