Next week, the Kuotes will be launching a September series on how to become a better designer, including topics like how to get started, how to beef up your social media cred, and how to handle your client’s trickiest questions. We’ve been watching everyone head back to school, and we thought it was time to hit the books for a fall refresh. But before we give you our tips of the trade, we should get some terminology out of the way. Interior designer. Interior decorator. We’re sure you’ve heard both of these terms. As you scroll through your favorite design blogs (including, I’m sure, the Kuotes), you’ll come across an array of titles: designers, decorators, stylists, specialists, trendsetters, creative consultants…We could go on and on and on and on and on and on. And then on some more. But this begs the question: What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Today, the Kuotes has taken the time to demystify the terms used in the design world.
What is an Interior Designer?
When it comes to your interiors, interior designers are the crème de la crème. What makes them so special? Two words: education and qualification. While interior design is a form art, it is also a science, and interior designers have an understanding of human behavior that allows them to create functional spaces for clients. For many designers, what a space does is much more important than how a space looks. Designers deal not only with furnishing and decor, but also with the building plans and location, the social context of the project, codes and regulatory requirements, and environmental sustainability…just to name a few. Just think of the saying you learned in high school geometry: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Interior designers are squares (attractive and fashionable squares, don’t worry) and interior decorators are rectangles. The point we’re making here is that interior designers decorate, but interior decorators do not design.
What Do Interior Designers Have That Others Do Not?
- a degree in Interior Design or Interior Architecture from an accredited 4-year college or university
- internship experience under a licensed professional
- state licensing after passing the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam
- knowledge of art history, architecture, furniture, and industrial design
- knowledge of design technology (such as CAD) and skills in sketching, modeling, and drafting
What Does This Mean for Me?
When deciding who to hire for your home or design project, the Kuotes always recommends hiring an interior designer (Kathy, of course, is an experienced designer, and you can learn more about her background here). Designers guarantee the experience and problem-solving skills necessary to bring beautiful structure and design to your home. Designers can work directly with architects, obtain building permits, supervise construction or installation, and give advice on matters including electricity, plumbing, structural changes, ADA requirements, etc. If you are working on a large design project, building your home from scratch, or making adjustments to your home’s structure, it is imperative that you choose an interior designer for functional, safe, and beautiful design. If you’re just looking to repaint or redecorate a room, however, an interior decorator can get the job done and may be the right choice for you (read more below). Due to their training, designers typically work on large commercial projects in addition to residential spaces.
Pro Tip: Sometimes even members of the trade can confuse the terminology, and some interior decorators will advertise or call themselves interior designers. Do your research and make sure the person you hire has all of the bulleted criteria above before you pay for an interior designer level of expertise.
What is an Interior Decorator?
When it comes to selecting beautiful furniture and home decor, interior decorators can help you achieve the look you want for your home. Experienced interior decorators have experience with paint, fabrics, furniture, and accessories, and they can provide fantastic direction for selecting a color palette, arranging the layout of a space, and selecting items to give your home the personality and style it needs to be you. Note, however, that ANYONE can claim to be an interior decorator. No formal training is required, and decorators are not qualified to alter building structure or make electrical changes. Decorators are also not typically trained in sketching, modeling, or design technology like CAD. If you decide to hire a decorator, make sure to choose somebody you trust, somebody who can provide a portfolio to show their past work, and somebody who is not charging you for an interior designer level of expertise. And while there is no government regulation or certification process, most good decorators will attain a 2-year associate degree or a certificate from a vocational program to showcase their experience and dedication to the field.
Pro Tip: Most online services that offer “designers” to put together mood boards or design concepts for your space employ interior decorators and not interior designers.
What is a Stylist?
In the world of interiors, you might also hear the term “stylist.” It’s a pretty vague title, so it’s not surprising that what they do is also broad and somewhat vague. Like with decorators, there is no formal training needed to become a stylist except for…well, good style. Stylists typically style for a variety of lifestyle interests in addition to interiors, fashion being a very common stylist industry. The designer is interested in the craft and function of a space, and the decorator is interested in the look and beauty of a space. The stylist is really interested in the dressing and entertainment value of a space, focusing on smaller accessory items and current design trends. So when to hire a stylist? For events, mostly. Are you throwing a themed or seasonal party and you want your decor to fit in? Are you doing a photo shoot and want the placement of everything in your home to be picture perfect? Hire a stylist. Our suggestion here is to really get to know a stylist, learn their area of expertise, and move forward from there.
There you have it: the confusing titles of interiors broken down for you. Still have questions? Leave them in the comment section below!