What's the Difference Between Designers and Decorators?

November 11, 2014 Interior Design, General 0 Comments

Outside the industry, some people use the terms interior designer and interior decorator interchangeably, but the two are actually very distinct. Here's a look at the major differences as well as the overlap.

What's the Difference Between Designers and Decorators?Education and Licensing

The most obvious difference between designers and decorators is their education. Interior designers typically go through a rigorous, design-focused education, while decorators generally enter the trade with no formal training. Design schools in the United States are accredited by the Council of Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and may award associate or bachelor's degrees specific to the field.

After graduating, a student of interior design takes an exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. While the regulations vary state by state, the majority of states have licensing restrictions. In many states, this process — college education and passing the exam — is required to use the title interior designer. There is no licensing program for decorators.

Scope of Work

In addition to the disparity in education and qualifications, there is a large difference between designers and decorators in terms of the work they do. Decorators are focused on exactly that — decorating. They may help pick out fabrics, paint colors, rugs, furniture and the like. Except for the paint, nearly everything they deal with is movable.

Interior designers, on the other hand, can completely design the inside of a building, including the shapes and sizes of rooms. For this purpose, they are trained in the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software as well as traditional drafting methods, although any load-bearing wall must be approved by an architect. As a result, designers are usually involved very early in the project and often work closely with architects and builders. A designer may oversee the entire team on a construction project, including builders, electricians, plumbers, stone workers, painters, installers, craftspeople and makers of custom cabinetry, furniture, window treatments and the like.

Designers must be educated on fire and safety codes to know, for example, how to design a safe stair banister. They plan window locations and lighting; they can help choose materials and products for flooring, walls, windows, doors and molding. In addition, designers create space plans for rooms, deciding where furniture and appliances will go and helping clients find and choose those items. Professional designers get deep discounts from a wide range of manufacturers, which are usually not available to decorators.

Finally, designers also do what decorators do — choosing fabrics, colors and decorations. But when a designer engages in that work, they bring a background of formal education in the way different lights, both natural and artificial, interact with various materials, colors and finishes; the way those colors make people feel; and how people interact with the space around them. That, overall, is the greatest difference between designers and decorators: the former have rigorously studied the art and science of design, the latter decorate from their own intuitive taste.

Photo credit: Flickr


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