Google+ House Revivals: I is for Interior Design -- Again

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I is for Interior Design -- Again

Recently, I was visiting the blog of a talented young decorator.  She was taking some interior design classes, and, in one of her posts, posed the question, "Do you believe a designer must be formally trained?  Or do you subscribe to the thought that all you need is a good eye and some serious creativity?"

The young woman who posed the question is already working in the industry as an independent home stylist (and she is very gifted), and I was so impressed that she was choosing to take classes to learn more about the interior design profession.  As a busy mom with two tiny children at home, taking classes will be no small feat for her. In my response to her question, I tried to weigh the fact that she was young and had a little family, and seemed to be most passionate about the decorating and styling side of residential design work.

As there are so many misconceptions about the interior design profession, I thought I would reprint my response here:

I think you will never regret taking the opportunity to learn more about the field. If you plan on only doing styling and decorating, then a degree is probably not a must. At my old firm, we had stylists on staff with backgrounds in things like art and fashion, and they were absolutely amazingly incredibly wonderful. A lot of big name firm owners are actually decorators with interior designers on their staff! (Maybe a business degree would serve you better, in that case!)
I can't imagine taking on some of the more complex projects, however, without a degree and/or an incredible mentor. From the outside looking in, it may seem that designers don't do anything "hard". I guess I can only say, people don't know what they don't know.

Also, it is only going to become harder and harder to practice (interior design) without a degree, as legislation continues to tighten up. Most larger firms will not consider hiring you without at least a four year degree in interior design, but the better interior design schools are highly competitive. You have to submit portfolios, take prerequisite classes, and maintain a minimum GPA, etc., just to have the opportunity to compete for a seat in a program. And the programs are really intense.

Do you want to be an interior designer or a stylist/decorator? As a decorator, you will focus on art, textiles, furnishings, finishes, and limited space planning. As an interior designer, you will do all those things, plus you will design mechanical and electrical plans, and floor plans (including structural walls in some states), you will show a strong knowledge of building and fire codes, human anthropometrics, and environmental psychology. You will know how to design for aging in place, and special needs. You will also be qualified to work in the commercial sector.

It sounds like what you love is residential work, focusing on the decorating aspect of design? In that case, have you considered taking some kitchen and bath planning courses from the NKBA? That might provide enough codes and mechanical/electrical background to give you a really strong start. Also, clients spend a lot of money on kitchen remodels, usually taking out second mortgages (not to mention the disruption to their lives). They deserve a designer with some formal training in kitchen planning, so that they get great function and safety, as well as beauty in their new space.

All that said, watch out for things like chandeliers over the bathtub, or an operable window and/or curtains behind the stove, or a "step up" bathtub, or curtains made from highly combustible textiles --especially in a child's room!  (not all textiles are created equal) Those are some common dangerous mistakes stylists make. If someone gets hurt as a result of your design specification, you won't just have their injury on your conscience -- you may have a lawsuit on your hands.

It sounds like you are at an exciting place in your life. I hope my rather long-winded answer helped shed some light, and didn't just thoroughly confuse you. I think there is room for everyone in the industry, be you a kitchen and bath planner, interior decorator, stylist, or interior designer. You just have to choose which path is best for you and your family.

So, that was the long answer.  The short answer would be "Yes, to be an interior designer you need training. That training could take the form of a college or university program or possibly a very structured apprenticeship or strong, long-term relationship with great mentor.  The body of knowledge needed to design the safe, functional, and beautiful spaces that our clients deserve is huge.  Having a good eye and some "serious creativity" is only part of the whole equation.

You can read another post about the interior design profession here.
To read about kitchen design, click here.
To read about a dangerous lighting design mistake, click here.

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


  1. Oh my goodness- thank you alphabe-Thursday for leading me here!

  2. Interior design is a fascinating subject to me! Thanks for this great information.

  3. I think education is always a good thing. It is too easy to focus on the things that interest you and miss the big things you need to learn that you might not like.

  4. This is a great and well thought out answer to her question and you covered so many important aspects of the industry that many ppl would not even think about, even when looking to hire a designer.

    I am sure if she is a smart girl she will take your advice as and apply it to her study plans.

    Blessings Kelsie

  5. I think education is a great gift to give yourself, always. I also think that no matter how much you educate yourself, if you're in a creative field it will do you no good if you don't have the innate talent.

    But that's just me. :)

  6. I love the balance in your answer..

    I am taking some photography classes and it's amazing how much I don't know about a field I've been obsessed with for years!

  7. This was really interesting. And well-presented, too.



  8. Loved your answer and I love your blog!

  9. This is a VERY interesting post! You have a great blog!

  10. Don't underestimate word of's a powerful tool.

  11. I always struggle with being able to mix colours and styles to create an effect. I admire anyone who is innately creative.

  12. I think you worded your response so perfectly. It made me think, too.

    I've often felt that 'talent' was the perequisite for success in almost anything...but any more I think it is putting your nose to the grindstone and desire mixed in with a natural affinity for what you're undertaking.

    This was an intriquing link this week to Alphabe-Thursday.

    I enjoyed this post very much.



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