Google+ House Revivals: Interior Design and Decorating (and What Do All Those Letters Mean)?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Interior Design and Decorating (and What Do All Those Letters Mean)?

In my work, I am often asked what the difference is between  interior design and interior decoration.  The short answer is "scope of practice and projects"-- but that is way too simplistic --  the long answer involves education, experience, and, in many cases, examination.

Typically, an interior designer will have a minimum of a three or four year degree in interior design, architecture, or a design related field, though that is not always the case.  Often their degree is from a CIDA (formerly FIDER) accredited school, but there are some fabulous schools that are not CIDA accredited. Additionally, many interior designers have degrees in construction management.  Don't be surprised if your interior designer has an advanced degree, as well.

They may have appellations after their name such as IIDA, or ASID.  Strict educational requirements must be met for a designer to join either of these organizations.

They may opt, or in some cases be required by their state, to take the NCIDQ exam (or some other exam specific to their state).  In addition to appellations from professional interior design organizations, they may have kitchen and bath planning credentials from the NKBA, or associations with the AIA.

Most likely, your interior designer will be qualified to make structural changes to a home or small commercial building, but check your state laws to be sure.  In your state, your interior designer may be able to design your house from foundation to roof, draw up the construction documents, pull a building permit, and manage the construction project.  Every state is different, though, so check your state laws and local ordinances to be sure.

Regardless of who you have draw up your plans, if you are planning to build or do a remodel, the time to get your interior designer involved is during the design process (makes sense, right?  designers being involved in design?).

An interior designer may work for an architectural firm, a construction firm, or an interior design firm.  They may work for a design-build firm.  They may work in hotel, or health care, or school design.  They may work in the model home design industry. Sometimes they specialize in hand rendering.... 

.... Or in drafting.  They may even specialize in creating physical or computer generated models -- or at least do these things as part of their scope of practice.  Their educational background will have prepared them to go in any of many different directions with their career.

An interior decorator (or stylist) may or may not have a degree in interior design.  They may be an interior designer who chooses to limit their scope of practice to furniture, textiles, finishes, art, and accessories.  Or they may be untrained in art and design, but have a talent and a passion for creating beautiful interior environments.

Many decorators and stylists are fantastically 
gifted, so don't let the lack of an interior design 
degree keep you for using their artistic services!  

They may hold a certificate from a design or decorating program.  There have been and are some professional decorating organizations, and your decorator may have affiliations with one of these organizations.  Interior decorators usually do not make structural changes to a building.  Because there is not a generally accepted standard for education in the decorating industry, a decorator may or may not have a working knowledge of building codes, fire codes, and ADA guidelines.

A decorator may carry kitchen or bath planning credentials from the NKBA by meeting education, experience, and examination requirements.  In some states, a decorator may use the title of interior designer, which can lead to some confusion.  Decorators may work for decorating firms, interior design firms, furniture stores, or be self employed. They may also work in the home staging industry.

Being a  kitchen and or bath planner does not mean you are an interior designer or an interior decorator, but you may be.  It does mean that you should have a strong working understanding of human anthropometrics, kitchen and bath space planning, appropriate finishes, codes and safety, residential structures, and mechanical and electrical systems.  It is very common to see interior designers and decorators with credentials from the NKBA.  You do not necessarily need to have credentials from the NKBA to be a competent kitchen or bath planner-- many kitchen and bath showrooms will train promising applicants. An interior designer will have the educational background to prepare them to work in kitchen and bath planning, so they may decide additional kitchen and bath credentials are unnecessary.

Have I thoroughly confused you?   Below is an excerpt from the NCIDQ website concerning interior design and interior decorator professions. Click here to see the quote in it's entire context.

"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."

I have to tell you that this was by no means an exhaustive list of "letters" for credentials or accrediting bodies within the design industry, but included were the most commonly seen "letters" in the industry.  Your designer or decorator may have associations with regional, state or provincial organizations, organizations for furniture design, hospitality design, and so on.

So, here's a quick recap of the "letters" discussed in this post, and what they stand for:

ASID (American Society of Interior Designers)
IIDA (International Interior Design Association)
AIA (American Institute of Architects)
CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation)  -- formerly FIDER
FIDER (Foundation for Interior Design Education Research)
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association)
NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification)

For a list of licensing regulations for your state, click here.  For a list of eligibility requirements to sit for the NCIDQ exam, click here.

This post is being linked to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday.


  1. And then there's Amanda, who is a class unto herself: all of the above AND gifted in hospitality and all things crafty. Thanks for explaining so thoroughly what all those accreditations mean. Very helpful!

  2. I always had an inkling that those were the differences but i never knew for sure ... so thank you for that invaluable lesson!

  3. Thanks for all the valuable information, we will be building our third and final home in a couple of years. We have fine tuned our plans so many times to fit our lifestyle and I have found that if anytime I "like" something I see in a magazine or on the web, I copy it and put into a large notebook. I have tabs for all rooms plus storage ideas and landscaping. I have a pretty good eye and know what I want. What I am going to use is someone to stage my existing home for resale. Which of these accreditations would serve me best?

  4. I have always wanted to know more about his subject, so your information was just wonderful..

    "I" is for interesting, and incredible!

  5. Thank you for the educational post. I did not know there was a difference between a interior decorator and an interior designer. Very interesting.

  6. wow! I didnt even know there was a difference......

  7. Wow. A great deal of good and helpful information about occupations which require incredibly gifted people and hard work.

  8. Amanda, thank you for all this information presented in a beautiful post. Excellent!

  9. That was a lot of info! I enjoy doing my own thing and most people say I do a good job. But I guess I would just be under the category homemaker. Maybe crafty/artsy homemaker. lol Great post thanks for stopping by!

  10. This is such a great explanation. Thanks for posting my button on your blog!!


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