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.
“In the master suite, decor can deviate from the common areas and really reflect your personality.”—Ali Vanderpool and Ariana Villalta
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.
Interior decorators don’t create interior spaces; they embellish interior spaces that already exist. The National Council for Interior Design Qualifications, NCIDQ, states, “Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things.” An interior decorator often paints walls, hangs wallpaper, selects and places furniture, installs window treatments, and adds accessories such as throw rugs, lamps, throw pillows and wall art to a room. An interior decorator doesn’t knock out walls or structurally change the layout of an interior space. An interior decorator often uses her skills to adorn a living space once an interior designer has made necessary structural or functional changes.
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.
“The splurge everyone should make is a fabulous master bathroom. I used hand-painted porcelain sinks in mine.”—Todd Richesin
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Hiring an Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator: How to Choose Between the Two
“In an open seating plan, always use a well-proportioned statement coffee table to ground the arrangement and give it a sense of place.”—Sean Michael
“When you’re given a dark space that doesn’t have great light, create your own light. In this kitchen, we used Sherwin-Williams’s sunny Energetic Orange, and it turned out just fabulous— so cheerful.”—Matthew Boland
“Don’t settle. If you have your heart set on a piece, don’t try to find something similar just to save money. Chances are, you’ll never be completely satisfied with the substitute (or its quality).”—Brian Watford
The terms interior designer and interior decorator sometimes are used synonymously, but each has its own job description and function. Designers study people’s needs to create functional, structural living or work spaces to satisfy those demands. Decorators furnish interior spaces with furniture and accessories, creating an aesthetic environment. An interior designer must obtain a license to practice, but an interior decorator isn’t required to do so. As a result, interior designers may decorate, but decorators are not permitted to design.
Interior decorators handle aesthetics. Image: Century Floorspace
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“Look up! We use ceilings a lot. Through them, we define the lines and beauty of a space.”—Julio Salcedo
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.
Who you decide to hire will depend on the scope of your project. Image: Madison Modern Home
“I love to use wallpaper in mundane spaces. Hallways, pantries, powder rooms—all become moments of joy and funkiness. Areas of transition can be places you enjoy spending time in.”—Fawn Galli
“Old and new belong together. A mix of modern pieces and antiques never tires.”—Caleb Anderson
“Follow your gut. If you have to talk yourself into liking something, you probably don’t.”—Olivia Erwin
Need to decide between an interior designer and an interior decorator? Here’s how. Image: Paloma Contreras Design
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?
Tucker, Kristine. (n.d.). Difference Between an Interior Designer & an Interior Decorator. Work – Chron.com. Retrieved from http://work.chron.com/difference-between-interior-designer-interior-decorator-4190.html
“Faux paint, lush lacquer, or wallpaper on a ceiling will garner that ‘Wow’ response.” —Leslie May
“Actually use your beautiful things! I have a chocolate lab and white furniture in my living room. It took some training, but now he knows the furniture is off limits.”—Lindsey Lane
“If punk rock has taught me anything, it’s to do everything yourself. All of my favorite interior designers were self-taught.”—Max Humphrey
“Never underestimate the power of paint. You don’t have to break the bank to achieve a new look. A fresh coat in a vibrant color takes an old piece of furniture or empty white room and gives it new life.”—Chauncey Boothby
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.
“Wicker is an element I love for its texture and versatility. Wicker baskets are so functional for storage, but a wicker animal brings a sense of whimsy.” —Amy Berry
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.
“When clients want a quick, impactful update, I recommend the pieces that take up the most surface area, like rugs, paint color, or window treatments.”—Tina Ramchandani
Difference Between an Interior Designer & an Interior Decorator by Kristine Tucker
“Art, art, art! Start young and buy the best you can afford. Its ability to transform a room is unlike any other design tool.”—Jean Liu
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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.
Let our advice help you decide who to hire for your next project. Image: Christen Ales Interior Design
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Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating What Are the Differences?
The job outlook for interior designers is just above average when compared to all occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of interior designers is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020. The job prospects are likely to be higher at corporations that are striving to create environmentally friendly structures to support sustainability. The job outlook is also highest in wealthy communities where employers and individuals can afford remodeling and redecorating projects. Jobs for interior designers in specialized design firms are expected to grow by 27 percent from 2010 to 2020. As this specialized industry develops, there will be a continuing need for designers to work with decorators and others in design-related fields. Interior Design Schools reports a higher than average job growth rate for interior decorators; those who demonstrate a high degree of talent are most likely to gain employment. Since a large number of interior decorators are self-employed, precise job growth numbers are difficult to predict.
