NEED TO KNOW: “Decorator” vs. “Designer”

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“Greetings, my name is Carina, and I am a . . .

. . . healthcare designer”

Yes, that is, in fact, the way I introduce myself. Unfortunately, with a particular television channel creating an impression of what in “interior designer” is and does, many of us in the profession tend to steer clear of the title: Interior Designer. I wanted to write this post to help give an understanding of what the difference is, and why The Green Hearth is different than other DIY blogs or “remodel your entire house in 24 hours” type of television shows.

First off, I really must get this off my chest: If you do ever come across a professional who does use the title “interior designer”, please refrain from responding with these questions/statements:

  • You must love [insert popular home remodeling television channel here]! This may seem crazy, but, I don’t even watch that channel; I prefer to base my designs on research, not Home Depot trends
  • Can you do my house? Not for free, and it won’t be as simple as adding chachkies to your bookshelf and fluffing your pillows. If you are really looking for help from an interior designer, then you better be prepared to see not only new paint but demolition, I’m talking about ripping up carpet, breaking off the tile, pulling down cabinets type of demo!
  • [Blank stare with a slow head nod] Yes, I have gotten this one a few times, and I know in their head that person is thinking of their favorite show on that popular home remodeling television channel and wondering how I could possibly make a living doing that.

Now, let’s discuss the make-up of an “Interior Designer”

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) defines an “Interior Designer” as

one who “…is professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior environment. Qualified through educationexperience and examination, a professional designer can identifyresearch and creatively resolve issues and provide a healthysafe and comfortable physical environment.

This means an individual who has gone through the proper schooling and has become licensed through passing the NCIDQ exam (which, is similar to architects needing to pass their licensing exam). This exam (both multiple-choice and a practicum) runs through an extensive knowledge an interior designer must have, including a clear understanding of

In addition, the individual must have some sort of degree, the easiest route being attending a CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) accredited program, meet the required number of work experience based on the type of education received under a licensed interior designer or architect, and must be recommended by three individuals (clients, employers, etc.) in order to be qualified to take all of the exams. I will note, there is quite a surprisingly large percentage of individuals who attempt to take the exams, and fail. In fact, about 57% of first-time test takers pass the exams.

The BIG difference

An “interior Decorator” does not necessarily need to meet all of these requirements. In fact, one could say every person has the ability to be an “Interior Decorator”.

ModSpaceDesign put the difference between the terms beautifully:

“Interior Design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior in order to create functional spaces for them. And, Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things”

Organizations, like ASID, are striving to make the title of “interior designer” one that can only be used by those who have become licensed. Of course, this doesn’t mean the stay-at-home mom can’t give her home an up-do, or, that a friend wouldn’t be able to help decorate your home; there would just be a defined title (as an example, an Architect is really only an “Architect” after they are licensed, before that they are “intern architects”).

And, on the flip side, there are those who strongly disagree with the legislative efforts for one reason or another and don’t mind the intertwining of the two titles. But, I do ask that next time you hear someone say they want to be an interior designer, make sure they know it’s more than just pillow fluffing, color picking, and sketching pretty floor plans. And, if someone does introduce themselves as an “interior designer”, you do not confuse the title as them being a “decorator”.

After all, that’s why Top Design used the phrase “see you later, decorator” as the stab-in-the-back send off.

What are your thoughts on the titles “interior designer” vs. “interior decorator”?

Originally posted July 16, 2016