Interior designer vs.interior decorator

The Interior Decorator vs Interior Designer Debate Will Soon Be Dead

I’m going to preface this piece with a few things because some people get all bent when this topic is brought up.

  1. I earned an interior design degree.

  2. I earned NCIDQ and CCIDC certifications.

And to be clear, I’m coming to this article from the residential side of things in general. Now that that is out of the way…

The Interior Decorator vs Interior Designer Battle Royale

interior designer vs.interior decorator

For years there have been two warring factions within the design community — the interior decorator vs interior designer. While most people search for this because they are likely thinking about a career in the interior decorating degree, I’d bet you that the number of potential clients exploring this topic is maybe 5.

Clients of interior designers and decorators do not give two shits. They don’t know the difference, certainly don’t care what title they use to refer to you and any attempt to educate them falls on deaf ears of those who only want to make their space better in whatever form that means for them.

So, knowing that most people searching for the interior decorator vs. interior designer differences is done by those who are either in the industry or looking to interior decorator salary the field, understand that you’re hopping into a world where interior designers are basically peeing all over marking their territory as the arbiters of interior design.

I know, I did it, too.

If you read a handful of the blog posts out there articulating the differences, most written by someone that is an interior design technology, you’ll find the same tired points brought up, time and again. Including the bit about not dissing your neighborhood interior designer or the entire industry by calling them an difference between interior designer and interior decorator because the terms are not interchangeable, you dick you.

The usual talking points go something like this…

Interior Designers:

  • Also an interior decorator

  • Has formal training and a degree

  • Understands blueprints

  • Understands fire and building codes

  • Understand people’s behavior to create functional spaces

  • May be involved in the design of a building

  • May be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

  • Requires certifications and/or licensing

  • Use fabric, paint, furnishings, and accessories to change the aesthetics and its functionality

  • Arrange furniture

  • Redesign spaces

  • Shop for furniture and accessories

  • Salary average of $47,388

Interior Decorators:

  • No formal training required

  • Cannot be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

  • Use fabric, paint, furnishings, and accessories to change the aesthetics and its functionality

  • Arrange furniture

  • Redesign spaces

  • Shop for furniture and accessories

  • Salary average of $38,852

That’s all fine and dandy, and there are probably a few other ticky-tack points that are pertinent only to specific states, but the list covers most of their talking points.

As for where the friction lies within the industry, I can point to these reasons brought up regularly by interior designers when they elucidate on the points for the dullards:

  • Interior decorating and interior design are two very different professions

  • Interior designers bring value through their professional training, planning skills, and building code knowledge

  • Interior designers are the crème de la crème because of their education and qualifications

And for years, I bought into the horseshit until I realized why I was feeling all sorts of pissy about the whole interior designer vs decorator conflict.

COULD IT BE THAT THE DEGREE AND CERTIFICATIONS THAT AFFORDED ME A BUNCH OF STUPID LETTERS TO PUT AFTER MY NAME WERE NOT AS VALUABLE AS I WAS LED TO BELIEVE?

A degree, certification, licensure shows that a person learned the information to prove their competency to practice interior design information. There is no one certifying individuals on their creativity.

Just that they understand the knowledge that they were taught, furthermore, anyone can become an interior designer by investing, money, time, hard work, and persistence. So then when the interior decorator, who will assume in this argument hasn’t ponied up all of the money to join the cool kids club, comes sniffing around the same potential clients we’re looking at? Well, it can only mean war for the interior design terms.

But now, at this point, why would you spend all that money to become an interior designer?

The Value of an Interior Design Degree is Falling

If an interior designer today is counting on a college degree coupled with additional certifications to demonstrate their value in the marketplace they’ll be crying the blues soon.

If we’re honest, and I hope we all are, anyone who graduated and went working in the interior design field right away quickly realized that they knew jack shit. Everything learned after college that was valuable was through experience and learning from others working in the field.

Interior decorators and interior designers then have the same chance to learn through valuable on-the-job experiences.

SHITTY COLLEGE ROI AND THE RISE OF HAL 9000

We’ve seen that the ROI on a college degree is shit. Seriously, looking at the average salary for an interior designer is less than $10K more than the interior decorator? College seems like a terrible investment when you consider how much the cost of tuition has risen compared to salaries.

In the future, assuming that AI and AR crap comes to fruition, which I’m pretty sure it will… we won’t need the distinction between an interior designer and interior decorator.

Remember the interior designer talking points? A computer will do everything on this list.

  • Understands blueprints

  • Understands fire and building codes

  • Understand people’s behavior to create functional spaces

  • May be involved in the design of a building

  • May be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

I mean, there are planes that can fucking fly themselves and people are going to pretend that a computer can’t replace a degreed interior designer? Pffft. And hopefully, this will get those ASID and NCIDQ pricks that are joined at the hip to make more money off of the interior design question out of here because we won’t need them.

WHAT ABOUT LIFE & SAFETY?! WE’VE GOTTA PROTECT THE WORLD!

The computers will be the first line of defense, and the inspectors of the world will be the enforcers and double checkers, as they always have been.

Gone will be the days of someone trying to spec some textiles that could go up in flames because the computer will check the schedule against the ASTM compliance.

And just like that, an interior design term degree will be muerto.

Why hire a human when you can just hire a computer to design your home?

Ahhh, yes and now we’ve come to the most critical part of all of this. I’ve written before on how I see holistic interior design emerging as a powerful niche for those in this industry to look to as interior design as we know it dies. But please, don’t jump on the holistic interior design bandwagon because you’re looking to make money. Please. Don’t.

For the non-woo-woo types, it could mean that with machines doing most of the heavy front-end lifting, you’ll have time to fully flesh out creative and novel ideas that allow you to stand out in the world.

It also means that all of this interior decorator vs interior designer bullshit should stop

Many people use the terms “interior design” and “interior decorating” interchangeably, but these professions differ in critical ways. Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things*. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design. Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability. The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology—including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process—to satisfy the needs and resources of the client.

California-based Interior Designer Caitlin Campbell – the owner of Symmetry Designs – explained the difference this way:

…the biggest difference is that the interior designer typically has a number of other issues on his or her mind. For instance, when it comes to floor coverings, an interior decorator will probably be responsible for choosing the type, color, texture, and pattern. The interior designer, on the other hand, will make the selection based on those criteria, with an additional eye towards the appropriateness of type, usage, sound transference, acoustic properties, flammability, off-gassing properties, static electricity requirements and flammability.

So How is Interior Design Different from Decoration?

Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. The decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design. Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive, and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project.

Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability. The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology—including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process—to satisfy the needs and resources of the client.

Beginning with NCIDQ’s definition of interior design, a second rebuttal article continues to outline the author’s feelings on the assumption of many (including many architects) that interior design is no more than decoration.