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Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

What's the Difference?

Contrary to popular belief, interior designers are not the same thing as interior decorators. If you're expecting to earn a degree learning how to hang wall coverings, purchase furniture, and decorate an interior with fun little knick-knacks to become a designer, you are sadly mistaken (and in for a BIG surprise). Interior design requires knowledge in many aspects aside from an aesthetically pleasing interior. Before I go into detail, please note that this is not a post degrading a profession, rather to explain the differences as the terms are often used interchangeably. Here are some differences between an interior designer and an interior decorator:

interior designer vs interior decorator: the professional differences

Interior designers are professionally trained in space planning. In 18 states, they must pass a strict exam and be licensed. While both designers and decorators are concerned with aesthetics, style and mood, interior designers have comprehensive training and command skills that may include an understanding of:

•flame spread ratings, smoke, toxicity and fire rating classifications and materials

•space planning for public and private facilities

•national, state and local building codes

•standards regarding the needs of disabled or elderly persons & other special needs groups

•Ergonomics (Practice of designing products with the user in mind)

Fan deck

•lighting quality and quantity

•acoustics and sound transmission

What Does an Interior Decorator Do?

A decorator works only with surface decoration – paint, fabric, furnishings, lighting and other materials. Because no license is required, upholsterers, house painters, and other trades people also claim the name “decorator.”

(Source: American Society of Interior Designers, Illinois)

What Does an Interior Designer Do?

An interior designer is professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior environment. Qualified through education, experience and examination, a professional designer can identify, research and creatively resolve issues and lead to a healthy, safe and comfortable physical environment.

Interior designers provide various services including:

•consulting services to help determine project goals and objectives

•generating ideas for the functional and aesthetic possibilities of the space

•creating illustrations and renderings

•developing documents and specifications relative to interior spaces in compliance

with applicable building and safety codes

•allocating, organizing and arranging a space to suit its function

•monitoring and managing construction and installation of design

•selecting and specifying fixtures, furnishings, products, materials and colors

•purchasing products and fixtures

•designing and managing fabrication of custom furnishings and interior details

•designing lighting and specifying

(Source: American Society of Interior Designers, Illinois)

You can see that the work of an interior designer is very difficult, but challenging and rewarding. Although the work of an interior decorator has some similarities to that of an interior designer, understand that there are very distinguishable differences between the two. A designer has vast skills that make them ideal for any interiors job. Take these differences into consideration when determining whether to hire an interior designer or a decorator.

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