The Difference Between An Interior Designer and A Decorator

young Business partners by imagerymajesticIt is a question that has been asked for years. 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 a decorator? And which one is better?

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

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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James A. Holloway

James A. Holloway has been working in the window coverings industry since 2001 but it wasn't until 2009 that he took the leap and started his own installation business.

In 2011, he created the "Window Treatment Installers Network" a online forum for window treatment professionals.

In 2013 he began writing for window coverings blog called TraVerse.

And in 2014 he was recruited by the Custom Home Furnishings Academy to teach their Installation 101 Curriculum .
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