What Is The Difference Between An Interior Designer And A Decorator?

what is the difference between an interior designer and a decorator | Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

It 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 way or even a short way to answer those questions.

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?

To be honest, that is actually the wrong question to ask. The correct question to ask would be “Which one is more appropriate for my needs?”

Your specific needs 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 or knowledge, and different skill sets.

This brings us back to the first question…

What is the difference between an interior 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 or 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 a degree cannot become a successful and well-recognized designer. Consider the case of Michael S. Smith who was responsible for the interior design needs of the Obamas when 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 a certification of their skills and knowledge beyond that of their college degree from the Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and to network and associate themselves with others in their field through organizations like the American Society of Interior 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 interior decorators to call themselves interior designers.

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 requirement 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.[Ref]

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

Hopefully, this information will help you 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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