What makes someone an interior decorator?

Interior decorating is the furnishing or embellishing of a space with beautiful things. Interior decorators generally focus solely on the decorative details.

If you have ever tried to bring a professional in to help with an interior design or decorating project, you know that finding that perfect person can be a challenge. Some refer to themselves as interior designers, while others are interior decorators. There has been confusion between these two professions for decades. While they sound similar, the skill set for each profession is quite different and understanding the differences will help you determine which you may need.

Interior decorators do not typically have a standardized or formal education, it’s more of a talent. Most decorators will have undergone some sort of training program, internship or even shadowing for a period of time to learn the foundational principles of interior design.

Special skills:
Interior decorators are all about aesthetics. They can handle tasks such as selecting color schemes, purchasing new design items, arranging furniture layouts, and hanging wall art. Their expertise can help you bring a new “look” to an existing space without a need for remodeling or construction.

When to bring one in:
An interior decorator is a good choice when you desire a fresh perspective and professional help to bring your design inspiration to life, or if you want to give a room a makeover and don’t have the time or skill to do it yourself.

What makes someone an interior designer?

As my personal favorite designer, Albert Hadley, said, “The essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live.”

Interior designers aim to learn about the people they are working with in an effort to create functional spaces to fit their needs within a building or fixed space. Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life. Designs should also coordinate with and enhance the buildings’ shell, as well as compliment the physical location of the project.

An interior designer has formal training, typically a two- or four-year program. In some areas, designers may be required to pass a licensing exam to become a registered designer, though this is not always the case. One popular organization is the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), which I am personally certified through. The NKBA requires several years of experience before you can begin the certification process and that you maintain your skills through continuing education classes. This designation ensures that we designers are up to date on the latest and greatest.

Special skills:
A large part of an interior design education focuses on functionality and space planning. These processes include conducting an analysis of how the current space is being used, as well as performing any functional changes that should be made in a redesign to achieve better usage of the space. For example, removing walls or rerouting plumbing and electrical is a common occurrence for designers.

When to bring one in:
An interior designer is a better choice if you would like a complete remodel or addition and have requirements beyond aesthetics, such as cabinetry building and design, appliance selection, plumbing and electrical work, removing of walls and architectural expertise. Designers can help you create a new space from the ground up and handle all aspects of the process like working with contractors, material selections and everything in between.

In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design. This general guide should help you when trying to decide between the two. However, every decorator and designer is different, so the process requires adequate research. Learn more about the individuals or firms in your area. See what services they offer, read reviews, look over design portfolios and ask questions before you decide which professional is best suited for your project.


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