By . Published on 03/08/2013.
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Some people who are unfamiliar with the industry use the terms interchangeably. But in truth they are two different, although seemingly similar, professions.

Let's look at the 2nd question first.

Which one is better?

That is actually the wrong question to ask. The correct question to ask would be "Which one is more appropriate for my needs?"

Depending on your specific needs, that will determine the types of questions you ask when you interview someone to take on your project. They each have different areas of expertise, different areas of study/knowledge, and different skill sets.

Which brings us back to the first question.

What is the difference between a designer and a decorator?

Google it and you will likely find the same dozen or so blogs & forum posts that did a "cut-and-paste" from an industry website saying the difference is in the amount of education or training.

As a rule, for someone to present themselves as an Interior Designer it is usually understood that this person went to a college/university and studied (and received a degree in) interior design. Although this is not always the case, it tends to be the norm for most individuals in the industry. But without asking point blank, or getting information from someone who knows, the potential client has no way of knowing whether or not the designer they are hiring has a degree in the field.

That's not  to say  that someone without the degree cannot  become  a  successful  and  well recognized designer.  Consider  the  case  of Michael S. Smith who  has  been responsible  for  the interior design needs  of the  Obama's since  they first  moved into the  White  House.  Mr.  Smith  is  looked  upon by many as  one of the  premier  designers of  our era, while others dismiss him because he is supposedly unlicensed or uncertified to be a designer.

Interior designers have the option to acquire certification of their skills and knowledge beyond that of their college degree from the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and to network and associate themselves with others in their field through organizations like the American Society of Inteior Designers (ASID) and the Interior Design Society (IDS) as well as other national and local trade organizations.

Those who study interior design may decide to focus primarily on the elements of interior decorating, but it is generally frowned upon within the industry for an interior decorator to call themselves an interior designer.

Interior decorators are usually not required to study building codes and elements of architecture. Interior decorators typically work in residential settings, but focus on the interior elements unlike interior designers who are just as likely to be found working on commercial projects as well as residential and can be involved in the design and layout of the exterior elements, in addition to interior elements.

Some interior decorators seek out a college education, but the only real requirements seems to be an "eye" for how a room should look. Even Dorothy Draper, who will likely go down in history as one of the most remarkable interior decorators of the 20th century, stated once that she had "no schooling to speak of, except that I was brought up where I had the privilege of being constantly in touch with surroundings of pleasant good taste." [Reference]

In 1997, an organization was formed (Certified Interior Decorators International) to empower interior decorators and to provide the general public with a level of confidence in the field of interior decorating.

Hopefully this helps define some of the differences between the two fields and will assist you in choosing the right professional for your project.


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It is a debate that has been going on for years that spans the entire country. Sometimes the discussion gets quite heated. And there are deep rooted beliefs and strong opinions on both sides of the aisle.

The question is this: What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator? And which one is better?

Unfortunately there is not an easy or a  short way to answer it.

James A Holloway hanging silk draperies on a bay window
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About The Author
James A. Holloway
James A. Holloway is a 10 year veteran of the window treatment industry.
He first entered the industry in 2001 as an installer for a company based in Greer, SC.
He later moved into sales for that company before starting South East Installation Solutions in 2009.

He is active in the HunterDouglas Professional Installers Program and has been awarded EXPERT certification by Somfy Systems for their motorization products.

He is also the founder of WIN-TIN, a networking and technical forum for window treatment professionals.