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Interior Decorating vs. Interior Design: What Is the Difference?

Have you been toying with the idea of taking your love for planning living spaces to the next level? Compare interior design vs. decorating here.

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Are you getting requests to rearrange your friends’ living room furniture because they know you’re a YouTube design show junkie? Are family members asking you to accompany them on decor shopping trips — just in case they need help making a decision?

If so, chances are, you are already an interior designer or decorator; you simply haven’t made it official because you’re not sure what steps are involved. Let’s dig into the differences between interior decorating and interior design to see which path is right for you. 

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Are You Already an Interior Decorator?

When you first realized you had a knack for arranging a bookshelf or choosing wall colors that brought out the best in a room, you were celebrating the interior decorator in you. Decorators assess existing spaces and find non-structural ways to enhance them to better suit a client’s taste. 

What Interior Decorators Do, Specifically

Interior decorators handle the tasks associated with embellishing a living space, like choosing a color scheme that is unified from room to room. Knowledge of color theory, paint formulations, fabric, and materials comes into play when picking furniture upholstery and wallpapers for a home. This is the decorator’s medium.

Network in Decorating

Finding the perfect accessories, like textiles to offset a cool, modern space or woven throw pillows with bright stitching to add a pop of color to a neutral palette, all fall under the realm of interior decorating.

Beyond snagging the right wall art for a client, a decorator needs knowledge of local artists and other makers to use on the job. Where would the ideal sculpture for that library be found, and which artisan makes the appropriate handcrafted dining table for a dining room? Building a list of fellow artists, furniture vendors, and a roster of potential clientele is an important part of the job.

Create a Niche

So many homeowners need a little nudge to move from boring “as-is” paint and flooring to a put-together space that reveals their personality. If you relish hunting for one-of-a-kind pieces to distinguish a client’s home decor and aren’t afraid to try new things, you may develop a niche in the industry. 

What Interior Decorators Don’t Do

Decorators may be asked to find window treatments that balance a client's needs for privacy with the need for natural light, but they won’t be replacing windows with French doors. Interior decorating is only concerned with the surface adornment of a space, not changing its structural layout. 

For other home upgrade projects, you might need to reach out to an architect or licensed contractor. 

Look Into Courses and Practice Whenever You Can

Since you won’t need extensive construction knowledge, there is no need for formal training in interior decorating. Many decorators find that taking courses of some sort is beneficial for diving deep into color science or decor history, but it isn’t a requirement to do business. If you’re looking for design and business courses to take at your own pace, explore the BeSpoak School curriculum.

Though it’s not required, if you do want to go the certification route, there are online certification programs through which you can earn a C.I.D. (Certification Interior Decorator) from Certified Interior Decorators International for around $1000. Other online courses vary from state to state but run upwards of $1500 for certifications in various areas of decor, like color schemes, furniture styles, and room staging. 

In this industry, many interior decorators learn as they go, beginning with redecorating their own homes and friends' homes. As word spreads, they pick up more and more clients who find their services well worth the price and gain confidence in their abilities. Practice makes perfect!

You Might Be an Interior Designer If … 

You might be a budding interior designer if you find yourself wondering if that wall is load-bearing because you’d like to open up the living room. Interior designers often do the same jobs as their decorating counterparts, with the added ability to design and reorder rooms. 

What Does an Interior Designer Do

When a home makeover requires walls to be removed or doorways created, it’s time to call an interior designer. Designers require knowledge of safely making structural changes in line with local building codes. 

Knowledge of Construction

They work closely with clients, potentially including new home buyers looking for help in space planning or homeowners ready for much-needed renovations. Just as interior decorators seek to make spaces functional for their clients, designers do too.

Designers plan or change a space's floor plans and adorn them, which requires training in construction and interior architecture.

Computers and Design

The need for some level of computer proficiency to plan this process is another one of the key differences between interior decorating and design. Many designers use computer-aided design programs to plan and inform clients and other architects about the intended renovations.

Ability To Build a Network

Interior designers must build a network of fellow creatives as potential suppliers or collaborators. Their materials go beyond fabrics, paint, and textiles to building materials and delegated renovation tasks. A list of trusted businesses is crucial to keep a home design project on track. Finding an interior design community is critical in finding support for design projects.

Specializations in Your Field

As a designer, you may wish to specialize in a type of interior design that most interests you. Consider catering to businesses rather than homeowners or working with municipalities to design public spaces. There are many paths for an interior designer.

Formal Training

Though you may never be asked for your job qualifications, numerous design schools are available for would-be interior designers. From formal education with a four-year degree to online courses or on-the-job training, you can learn the design process in a way that works for you. 

There is the gold standard for licensure: The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (or NCIDQ), which requires two years of experience after obtaining a bachelor's degree and three if you have an associate's degree in interior design. Some universities offer self-paced courses. Though you don’t need a four-year degree to practice interior design, you must have at least an associate's degree to obtain a certification.

Some designers find that two years of experience working in design is more helpful in preparing them for an interior design business than the degree, leaving many wondering how to invest their money for their future.

Overlap in the Industries

Both of these jobs entails listening to clients and finding creative ways to make their spaces more functional. Both are concerned with reorganizing or redesigning decorative elements, but only interior design involves construction or renovation to make it happen.

Some Computer Skills Required

Though one career may require more in-depth layout planning, both utilize mock-ups of interior spaces, and each requires business skills: working with clients, budgets, and timelines. Depending on where you live, there may be no need for certification in either to practice. 

Focus on Sustainability

Both industries increasingly focus on designing with sustainability in mind. Sustainable design practices require knowledge of materials, local regulations, and cutting-edge innovations.

Learning As You Go

Many decorators and designers find that a little formal training lends confidence, but real learning takes place in the doing. Finding a mentor or a design firm to work with in the beginning is an excellent way to dip your toes into the waters of interior decorating and design. 

Marketing Yourself

A problem both decorators and designers face is how to build a business and have time to market themselves. Homeowners may want to hire a second pair of eyes to assess their home, but they have to know your business exists to see if you’re a good fit. 

Self-promotion is where the social media fixation with home interiors pays off. You can grab a client's attention and show them your ever-growing portfolio directly on Instagram or create a more custom portfolio on another website.

Moving Forward With a Career in Interiors

Whether you are interested in completely overhauling spaces or refreshing them with ornamentation, there is a way to build your knowledge base that works with your budget. BeSpoak School offers education in both design and business principles, networking opportunities, and more. 

No matter what path you choose, you will find a helpful community of fellow design lovers an asset to your personal design projects or future career. 

Photo Credit: (Left) Architectural Digest


Difference Between an Interior Designer & an Interior Decorator | Chron

Reimagining Interiority of Our National Parks | University of Texas

How to Become an Interior Designer | U.S. News 

Who Uses AutoCAD and Why Is It Important? | Charter College

To begin your interior design or decorating journey, become a Spoak member today.

Date Posted
February 12, 2023



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