Designer? Or Decorator?


What is the difference between a Designer and a Decorator??


Most people are not certain of what the differences are. This week, as I attended the  Design Bloggers Conference LA, I realized there is a disparity in the understanding of what a Designer does and what a  Decorator does.  

Often I will have people introduce me as a decorator.  I am not wholly offended as I know the person does not understand the difference. I know many very successful decorators - and often that is how designers get their start in the field and they learn how to become interior designers.   But becoming a professional designer takes a lot of work and time to achieve the credentials required to be recognized as a professional designer.

Comparing the Differences

Interior Designers typically have completed an education specifically for the Interior Design field.  It may be a community college program or a University.  They then work in the field as interns during their education and often begin a small side business that grows into a design firm.  Or, they work in large design firms.  It depends on what they want for their career but having the certificate opens doors for them as a career and earning an income without owning a business.

What they have learned in school provides them the skills to create plans, understand remodeling and building, safety codes, lighting codes and meets requirements. 

Interior Designers then can take exams to further validate their status as professional.  These are rigorous exams that show their ability to understand building codes, safety creating plans for permits and so on.

If you are remodeling your house and need concepts, plans, management and are better off to hire an Interior Designer who understands what is necessary for a new build project or remodel.  Additionally, they "live in that world"  and have excellent contacts, subs, trades and understanding of the newest trends in FF&E (Finishes, Fixtures & Equipment).  They will save you money in the long run and their understanding of the process combined with their expertise will help streamline decision making.

Professional Interior Designers usually make a higher hourly rate and secure larger projects.  It is very controversial but many call themselves Interior Architects.  I caution those that do use that title as I have sat in on professional legal presentations for Interior Design Careers warning against the use of such a title.  The jury is still out but the AIA is not thrilled with this title.  However, there is an overlap of what both provide so it remains controversial. 

Interior Decorators typically may be in a design program, have taken a few courses, have the life experience of decorating and are so in demand for their fabulous taste that they transition right into a full-time business of decorating.  Usually, they gain Interior Designer status via experience, knowledge and then passing those really difficult exams (if they choose).  But they need to have a clear understanding of building codes, plans and what that entails before advising on floor plans.   Getting credentialed furthers their validity and possibly raises the bar on the types of projects they secure.  Interior Decorators usually work for themselves or assist professional designers.

Many very very successful decorators don't see the need to get credentialed.  Their business is booming and perhaps they leave the plans up to an architect, draftsperson or the contractor.

As a layperson looking to hire a decorator or designer,  the project will dictate what you need.  Basically, if you need a room refresh (furniture, flooring, accessories, pillows, paint colors, etc) you could hire a decorator.  If you want to tear down walls, remodel a bathroom, kitchen, laundry or create a fantastic media room along with all the pretty things mentioned should search for an Interior Designer.  They have letters behind their name, they mention "Full Service" interior designer in their bio's and their portfolio will reflect the level of work they can provide.

This is NOT to say Interior Decorators are not talented or provide a high level of style.  As mentioned previously, being a decorator is how many start their careers into the design field and may never desire to seek out credentials.

BOTH are highly talented.  Both are necessary and I have always said...  There is enough work for everyone.

As a lay person, knowing what your project requires and then seeking out the suitable designer is key to a better end result.  

If you are already designing for yourself and everyone you know, make it a career or a side "side gig"  click the link to get started right now

5 Steps to Launch Your Design Business

Elizabeth Ribons, ASID, NCIDQ, CID

I hope this was helpful! With over 20 years as a designer, I created  Better by Design Academy to support the design entrepreneur and provide tips, guidance, and essentials you didn't learn in design school. Often design entrepreneurs are on their own and having a resource community is a great way to support your business. You don't have to do this alone.

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