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.
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Tucker, Kristine. “Difference Between an Interior Designer & an Interior Decorator.” Work – Chron.com, http://work.chron.com/difference-between-interior-designer-interior-decorator-4190.html. Accessed 17 February 2019.
“Pull floor patterns from ancient buildings. One inspired the checkerboard pattern of the marble floors in my Los Angeles home.”—Nate Berkus
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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.
“Update your light switches! Elegant controls add a spectacular element to an older home or character to a new one.” —Courtney Hill
Interior designers earned a median annual salary of $49,810 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, interior designers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,760, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $68,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 66,500 people were employed in the U.S. as interior designers.
“Classics never go out of style. I hesitated about doing a white kitchen in my own house, thinking I’d been there, done that. But I’m so glad I did. I will never tire of it.”—Alexandra Kaehler
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.
“Choosing the right light bulb is very important. LED bulbs are energy efficient, and they can look great.”—Paloma Contreras
Some people have a natural eye for design, but if you’re more in the camp of those who can’t do anything without consulting Pinterest board upon Pinterest board before making any major changes, we feel you. We’d love to have an interior designer on speed dial before deciding exactly where and how hang to hang that sweet new wall art we bought on a whim, but until we win the lottery, we’ll have to settle for trusting our guts, and taking plenty of design tips where we can get them. We’ve compiled some secrets straight from the pros to help you with all your decorating needs.
“Don’t be afraid of dark. I used this rich Benjamin Moore Midnight Blue on an accent wall—darker than I’d ever dared. It made the whole space come to life.” —Jean Larette
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“Great art and fabulous antiques only get better with age. It’s better to cry once and have a forever piece.”—Chandos Dodson Epley
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.
Tucker, Kristine. “Difference Between an Interior Designer & an Interior Decorator” accessed February 17, 2019. http://work.chron.com/difference-between-interior-designer-interior-decorator-4190.html
“My clients ask about the most important pieces to invest in: I believe in upholstery and art! They help anchor a room.”—Ashley Darryl
“Every house should have a great bar. It is the central point of a party, and if you entertain a lot, it will be celebrated, so put some thought into it.”—Jordana Joseph
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.
“Get creative when thinking about form and function. A client in a traditional Georgian home needed it to work for her modern way of entertaining. We opted for an asymmetrical, organic space that encourages guests to float through the room while engaged in conversation.” —Kate Coughlin
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?”
Interior designers have a formal education and specific architectural skills. Image: Graystone Custom Builders, Inc.
“The most important first step in design is a good floor plan.”—Jessica Helgerson
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.
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.
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:
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An interior designer creates interior living or work spaces to accommodate people’s needs. A designer problem-solves difficult structural living arrangements to create spaces that enhance residents’ qualities of life. According to the Patty and Rusty Rueff School of Performing and Visual Arts at Purdue University, interior designers must adhere to code and regulatory requirements, encouraging environmental sustainability. An interior designer researches, analyzes and plans interior layouts to make them physically, socially and aesthetically functional. Students in Purdue’s interior design program develop analytical skills to plan commercial, institutional, health-care, retail, and residential interiors. Modern technology and advanced computer programs allow interior designers to create virtual living areas before finalizing them for development or construction.
“Buy one good piece of furniture every year, and in five years, you’ll have five pieces. Everything else may change, but these will remain constant.”—Jeffrey Bilhuber
“Black works with any style. The misconception is that dark colors make spaces feel smaller; they actually recede.”—Carrie Fundings Land
“Use tall pieces in a low-height room. Short furnishings would make the ceiling feel that much lower to the ground.” —Jason Oliver Nixon
An interior designer is often required to obtain a license to practice.
According to the NCIDQ, many U.S. states and Canadian provinces have laws that require interior designers to be licensed or registered before they can practice. These laws require designers to provide documentation of their formal education, including degrees and training certifications. Some even require practicing interior designers to earn an official NCIDQ Certificate to demonstrate their expertise and qualifications in the industry. Formal training and licensure isn’t required for interior decorators.
“Make sure you’re having fun. What’s more fun than making your own home more beautiful.”—Eche Martinez