The Difference Between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator

If you’re a home or business owner looking to hire a professional to revamp your living or work space, you may come across two seemingly similar job titles used in the design industry: Interior Designer and Interior Decorator.

Topics on this article:
- Interior Designer vs Decorator: What You Need to Know
- How Do I Know If An Interior Designer Is Qualified
- Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator: Which One is Right For Me?

Although it may seem like both terms can be used interchangeably, there are actually several key differences between the two that’s important for you to know when choosing an interior design business to work with. In fact, knowing the difference can help narrow down your search results and save you time.

That’s because while both interior designers and interior decorators can dress a space with furniture and accessories, only one of them has the additional skills and knowledge to perform much more than adding furniture to a room. So which is which? Read on to learn the difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer.

Interior Designer vs Decorator: What You Need to Know

The short answer to this question is that an interior designer is qualified to make suggestions to change interior architecture of a space or building to make it fully functional for the client. Interior designers work with architects and contractors who can make interior renovations. In addition, they can also choose furniture, artwork, paint colors, and all of the finishing touches to make it beautiful.

An interior decorator, on the other hand, focuses on decorating the space. Think of it this way: designers can decorate, but decorators do not do interior architecture, kitchens, baths, etc. That certainly isn’t a knock against interior decorators, you need to know the difference so you hire a design professional who can meet your needs.

It does go a bit beyond this key difference, however. Interior designers usually have knowledge of spatial concepts, the history of design, load bearing and non-load bearing walls, as well as building codes, permits, and fire safety. Interior design is the art of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces that enhance their home or work life. That means interior designers need deep knowledge of room design features that go beyond furniture and that are built into interior spaces such as molding, cabinetry, flooring, tiles, lighting, and more. They know how these details can add to the design transformation and fit the client’s vision and needs.

They may or may not hold a degree in a subject related to interior design. Most states currently don’t require someone to be certified in order to work as an interior designer.

Interior designers are usually proficient in computer-aided design software (Autocad) which allows them to digitally draw design concepts in 2D and 3D which they can then show to a client to give them an idea of how the space can be transformed.

Interior designers also need great people and management skills, as they are working with both their clients as well as architects and contractors as they renovate a space. They develop budgets and oversee projects to make sure everything moves along smoothly to the delivery date stated to the client.

Interior decorators, on the other hand, don’t need all of this additional design knowledge since they work primarily with clients who already had structural changes done (or aren't making changes to a room’s structure) and need the space furnished. They can also choose paint colors, textiles, furnishings and artwork.

red sofa with a yellow pillows

How Do I Know If An Interior Designer Is Qualified?

Currently, the state of Massachusetts doesn’t require interior designers to be licensed or certified. When you come across a professional who claims to be an interior designer, you should ask a lot of questions and take a look at their particular skills to determine if they’re the right fit for your project.

Find out how involved they are with making architectural changes to a space. Do they work with architects to bring a client’s dream into reality? Do they understand how to maximize a space’s functionality and potential beyond filling it with furniture?

Ask to see their portfolio. They should have before and after photos of projects they’ve completed that required making functional changes such as altering a room’s size or features. Testimonials from satisfied clients will also speak for themselves.

Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator: Which One is Right For Me?

Now that you know the difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer, which one should you work with? It all depends on what your needs are for the space you’d like to make changes to.

If you’re thinking of making structural changes to an area of a home or office and want a design professional who understands architecture, renovation, and how to maximize the best use of a space, then you want to hire an interior designer. They have relationships with contractors who can help you achieve your dream space. And once the renovations are done, they can do double-duty by choosing the right furnishings, artwork, and accessories to complete the finishing touches.

red sofa with a yellow pillows

On the other hand, if you don’t want to make renovations (or you’ve hired your own contractor to do the work independent of a design firm) and need someone to furnish and physically spruce up the space, then working with an interior decorator is the way to go.

When you work with Janine Dowling Interior Design on your design project, you’ll be working with interior designers who know the ins and outs of truly transforming a space. As a full service design firm, we specialize in full architecture renovation services as well as custom furniture design, color consultation, and more. Have a design project you’d like to discuss with us? Give us a call or contact us via our online form. 

Interior Designer Vs. Interior Decorator: Getting straight to the point

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