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After Floor plan showing bathroom, bedroom, and office measurements
This is a perspective drawing. They are used to help clients visualize a new interior design.

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

May 7, 2021
What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator? This is an amazing question that I get asked a lot, even from my siblings. The problem is many people use “interior designer” and “interior decorator” interchangeably. However, the two professions are very different.

Interior design is the science of understanding behaviors to help create functional spaces within a building. The interior designer asks you a number of questions about the space, like how you use it, the purpose of it, etc. For example, one might say a bathroom is intended to be used just for bathing and body waste. We have all learned through COVID that the bathroom is sometimes more than just a bathroom. It can be a “hiding” place to gather your thoughts for five minutes. In that case, you would want the bathroom to be relaxing, maybe more “spa-like” to gather your thoughts. Or maybe you are big into music and want to play soothing tunes while you are taking a relaxing bath, or you do not want to miss your favorite morning show when you are showering. Designers ask these questions to understand your purpose of the space.

Interior designers make indoor spaces functional, safe, and beautiful by determining space requirements, selecting essential finishes for the client, and decorative items. We must be able to draw, read, and edit scaled drawings. Designers must be aware of building codes and accessibility standards since we are part of the construction team. They can also decorate the spaces based on the clients’ programming requirements. A decorator, on the other hand, could never be a designer based on their non-formal education.
Floor plans are used to show the big picture of a project and assist with space planning.
An interior decorator does not need any formal education. They focus on the presentation of the room while figuring out your design style. Some popular HGTV “designers” are decorators since they did not receive any formal education. Interior decorators focus on furnishings, color, textiles, textures, and accessories. They are not understanding or thinking about the health, safety, and well-being of your family, as an interior designer does.

Designers and decorators share a lot of the same skill sets: research, creativity, communication, organization, vision-casting, knowledge of design, and art history. Working with a designer or a decorator is a hands-on process. We both present clients with multiple options, mood (design) boards, and get our clients’ feedback to finalize the project. The biggest take away is the interior designer is about the health, safety, function, and beauty of the space. We are always thinking about the walkway patterns of the intended space. We want to make sure the space is planned out correctly based on your family needs.

Ask yourself these questions the next time you are thinking about working with an interior designer or an interior decorator:
• Do you need someone to manage the entire project for you and assist with the build-out and aesthetics? Consider hiring an interior designer.
• Are you hoping to update one room in your home and looking for someone to make your design visions come to life? Consider hiring an interior decorator.
• Does your project involve making functional or structural changes? Consider hiring an interior designer.
• Are you working with a contractor who does not have an interior designer on their team? Consider hiring an interior designer.
• Do you need help selecting finishes or furniture for your home in creating a vision that is distinctive for you? Both can help!

Whether you go with an interior designer or an interior decorator, the key is to make sure the professional you choose is the best-suited for your project. Put simply, a designer can help you design your space, while a decorator can help you decorate. I believe Steve Jobs stated it best: “Design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works.”

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