What’s in a Name?

There are many misconceptions about “interior designers”. Perhaps the most prevalent one is caused by the term “interior decorator” which I occasionally get labeled (and must politely correct). Throw “architect” into the mix and even more boundaries blur. So let’s understand the differences:

Interior Decorator: One who embellishes spaces with color, fabrics, artwork, and furniture. Appearance is the primary concern, whereas structural changes and major room modifications are not considered. No training or licensing is required. House staging is a great example of what interior decorators do well.

Architect: One who is licensed to practice architecture and is trained in the planning, design and oversight of the construction of buildings. Public safety is a major concern and designing structures to stay up and keep out the elements are major goals. Although there are architects who delve into creative design and can detail interiors (think Frank Lloyd Wright), it isn’t always a main concern or forte. Therefore many architecture firms employ interior designers to detail interiors once the basic building shell is outlined.

Interior Designer: is a multi–faceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built interior environment. The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology, including research, analysis, and integration of knowledge into the creative process, whereby the needs and resources of the client are satisfied to produce an interior space that fulfills the project goals. Interior designers are also concerned about public health, safety and welfare requirements, including code, accessibility, environmental, and sustainability guidelines. Most qualified interior designers have an educational background and depending on the jurisdiction can be licensed. (NCIDQ – National Council for Interior Design Qualification)

Simply put interior decorators do a very small fraction of what interior designers can do. And when it comes to architects there can be significant overlap in our roles (more so for residential than commercial applications). 

An experienced interior designer can pretty much design your home from top to bottom. However an architect will usually sign off on the final construction documents (incorporating code compliance, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, door and window schedules, general finish materials etc.) that the city and your contactor will require. In some cases specialists such as structural engineers can be called in to verify non-standard designs.

In commercial buildings, architects and engineers design the building structure, façade, mechanical systems, etc. The interior designers can work hand in hand or come in after the basic layout is done and design office and retail spaces, restaurants etc. Interior designers can also specialize in areas like retail, residential, hospitality, healthcare, kitchen and bath or green design.

Overall we tend to have a wide variety of skills and knowledge about construction and materials, spatial planning and interfacing the needs of our clients with their spaces. We also bring into the process artistic and creative aspects which define the style and visual appeal of our creations.

So which one should you consult with on your next project? Of course it all depends on your needs. But you can’t go wrong with first talking with an interior designer.

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2 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Danielle Milner says:

    This was very informative! I never realized that there were differences between decorators and designers nor how architects even fit into the scenario. I would much prefer the designers b/c I’d want more than what looks good but what will survive normal use and children!

    I have the same issue when people discover I’m a CPA. I went to school to get a CPA because I didn’t want to be a “bookkeeper”. To be a bookkeeper, you do not need a degree. Same thing for tax preparers also… If you need an audit, need to stream line your processes for completing tasks or make sure you’re not breaking any laws, I may be your girl….but then again, I have chosen to stay home. SOO..Most likely, I’m not interested in that either. : )

  2. David says:

    Thanks- there is a similar problem with contractors and handymen. Once must pass an exam, be licensed and bonded and the other not. Handymen in some juristictions can only do work up to $500 too. There is a place for all professions. But it becomes a problem when people misrepresent their qualifications and people think they are getting more.

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