To find a qualified designer or decorator in your area, visit the website of the Interior Design Society (IDS) or American Society of Interior Design (ASID).
Interior Designers At-a-Glance
- Typically have more specialized education than interior decorators
- Often belong to ASID (American Society of Interior Designers)
- May be accredited by NCIDQ
- Are trained to work with the architecture of a space
- Tend to specialize in a specific type of interior design
- Sometimes work independently or in a retail home furnishings store
- Focus primarily on the aesthetics of a space
- Are generalists who will typically work with any interior space
- May or may not have formal training
Finding an Expert
Organizations such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the Interior Design Society (IDS) offer numerous resources and tools for locating and assessing designers. When it comes to searching for designers or decorators, you can ask friends and neighbors, whose interiors you admire, for recommendations. The next step is to review the work of the professionals under consideration—and to ask for references.
Designer or Decorator? That is the Question
How to choose the professional that’s right for your project.
- by Suzanne Gannon
It’s a familiar quandary. You’re on the brink of a renovation, addition or facelift for your home, and you know you need some expertise. But what type of expertise? Should you hire an interior designer or an interior decorator?
The Project Dictates the Expert
Many people assume that interior decorators and designers do basically the same job. However, their roles are different, and which one you hire depends on your needs. If you’re looking for some expert help for your next project, ask yourself some key questions:
• Is there a broad scope of work involved?
• Does the flow of the space need to be adjusted?
• Does the project mandate structural changes?
• Will there be significant alterations to the lighting plan or acoustics?
• Is the placement or type of windows an issue?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, then it’s likely you could benefit from the services of an interior designer. If not, an interior decorator might be just the guru you need.
Decorators focus primarily on the aesthetics of a space—how it looks and how decorative elements can enhance it. Designers, whose profession requires more advanced training and education, can go a step beyond and work with the structure of a room. To simplify the difference between the two, an interior designer can help alter the architecture of a space; an interior decorator usually does not.
“An interior decorator is great when you’re talking about surface decoration in the final phase—for things like paint selections, fabrics, furnishings, those final touches,” says Kerrie Kelly, founder of Sacramento-based Kerrie Kelly Design Lab. “But, generally, interior decorators are not looking at architectural plans.”
While both designers and decorators are concerned with aesthetics, style and mood, Kelly says, it’s the interior designers who have undergone comprehensive training and developed skills that include a technical understanding of space planning, building codes, ADA compliance, flame spread ratings, toxicity, fire ratings classifications, ergonomics, lighting and acoustics.
Education and Training
Interior designers have often completed a four- or five-year accredited degree program. Those that are NCIDQ-certified (National Council of Interior Design Qualification) have also passed a two-day examination to obtain a license to practice Interior Design. This license is required for professional interior designers in 24 U.S. states. Formal education, combined with practical experience, gives interior designers a comfort level in working with both architects and contractors.
Many interior decorators also undergo educational training for their profession, but it is generally a two-year Associate's program. In addition, they tend to be generalists who can advise on the décor of any space. You will find that many designers are specialists. For example, you will often see interior designers who specialize in areas like kitchen design or home office design.
Making Your Decision
Overlap aside, in the event that you are not contemplating any construction that will change the flow of your space—and your budget allows enough for furnishings, wall coverings, textiles and accessories—an interior decorator is the expert to consult. If a more extensive scope of work is entailed, consider hiring an interior designer.