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New York City-based Peter Marino is known for his commercial and retail designs as much as he is residential, and he has worked to redefine modern luxury worldwide with clients including Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari.
India Mahdavi has a lot in common with Henri Matisse. Like a fauvist, the Paris-based designer and architect uses rich, complementary colors in both her commercial and residential projects to immediately elicit a layered—mostly giddy—response from visitors. She creates worlds that are uncanny: they feel familiar, but are at the same time completely alien. Recently, she created collections for Pierre Frey and Bisazza and opened the much-feted Ladurée salon de thé in Tokyo.
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.
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.
Former set designer Ariel Ashe and architect Reinaldo Leandro’s NYC firm Ashe + Leandro mixes contemporary luxury and natural materials to create spaces that feel open and timeless. Past projects include work for Liev Schreiber and Seth Meyers, who is the husband of Ashe’s sister.
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Victor Vasilev has earned renown as an industrial designer, but he actually began in architecture. He revisits the discipline in …
A fourth-generation Californian by way of the Bay Area, Nathan Turner wrote the book on the state’s aesthetic, called I Love California, as well as a book on classic American Style. The Los Angeles-based designer counts A-list stars, including Mindy Kaling and Armie and Elizabeth Hammer, among his clients.
Trading his time between New York and San Francisco, Ken Fulk’s designs are bold, evocative, and inventive — and attract the clients to match, such as Pharrell. In the public sphere, you might have encountered his work at one of the many trendy Major Food Group bars and restaurants he’s decorated.
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.
New York–based designer Bennett Leifer describes his style in four words: Timeless, livable, elegant and artful. He has primarily worked with private families in New York, Los Angeles, Aspen, and the Hamptons. Notable projects include model residences for 18 Gramercy Park South, Norman Foster’s 50 United Nations Plaza, and 100 Barclay.
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.
The Milan-based duo of Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori Rimini, otherwise known as Studio Peregalli, specializes in baronial rooms that are steeped in history without being tied to any particular period. They fashion dramatic spaces that interpret the past without living in it, working with salvaged fragments and highly skilled artisans. The firm’s American projects include a Manhattan apartment for style arbiter Hamish Bowles, and a Gramercy Park townhouse for artists Rachel Feinstein and John Currin.
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.
These are the designers we look to again and again. Each is distinctive—what unites them is their excellence. Here are the 2018 ELLE Decor A-List designers.
Interior designers have a formal education and specific architectural skills. Image: Graystone Custom Builders, Inc.
Interior decorators handle aesthetics. Image: Century Floorspace
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.
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?
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?”
New York City-based Jeff Fields is the partner of fellow A-List designer Joe Nahem. Their past clients include Robert Downey Jr.
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More than anyone, Nate Berkus is the public face of contemporary design. A TV personality who designs products for Target, he’s also an accomplished and sophisticated interior designer. His own predilections tend toward neutral palettes; natural materials like leather, linen, and wicker; and objects made by hand. He is currently working on a television project with his husband Jeremiah Brent.
Mario Buatta is the “Prince of Chintz” and one of America’s most iconic designers — two titles he accepts happily.
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:
Hou de Sousa’s Prismatic lit up the night in Washington during “Georgetown Glow,” an exhibition of outdoor light installations. Led by Nancy …
Brooklyn-raised Ellie Cullman (her family owns the famous Peter Luger steakhouse) holds an Albert Hadley Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York School of Interior Design and founded the storied design firm known for its fashion-forward, modern look — catalogued in the design book, From Classic to Contemporary.
A leading member of the Los Angeles design community, Madeline Stuart’s wide-ranging clientele comes from the entertainment industry and the world of business and finance. Her projects reflect a collaborative relationship between architecture and furniture, function and form, client and designer. The firm recently completed a four-year project that involved a comprehensive restoration and redesign of a historic property in La Jolla, California.
New York and Palm Beach designer Ashley Whittaker describes her clients as “bi-coastal bachelors to Upper East Side Families and everyone in between.” Famous for her bright use of color and pattern, Whittaker describes her style as youthful, eclectic and traditional all at once.
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New York City–based interior designer Sara Gilbane describes her style as cheerful and comfortable design infused with color, pattern, and whimsy. Her signature is to combine antiques with a client’s prized possessions and an bright, welcoming hues.
Bunny Williams is all about classic comfort, an informed eye, and a bit of fun. In her rooms, fine European antiques meet mirrored walls and gutsy artwork. She uses intense colors and delicate patterns with equal panache.
