I’m a Designer…NOT a Decorator!!

I cannot tell you how many times I get asked “Oh you’re a decorator? I just moved into a new place and have no idea what color to paint my walls or what pillows to get. You should totally help me out!” after telling someone I work in the interior design industry. This is seriously one of my biggest…pet…peeves…EVER. There are few things annoy designers more than being classified and referred to as a decorator. So to help you out, I’m going to take a little time out of my afternoon today to go over the difference between a designer and a decorator so none of you ever have to offend a designer again.

This was always a hot-button issue when I was in design school. So hot of an issue actually that our Interior Design Club put it as a line item on the back of our “You Know You’re an Interior Design Major When…” shirts (3. You feel the urge to strangle anyone who calls  you a “decorator” or asks for your help with pillows and curtains.) that, yes, I still own and wear to the gym.

According to the NCIDQ (a fancy exam that some states require you to take that’s on the interior design equivalent of the bar exam for lawyers), the difference between being a designer and a decorator is as follows:

Many people use the terms “interior design” and “interior decorating” interchangeably, but these professions differ in critical ways.

Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.

Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability.

The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology—including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process—to satisfy the needs and resources of the client.

Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces have passed laws requiring interior designers to be licensed or registered—documenting their formal education and training—and many of them specifically require that all practicing interior designers earn the NCIDQ Certificate to demonstrate their experience and qualifications. By contrast, interior decorators require no formal training or licensure.

And yes, I copy-and-pasted that. That’s just too much to type word-for-word.

So in a nutshell, anyone who thinks they have a good sense of style and can pick out furniture and home decor stuff can technically call themselves a decorator. You don’t need a degree for this. I repeat, you don’t need a degree for this. Anyone can be a decorator.

In contrast, to be an interior designer requires a lot more finesse, skill, and money. Oh yes, and a degree. Hence the money aspect. My student loans would be nonexistent if had chosen to be a decorator rather than a designer. Hence why I, and any other designer you choose to refer to as a decorator, find it highly insulting for you to classify us as such. The next time you decide to call me a decorator and ask me to help you decorate your place, don’t be surprised if there’s a line item on your bill for a student loan payment in exchange for the annoyance you made me deal with. And yes, you will be receiving a bill for services rendered (unless I offer to help you out – there’s always an exception). If you were a dentist, you wouldn’t expect me to just drop by for a teeth cleaning and cavity filling just because you’re a dentist and expect it to be free, right? Exactly. Time is money, and money is time. There are only so many hours in the day.

Oh, and while we probably do like HGTV (to a certain extent), chances are it’s not our goal in life to have our own show on there. Some designers: yes, but not all of us. Also on that note, a good conversation starter is not “So who’s your favorite designer on HGTV?” Newsflash: 90% of them are actually decorators who have designers doing the work for them behind the scenes. Trust me on this one, I know someone who used to work behind the scenes as a designer actually doing the space planning, finish specifications, etc. for these shows. Get with it.

Moral of the story, don’t jump to conclusions and think I, or any other person who spent 4+ years in school accumulating student loan debt to become an interior designer, will be more than happy to pick out your pillows, curtains, and paint colors among other things – especially free of charge. And for god’s sake, don’t refer to us as decorators. Many of us don’t even work in the residential design industry.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chair to attempt to reupholster.

3 thoughts on “I’m a Designer…NOT a Decorator!!

  1. professionalinteriordesigner February 1, 2014 / 5:03 AM

    Hey OAD'er great rant….I've been ranting on the same topic for as long as you've been alive….hang in there it will get better.


    • TheDesignDR February 8, 2014 / 11:46 PM

      Haha thank you!! I’ll most certainly try. If I didn’t absolutely love the industry so much I’d leave it but that’s pretty near impossible 🙂


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