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Interior Designer or Interior Decorator?

Through media such as design shows on television, most people have come to believe that interior designers and interior decorators are essentially the same thing. When finding someone to hire for an upcoming project, however, homeowners and business owners would be well-served to know the significant differences between the two fields of expertise.

Definition of an Interior Decorator

Interior decorators are concerned with the selection of interior finishes within a space. These items include floor coverings, wall finishes, ceiling design, furniture, cabinetry and window treatments. Often, they will also assist a homeowner in selecting plumbing fixtures or light fixtures. They are able to read blueprints, and draft drawings such as furniture layouts or kitchen cabinetry.

Decorators often have some type of design education behind them, whether it is a bachelor’s degree or a 2-year associate’s degree. Sometimes, however, interior decorators are self-taught, and do not have a formal design education.

Most often, decorators work within the residential sector, meaning that they decorate homes, condos and other living spaces. Some decorators specialize in a particular type of decorating work, such as window treatments or flooring. They sometimes work in retail settings, selling furniture, flooring, window treatments or accessories. Other decorators are skilled in faux finishing or actually sew the window treatments they design.

Definition of an Interior Designer

An interior designer is also a specialist with interior finish selections. However, in addition to that knowledge, interior designers are further educated in space planning, construction processes, project management and building codes.

Interior designers always have a formal education, usually in the form of a bachelor’s degree. Many also go on to take the NCIDQ exam (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) after working in the field for a number of years. This exam tests a broad range of design knowledge, including space planning, building codes, drafting skills, knowledge of finish products and more. Passing this exam paves the way for a designer to become licensed or registered in their state.

Interior designers work in a wide range of design niches. While some designers prefer to work in the home decorating sector, others take positions in commercial or residential interior design or architecture firms. Further, many designers select a very narrow field of practice, because of the specialized knowledge required to do their jobs. These fields include healthcare design, restaurant design, new home construction, kitchen and bath design or office design.

Knowing Whether to Choose a Designer or a Decorator

For homeowners or business owners looking for a decorator or a designer for their next project, all of this information can seem confusing. There are, in fact, some vital considerations to be made when deciding with whom to work.

While someone educated in interior design can function as an effective interior decorator, the opposite is not true. For a project where finish selection for a residence is the main focus, either a designer or a decorator would be able to do a great job.

However, if space planning, remodeling or designing a commercial space is required, an interior designer will have the breadth of knowledge required to effectively complete the project. A designer’s knowledge of local building codes, fire safety, and construction methods are essential to creating a safe and efficient space.

Both interior designers and interior decorators can have a wealth of knowledge, experience and skills behind them. While the fields of study overlap somewhat, the terms are not synonymous. Choosing a designer or decorator with the correct skill set to complete a project effectively is important for any client.

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