Posted August 17, 2012 by

What is the Difference Between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator?

Interior Designer or Interior DecoratorWhile the terms “interior designer” and “interior decorator” are often used interchangeably, and to the uninitiated, they may seem to mean the same thing, there are subtle differences; these differences can contribute to the effectiveness of each in a particular setting. In the same way that it is important to know the difference between a psychiatrist (a mental health professionals who prescribes medication) and a psychologist (a mental health professional who provides talk therapy), it is important to select the right type of professional for each task required for your space.

The difference starts from the choices aspiring interior designers and interior decorators make while in their respective schooling and continues throughout their careers. Understanding which type of professional to hire can be an essential key to creating a functional, attractive and welcoming personal or professional space.

Knowing The Difference

The first and most telling major difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator has to do with their approach to the use of your space. An interior designer will be primarily concerned with using the space itself both efficiently and effectively. In the role of an interior engineer, so to speak, the interior designer will first do a thorough space assessment, interviewing the client to find out what they visualize for the space, no matter what the space’s purpose. This assessment may encompass the finest details, right down to where the existing wiring and electrical outlets are placed, and whether this configuration will work for the ultimate intention for the space. For this reason, interior designers also often possess additional training in architecture, engineering, schematics and other specialized skills to help them achieve their goal in maximizing a space’s unique potential.

An interior decorator, on the other hand, will primarily approach the space from the perspective of artistry and style. While it is not unheard of to have one person wear both of these hats (as do a rare few psychiatrists also offer talk therapy), often the best results occur when each professional focuses in on their respective areas of expertise. In working with an interior decorator, you can expect to encounter a professional with a deep knowledge of textiles, art history, lighting design and function, color palettes, furniture and period furnishings, antiques and other complementary skills that allow them to adapt their solutions to the unique tastes of each of their clients. Just as many interior designers may possess additional training or education in engineering, so too do many interior decorators have advanced training in art or design. While again, these functions can and sometimes necessarily do overlap, often interior designers and interior decorators even partner up into teams to address the needs of a space from a comprehensive viewpoint.

Then, Moving Beyond

In the same way, both interior designers and interior decorators can often be found developing beneficial collaborative relationships and partnerships with other design-oriented professionals, such as architects, engineers, painters, flooring experts, home staging firms, photographers, and others to establish a mutual network of like-minded, trusted professionals. Some teams function as a single cohesive business unit, while others may comprise a loosely-knit network of professionals who often work together on larger projects. Often interior designers and interior decorators also participate in regular networking sessions where referrals and business-building skills can be exchanged to everyone’s mutual benefit.

In some respects, the professions of interior designer and interior decorator are nearly indistinguishable, especially in terms of the basic skill set that is essential to success in these highly customer service-focused fields. Possessing excellent communications skills, time management and a personality that is proactive and focused, as well as a set of basic business skills that include keeping track of monthly and annual accounting, ongoing billing and invoicing, hiring and firing (if employees or contractors are a part of the business), management and administrative functions, can spell the difference between failure and success.

This is where attending interior design colleges can really give the aspiring interior designer or interior decorator a leg up. Students can meet and network with professionals already working in the field, obtain necessary business and creative skills, find internships and have the opportunity to ask questions and try out areas of interest during their term of education. Students also have the chance to take elective courses in art, art history, design, architecture, public speaking and communications, sewing, painting and sketching, sculpture and pottery, and other course work that can refine their creative eye and make them more successful in their chosen path.

Laura Evansley has alternately worked as an interior designer and an interior decorator, and enjoyed both roles immensely.

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