What Did You Just Call Me?

Have you ever called an Interior Designer a Decorator and received a withering look? Do you wonder why “See you later, decorator” is the kiss off line for Bravo’s Top Design? It’s because calling an Interior Designer a Decorator diminishes our education and expertise. The general public seems to think an Interior Designer is nothing more than some one with a sense of style, crafty tendencies and the ability to coordinate colors. I call it HGTV Syndrome. Selecting color palettes, finishes, and furniture, craft projects, and occasionally designing furniture and millwork to decorate an existing space is not Designing. It’s Decorating.

Please, keep in mind I do not hate Bravo, HGTV, or TLC. I can watch those channels for days on end. I think their designers are extremely creative and talented (Especially David Bromstead and Candice Olsen). Also, I am not belittling the work Decorators. There are many talented decorators. I am simply trying to explain the difference between a Decorator and an Interior Designer and why you may have been on the receiving end of a hostile glare.

True, you may find Decorator listed as a synonym for Interior Designer in the thesaurus, but in there is a difference. Decorating focuses on the aesthetics of an interior space. Typically, Decorators select surfaces finishes (walls, flooring, and fabrics) and furnishings for a space. Yes, Interior Designers select finishes, furniture and accessories to create an aesthetically attractive space but we are educated, qualified and responsible (read: accountable/ liable) for so much more.

To begin, some decorators may have a certificate (typically a semester or less of classes). Most interior designers have a 4 year degree. The best Interior Design programs are accredited by The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). CIDA evaluates and sets the standard for post secondary interior design education. Courses include drawing, computer-aided design (CAD), space planning, color theory, psychology, history of architecture and furniture, lighting, and textiles (and by textiles I mean chemical composition, properties and how they are constructed and wear – not patterns), construction documentation, building materials, estimating, project management, business, 3d rendering and sustainable design.

Secondly, the difference between a Decorator and Interior Designer is so significant over 20 states some form of licensure, certification or registration to show you are qualified to use the title Interior Designer. If your state requires certification, licensing or registration, you must pass The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). The NCIDQ is a three part exam that takes place over 2 days and costs about $750. (If your state does not require an NCIDQ Certificate, it’s still a good idea to take it to prove you’re worth your salt and boost your salary power.) Not just anyone can take the test. To qualify, you must have 6 years of combined education and experience (at minimum, 2 of those years must be college level interior design education and must work under the direction of a licensed architect or interior designer). Although, NCIDQ does not require continuing education to maintain the certificate, some states and professional organizations require a specific number of continuing education courses to maintain a license or membership. To my knowledge, there aren’t required continuing education credits nor is there legislation in place for title “Decorator.”

Finally, Interior Designers are responsible for enhancing and protecting the health, safety and welfare of occupants in the space we design. We do this not only with our selection of surface finishes but by manipulating an environment three-dimensionally using the principles of design and understanding human behavior. Interior Designers research and analyze client needs. We calculate the square footage necessary to perform specific tasks. We plan the necessary space adjacencies to maximize productivity and function. And throughout our design process we make sure our designs are accessible for those with disabilities and meet building and life safety codes.

I have a friend who calls herself an “Interior Architect” because better describes the capacity of an Interior Designer. Technically, after an Architect or Engineer designs all the exterior components/ assemblies of a building and the load bearing supports and an interior designer could design or coordinate the rest of the building. This would include walls, windows, plumbing, electrical, communications, HVAC, exit/evacuation plans and lighting. I think it bears mentioning, the design program I attended taught students to size HVAC ducts, build load bearing walls from the roof to the footer, site buildings and many other responsibilities that typically fall under an architect or engineer’s scope. However, we leave that to the experts. Remember, there are reasons why certain careers require education and training!

Need an additional dose? Check out these links to read more about what Interior Designers do.
International Interior Design Association
The National Council for Interior Design Qualification
United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor & Statistics

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