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What’s the Difference Between an Interior Designer and Decorator?

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What is the difference between an interior designer and decorator? I’m asked this question often and it’s a great one. It’s important to know what education, skill set and experience the person you’re hiring has so that you get the best person for your project.  

So in this post you’ll learn:

  1. The main differences between interior designers and interior decorators.
  2. Three things to consider when hiring someone for your project

So..What’s the Difference?

Although you may have heard the terms designer and decorator used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between the two. 

The biggest difference is this: 

Formal education is required to be an interior designer. No formal education is required to be an interior decorator. 

But stay with me… This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should ONLY hire a designer.  There are many amazingly talented decorators out there.  It’s just important to be aware of the differences before making a decision. 

What is an Interior Designer?

  • Designers must have formal education, a minimum of 4 years in an accredited interior design program (i.e. a bachelor’s or master’s degree) 
  • Education includes a significant focus on space planning, architectural drawings, building codes, environmental impact, acoustics, ergonomics, efficiency, color, style and selection of furniture, fixtures and equipment. 
  • Some states require designers to pass an exam in order to become licensed. Not all states have a licensure act so this isn’t always relevant. 
  • Many interior designers are members of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers).

Contrary to public perception, interior designers don’t spend a lot of time during their education learning about decorative details.  The fundamental elements and principles of design are taught, but the majority of educational focus is on the topics listed above. Designers must have a good natural eye for aesthetics or practice and develop their aesthetic skills on their own.  

What is an Interior Decorator?

  • No formal education is required for decorators. Most decorators are either self taught or may have taken a short interior decorating course either in person or online.  
  • Decorators focus on aesthetics.  They are skilled at selecting furnishings, colors, drapery, lighting, rugs and other decorative items. 
  • Do not meet eligibility requirements for membership in ASID (American Society of Interior Designers).

Just because decorators don’t have the same  education that a designer does, it doesn’t mean they may not be the perfect fit for your project.  There are many brilliantly talented decorators.  One is not better than the other… they are just different and it’s important to be aware of the difference. 

Should I Hire an Interior Designer or an Interior Decorator?

Do you need a designer or a decorator?  Here are the top things to consider: 

  1. If your project consists only of aesthetic changes (decorating -picking out furniture, rugs, lightings, paint colors, etc.)… then either a decorator or a designer would be a good fit.
  2. For remodels, (especially a kitchen or bathroom) and other projects where you’re considering structural or functional changes, a designer is likely a better choice.  
  3. If you’re working with a commercial space such as a medical clinic or medical spa, etc… then hire a designer. Designers are trained to follow ADA guidelines and commercial building codes. 

The most important part of making the decision is awareness and open communication.  Every decorator and designer is different. Make sure you have interviewed them and have all of your questions answered before hiring.  I think the most important part of a designer client relationship is open honest communication. If you’re a physician who has been contemplating hiring a decorator or designer, I’d love to hear about your project.  Click here to explore how we can work together.

Kricia Palmer, MD, ASID | Doctor, life coach & interior designer

I’m Kricia Palmer, and I help women physicians let go of clutter and create beautiful, clutter-resistant homes so they can feel more peace, get more rest and be more focused.

What do you want to learn more about?

Create a home you love that fits YOUR style, so you feel relaxed, inspired, and enjoy every space in your home.