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Interior designer vs interior decorator
How Tell Difference Interior Designer Interior Decorator

How Tell Difference Interior Designer Interior Decorator How Tell Difference Interior Designer Interior Decorator

Interior decorators handle aesthetics. Image: Century Floorspace

Interior design and interior decorating are often mistaken as the same thing, but the terms are not completely interchangeable. There are many similarities between the two jobs—so many, in fact, that opinions vary on exactly where to draw the distinction. There are also more than a few differences between the professions—some subtle, some significant. As you decide which kind of help you need when planning changes in your home, it will help to understand the differences between professional designers and decorators—their schooling, the credentialing, their services, and their clientele.

In the end, however, choosing the right professional depends largely on the skills of the particular professional, not the job title. A great many designers with formal schooling spend most of their time doing work that can be best described as decorating since it involves no renovation or structural work. And there are just as many professional decorators who, through long experience, are perfectly capable of working with contractors and builders in the same way as a designer.

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. Think of them as an expert who can help you bring an entirely new look to your existing space.

Education: To become an interior designer, you need to go through formal training. It’s usually either a two-year or four-year program. In some areas, designers may have to pass an exam in order to become registered with their local governing body, though this is not always the case.

So you’ve decided to make a few changes at home, and you realize that you’re going to need a bit of help. You begin looking for possible services and find that some professionals describe their work as interior design while others are interior decorators. Suddenly you’re faced with new questions, namely, “What’s the difference?” And more importantly, “Which one do I need?”

When you’re trying to sort out your next design project, you may be dealing with so many things at once that small details like whether you’ve hired an interior designer or an interior decorator may not seem to matter. However, this is one place where lingo does matter. Consider this to be your guide to sorting out the differences between these two titles and how to find your best fit.

  • Credentials: Even though no schooling is required to become an interior decorator, there are many programs and courses available. These courses often focus on color and fabric, room layouts, space planning, furniture styles, and more. Certifications from organizations like C.I.D. (Certified Interior Decorators International) offer coursework and certification to help decorators authenticate their practices.
  • Schooling: To practice professionally, interior decorators aren’t required to have formal training or schooling because they focus primarily on aesthetics and don’t participate in renovations or structural planning. A decorator comes into the picture after the structural planning and execution are completed to focus on the surface look of the space. Many professional interior decorators have college degrees in related fields, but it is not a requirement for the profession.
  • What they do: Good decorators are skilled at coming into a room and whipping it into visual shape. For new spaces, they can help clients decide on a style, choose a color scheme, purchase furniture, and accessorize. They’re also often brought in to spruce up an existing space that needs to be updated or redone.
  • What they do: Designers are comfortable with spatial planning and can help design and renovate interiors—from drawing up the initial floor plans to placing the last decorative accent. Designers don’t just enhance the look; they also enhance the function of a room.
  • Schooling: Interior design is a profession that requires specific schooling and formal training. The work involved usually includes studying color and fabric, computer-aided design (CAD) training, drawing, space planning, furniture design, architecture, and more. Upon graduating, designers often apprentice with a registered and established interior designer before moving on to establish their own companies.
  • Credentials: In some states and provinces, professional designers are required to pass an exam and become registered with a governing council (which one will depend on what country and state/province he or she is in) before they can be called designers. However, there are just as many locations where no credentialing is required. So it’s a good idea to find out what the situation is in your area before starting your search.

Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating What Are the Differences?

People have the tendency to think that interior design and interior decorating are the same think. They are mistaken as these two terms are not interchangeable and they each define a different activity and field. There are a few major differences between an interior designer and an interior decorator.

Special skills: A large part of an interior design education focuses on space planning. This process includes conducting an in-depth analysis of how the current space is being used, as well as any functional changes that should be made in a redesign. Usually, this will include things like changing the layout to achieve better functionality or usage throughout the space.

The last question is the one we’re tackling today. While these two professions are very similar, a few key differences can have an impact on your project. Keep reading to learn what sets the two apart and how to figure out which one will best suit your needs.

