Interior Design, A Primer

If I had a nickel for every time someone I'd just met has told me that I should come to their house and offer advice on pillows, drapes, paint color or upholstery, I could afford to employ an interior decorator of my own.

I think you would be hard pressed to find an interior designer who does not have a running script for the question: "What do you do for a living?" Many of us add qualifiers to our job description. I, for example, am a "commercial interior designer" if I'm telling you about my profession for the first time. Many interior designers add that they work for an architecture firm, or call themselves "interior architectural designers," or add that they work primarily in corporate, healthcare or hospitality. We do this because we feel it gives us credibility. The general public is ill-informed of the important role that interior design plays in everyday life, the fact that our first priority when designing a space is public health, safety and welfare. We have learned that telling most people that we are simply interior designers turns into a potentially awkward conversation.

We are designers, not decorators and it is important to us to draw the distinction. wraps it up nicely in describing the difference: "Interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design." So what does it mean to be a designer? To start, we have four year degrees and are certified by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, which in many states is required for licensure or registration. We space plan, research building code, spend weeks drawing construction documents for permit, and verify existing conditions of commercial buildings large and small. We gather information from clients and synthesize it into a program that encompasses all of their requirements to properly function as a business, work with code officials, manage projects, work with multidisciplined teams and coordinate consultants. And we're proud of it.

Interior design as we know it and define it today is a relatively new profession in the course of history, which could explain the lack of general understanding for the myriad of skills that interior designers possess and utilize on a daily basis. Most of us understand that part of our role in the A&D community is education. We are happy to relate why we are passionate about what we do and explain the difference between decorating and designing. So, please ask us about our profession, but don't be surprised if we give you an earful.

For more information on the definition of interior design and the distinction between interior design and decorating, please visit