Interior Designer vs. Decorator: Making the Right Choice

Both can help you create beautiful spaces, but there is a difference
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Interior design and interior decorating are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to completely different aspects of creating functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces. Understanding the differences between interior designers and interior decorators can help you choose the right professional for your project.

Educational requirements

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To become a licensed interior designer, one must pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. This is a state-approved exam that requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and two years of on-the-job training. On the other hand, there are no educational requirements for becoming an interior decorator. Interior designers have a broader set of skills than decorators and are involved in the entire process of creating an interior space.

Problem solving skills


Interior designers adhere to building codes and regulatory requirements and have strong problem-solving skills. In addition to codes and regulations, they understand how different materials, lighting, texture, artwork, and furniture can be used to create different experiences within a space. They add sensitivity to interior and exterior space planning by understanding the ‘space’ and/or ‘distances’ that are required for functionality, flow, and creating the right proportions of space. Interior designers also work closely with structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and acoustical engineers to achieve their design goals.

Technical knowledge

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Interior designers provide construction drawings for spaces that include floor plans, interior elevations, and construction details for ceiling, walls, wall base, and flooring applications, millwork, and other ‘special’ items, including fire and water features. They may collaborate with different furniture, art, and accessory representatives in assisting the client with selecting these items. Interior designers may also provide dimensioned floor plans and elevation drawings for specific locations and test fitting specific furniture and art items within the spaces.

Having an interior designer working alongside an architect often compliments and helps to bring cohesiveness to the interior and exterior environments. Like an Architect, an interior designer can also double-check the design intent by making frequent site visits during the construction phase.

Interior decorators, on the other hand, select and install furniture, art, and accessories. They are often engaged in projects after the construction is completed. While interior decorators have a good sense of style and aesthetics, they do not have the same level of technical expertise or education as interior designers. To get the most out of the talent and knowledge that an interior designer can provide, it is best to engage an interior designer from the very beginning of the project.

Choosing the right professional for your needs

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Interior designers have a broader set of skills and are involved in the entire process of creating an interior space, from design to construction. On the other hand, Interior decorators focus on the decorative elements of a space. When embarking on a project, it is important to understand the differences between these two professions and choose the right professional for your needs.

Natalie Yemm is Marketing Lead and Dawn Oglesby is Interiors Department Principal at VFLA Architecture + Interiors. a full-capacity architecture and interior design firm with offices located in Fort Collins, Colorado. View their profile or contact them at 970.224.1191.

Content for this article provided by VFLA Architecture + Interiors.
Categories: Interiors, Native Content