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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Alyssa Kapito is based in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. Style: A fresh take on the classics with a great appreciation of antiques and art. Recent projects: a full restoration of a historic Hamptons estate; a family home in Beverly Hills; a beach house in Bellport Long Island and a landmarked townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Kelly Wearstler’s global luxury lifestyle brand is marked by its distinctive designs and sophisticated soulful character. Wearstler’s signature style juxtaposes raw with refined, melds sophistication and spirited spontaneity, and brings together diverse periods of furniture. Her portfolio includes luxury hotels and grand residences from Beverly Hills to the Caribbean, and throughout the rest of the world.
Trained at Sotheby’s in London, NYC-based Richard McGeehan specializes in 19th and 20th century decorative arts and calls his style “intelligent eclecticism.” In addition to many museum clients, he’s designed homes for Robert Duffy of Marc Jacobs and the official residences of a UN ambassador and the governor’s mansions for the states of New Jersey and Missouri.
New York and Los Angles-based Eric Hughes clients include Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick, Andy Cohen, Katie Couric, Hank Azaria, Lauren Graham. Cohen’s Manhattan home by Hughes — who likes to create “relaxed, eclectic, elegant residences” — is pictured here.
A world-renowned interior designer, Vicente Wolf has been a leader in the Manhattan design industry for over 35 years. From the spacious light-filled loft in New York City where his company is headquartered, Wolf and his team build on his passion for design that’s guided by integrity and simplicity. Wolf has published four design books, including this year’s “The Four Elements of Design: Interiors Inspired By Earth, Water, Air and Fire.” His portfolio includes the MGM hotel in Las Vegas and the Wynn Hotel in Macau, China.
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Let our advice help you decide who to hire for your next project. Image: Christen Ales Interior Design
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Los Angeles-based Peter Dunham calls his style “sophisticated casual.” He started his design company in L.A. in 1998 after a childhood in France and college in England, and design lovers flock to his Hollywood at Home to buy his fabric and wallpaper collection. His fans and past clients include Jennifer Garner, Steve Tisch, and Drew Barrymore, with projects restoring landmark homes, like an 1963 Horace Gifford house on Fire Island.
For someone in his early 30s, Ryan Korban has made quite a name for himself. His strong point of view and a signature aesthetic—sleek, marbly interiors, geometric forms and muted color palette—is exemplified in a handful of stunning retail projects for the likes of Aquazzura, Balenciaga, and Alexander Wang. (Would calling him the successor to Peter Marino be hyperbolic? We don’t think so.) Korban is currently working on his first major residential development at 40 Bleecker, in New York City.
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.
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.
La Faenza’s Bianco tile, associated with Ceramics of Italy. Photography courtesy of Coverings. Designers and architects rely on a who…
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.
Brookyln-based Billy Cotton has designed for artist Cindy Sherman and Carol Bove.
“We balance modern, machined elements with warm, textured, historical ones often weaving a story or dialogue of periods,” says Hayes of his New York-based design firm. Born in Louisiana, Hayes has curated homes for Marc Jacobs and Leonard Lauder and Evelyn Lauder and previously practiced as a landscape architect.
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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.
Prismatic Installation in Washington, DC by Hou de Sousa Glows in the Dark
Juan Montoya was born in Colombia and moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design after studying architecture in Bogotá. He has enough design world accolades to fill a very chic room and is known for paying special attention to his mix of textures, volumes, shadows and scale.
Need to decide between an interior designer and an interior decorator? Here’s how. Image: Paloma Contreras Design
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.
A Pittsburgh-born designer who moved to NYC and trained under designer Philippe Starck, Kelly Behun is known for highly bespoke creative process and her line of artistic, thoughtful furniture pieces and home accessories.
Los Angeles and Paris-based Timothy Corrigan knows a thing or two about European elegance given that he’s owned has owned three historic castles and penned, An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé about one’s renovation. The jet-setting decorator tends to a clientele that includes Madonna and an array of Middle Eastern royals.
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The former Million Dollar Decorators star Kathryn M. Ireland describes her style as “California coastal meets European chic,” and the result is an elevated boho look that’s attracted clients, such as Julia Louis Dreyfus and Drew Barrymore. The Santa Monica-based designer’s charm and signature flair also shines through in her popular textiles line.
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New York City-basd Shawn Henderson is known for his interiors that are serene as they are sophisticated. His past projects have included homes for Will Ferrell and director Tate Taylor.
Who you decide to hire will depend on the scope of your project. Image: Madison Modern Home
Sibling duo Pamela Shamshiri and Ramin Shamshiri struck out on their own from Commune to great success in 2016. Their star-studded client list includes Seth Rogan and Lauren Rogan, Anne Hathaway & Adam Shulman, and Sophia Amoroso of Girlboss. “Our look is narrative and experience driven so it’s always changing based on the place, architecture, client, and historical context.”
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.
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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.