When to bring one in: An interior designer is your best choice if you’re working on a remodel and require guidance beyond aesthetics. They can help you redesign your space from the ground up, as well as navigating day-to-day details like working with contractors.

Who you decide to hire will depend on the scope of your project. Image: Madison Modern Home

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Need to decide between an interior designer and an interior decorator? Here’s how. Image: Paloma Contreras Design

  • Are you looking for someone to manage the project?
  • Are you planning on redoing a room like a kitchen or a bathroom, where functional fixes might be more difficult to navigate if they pop up during the process? Or, somewhere like a bedroom or living space where they’ll likely be less extensive if needed at all?
  • How important are education and credentials to you?
  • Are you planning to make any structural or functional changes right off the bat?

Let our advice help you decide who to hire for your next project. Image: Christen Ales Interior Design

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As you can see, the differences between the two professions are big. The interior designer handles the first part of a project and the interior decorator only comes in after that to put the finishing touches. Also, they are usually contacted when a home or a space in general needs an update in terms of style, color or small details. So if you need structural changes such as removing walls, adding new windows or doors, you need an interior designer. If you need help deciding on a style, choosing the right paint or furniture, the lighting fixtures or the accessories for your home, then you should contact an interior decorator.

Interior designers have a formal education and specific architectural skills. Image: Graystone Custom Builders, Inc.

For example, their training differs very much. An interior designer needs formal training and specific schooling that includes the study of color, fabric and computer-aided design training as well as drawing, space-planning, furniture designer and architecture. An interior decorator, on the other hand, doesn’t need formal training or schooling.

When hiring a professional, begin with clearly understanding your own needs and look for a pro who has a proven reputation for meeting those needs, no matter what the formal job title. It’s generally true that designers are for space planning and structural execution, while decorators are for the final aesthetic decisions. But don’t be afraid to cross lines to hire a decorator with a reputation as a good designer, or a designer with a flair for decorating, provided their skills are proven.

If you’ve ever tried to bring someone in to help with an interior design project, you know that finding your perfect match can be a task unto itself. For one thing, there are a number options to choose from, each with their own body of work. For another, there’s design lingo to sort through. Some call themselves an interior designer while others use the term interior decorator. What’s the difference?

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Education: Since interior decorators generally focus solely on decorative details, there’s less of a need for them to have a standardized education. Most will have undergone some sort of training program to learn about the foundational principles of interior design.

Hiring an Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator: How to Choose Between the Two

That’s because interior décor focuses mainly on aesthetics. Also, interior decorators don’t take part in renovations. Their work only begins after the renovation is complete.Interior designers can design and renovate interiors from scratch, from the initial floor plans to the last detail. Interior decorators help the client decide on a style, choose the colors, the furniture and the accessories.

Another important difference refers to the fact that interior designers work with architects and contractors while the interior decorators only work with the client and occasionally with furniture makers, upholsters and other similar professionals.

When to bring one in: Bringing in an interior decorator might be the right choice if you need another set of savvy eyes to help bring your design inspiration to life, or if you want to give a room a makeover and don’t have time to handle it on your own.

Have you ever used an interior decorator or an interior designer for one of your projects? What factors ultimately helped you make your hiring decision? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

One thing to keep in mind: Every decorator and designer is different. This is only a general guide. You should research individuals in your area to see what services they offer. As always, we recommend that you do your best to look over design portfolios, read reviews, and get your questions answered before deciding who’s the best fit for the job.

Ultimately, which type of professional you decide to hire is a matter of personal preference. If you’re on the fence between the two, we’ve compiled a list of questions to help you sort out which pick is right for you. Read them over before making any hiring decisions:

How to tell the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator

Who you should hire depends on your needs. If structural changes are needed (such as removing a wall, moving plumbing or wiring around, or adding new windows or doors), then generally an interior designer is the better choice. Designers can help plan for significant structural changes and help make them happen by working directly with architects and builders. On the other hand, if there are no structural changes needed but you need aesthetic help—deciding on a style; choosing wallpaper, paint, and furnishings; picking window treatments, and choosing lighting and accessories—an interior decorator will probably do the trick. Experienced decorators know what works together and can transform a room to suit a client’s needs and desires.

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