I have seen many articles on the subject of the difference between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator. Most of them focus on the formal training that goes along with an interior design degree, or in today’s terms, an interior architecture degree. These articles are usually written by an interior designer that is determined to avoid being grievously offended by a client referring to them as a decorator. Admittedly, I used to be one of those designers that took it as a personal affront to be called an interior decorator. I spent years constantly correcting friends, family and clients and explaining the difference between the two. Oddly, though I went to school for interior design over twenty years ago, it wasn’t until I passed the NCIDQ Examination and became a licensed interior designer three years ago, that all the people in my life began to make the distinction. Who knows, maybe that is why I went to the trouble of getting the certification, even though it changed nothing about what I already knew as a design professional, or my capabilities as an interior designer.

As I said, one of the main distinctions people point out between an interior designer and decorator is the formal training and education. I find this very amusing because I know several interior designers that did not get a formal degree in the field, and have managed to, nonetheless, excel in their professional life. Further, I’ve always contended that you can’t teach interior design. Sure, you can teach someone to draft, and to read blueprints and the general guidelines of spaceplanning, etc; but, you cannot teach someone how to put a color scheme together, how to appropriately space plan a given room, or how to combine fabrics, styles & textures, and effectively edit a space. You inherently get color and how colors play off each other, or you don’t. You either know how to judge the scale and visual weight of objects that work in a room together, or you don’t. I could go on, but, in short, you cannot teach good taste. Believe me an educated interior designer does not necessarily make for a good, or talented, interior designer.

Some people have made a further distinction that an interior decorator simply embellishes a space with decorative pillows and pretty paint colors, etc. And that an interior designer, often works further into a given project, not only making the space more beautiful, but also making it more functional and spatially balanced. Often, an interior designer may be involved with renovations or the process of new construction and may even be required to have some knowledge of building codes and regulations. To buy into this distinction, an interior designer might have to have two sets of cards in order to accurately depict what their job description is at any given time. According to this line of thinking, I’m an interior decorator when I am hired to pick paint colors and put pretty things in a room; and, I am an interior designer when I’m space planning and moving walls. Silly, I know, but that is my point.

I think where I have finally ended up on the subject is that an interior designer is a professional that has paying clientele that is pleased with the work said professional has done in their homes. Please, don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my education and my NCIDQ certification. I am also proud to be a licensed interior designer and have put it prominently under my name on my business cards. However, I know that my success as an interior designer has come from my innate ability to make sound and aesthetically pleasing design choices. Having said all this, you may refer to me as an interior decorator if you would like. I am past being upset by it, and I will still happily assist you in making your home a beautiful place that is uniquely suited to you and yours!  


Buffy Kline

Licensed Interior Designer,
NCIDQ Certificate Holder AND President-Elect ASID NM Chapter 

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