Interior Decorator VS Interior Designer: What is the difference?

Kirsten Conner

December 10, 2021

Deciding to change part or multiple parts of your home usually begins with exploring online shelter magazines, Houzz, and Instagram hashtags, to see what catches your eye. Followed by conversations with friends and family about their experience working on their own homes.

Inevitably, you start hearing the titles interior designer and interior decorator getting thrown around as though they are interchangeable.

While many areas with an interior designer and interior decorator’s work overlap, their work can be quite different.

You now find yourself with a puzzle. Do I need an interior designer? Do I need an interior decorator?  What’s the difference between the two?

Let’s take a closer look at what those differences are and what that means when deciding who to hire.

What is an interior decorator?

The name itself will tell you what an interior decorator is, but it’s easy to look past it. As the title says, they decorate the interior of a home or business based on the wants and needs of their clients. Whatever the project is, their skill, aesthetic taste, and choices will significantly impact the general feel of balance, mood, function, impression, and overall satisfaction of customers if it’s a business and homeowners and guests if it’s a house.

Clients can hire decorators to do single rooms, entire homes, businesses, malls, bars and restaurants, theaters, and clubs.

What are the duties of an interior decorator?

The principal duty of an interior decorator is to use the available decorative elements to create a style that is pleasing to the eye and the purpose of a space. They create a unique visual environment for their clients’ routines, space, color sensibility, and desire for texture.

Decorators use furniture, color, textiles, window treatments, paint, lighting, plants, artwork, wallpaper, and fabric as their medium when stylizing a location.

The first thing that a decorator must do is sit down with their client and discuss needs for the space and budget. These two factors play a huge role in what’s available to use and how they’ll use it.

What kind of training does an interior decorator have

Training is one of the areas that differ from an interior designer. There is no required training to call yourself an interior decorator. However, if a decorator wants to bring more depth to their profession move farther in their career, it can help them stand out to potential customers if they have a degree or certification.

Many decorators start by reaching out first to their friends, family, and social network. These first projects help them build a portfolio that they can use to reach out to potential clients.

How is an interior designer different than an interior decorator?

An interior designer is different in several ways but not in how you might think.

A designer performs the same duties and acquires the same skills as a decorator but provides expanded services and requires years of training.

Let’s look at what goes into becoming an interior designer and what that means for you and your project.

What is an interior designer?

An interior designer researches, designs, plans, executes, organizes, coordinates, and manages the development of a building’s interior, whether it be a home, office, restaurant, bar, mall, or hotel.

Designers perform these duties while maintaining safety guidelines, city and building codes, aesthetics per the client’s tastes and needs, and the function of the building’s purpose.

An interior designer will help with any project, from inception to completion. It’s true, they are most known for the decoration portion of their occupation, which is why people tend to mix them up with interior decorators so much, but what they offer outside of this skill is invaluable to any enterprise.

What are the duties of an interior designer?

The first duty of an interior designer is to sit down and make a plan with their client. Lots of planning takes place before the first piece of material is purchased. After the planning comes the rough sketches of furniture placement, circulation patterns, and material selection for different spaces like flooring, tiles, color selection of paint, and furniture.

Once this is complete, a more refined version of the plan is drawn up to take exact measurements for kitchen appliances and furniture positioning. When the refined plan is perfect, lists of material are made and sent to tradespeople so they can make bids on taking the job, and paperwork is then sent to the city to receive approval to build.

The final stage is when everything comes together. All the paperwork is approved, tradespeople hired, materials bought, and the project pushed to completion.

Throughout this entire process, the designer will be in close contact with the client, keeping them informed and up to date with all progress and issues should they arise.

Once the initial project is complete, an interior designer will help with the style details. These duties are what people typically think of when discussing an interior designer. For example, window treatments, color consultation, art selection, textiles, material selection, space planning, furniture layout, and furniture selection, to name just a few of the tasks that a designer can help you manage.

What kind of training does an interior designer have?

To call yourself an interior designer requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program. While studying, the courses should cover light and color theory, architecture, drawing,  furniture design, color and fabric, spatial planning, CAD (computer-aided design), ergonomics, ethics, safety, lighting, building codes, blueprints legibility, ergonomics, and psychology.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, some states require additional certification to use the name “interior designer.” The standard test is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam if a state requires it. You must have a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience to qualify for the exam.

While a designer performs the same duties as a decorator, the added responsibilities of knowing building code, using CAD programs, understanding color theory and how it affects mood, the psychology of design, safety and health requirements, etc., do not come from practice in the field. A certified teacher or professor of a university is the only one who can teach these skills.

Should I hire a decorator or a designer?

Deciding to hire a decorator or designer will depend on a couple of things. The first is the scale of your project and what you are trying to accomplish.

Are you creating more space, enlarging windows, replacing the floor, moving a staircase, adding a room to your home, or doing a complete remodel of your kitchen and bathroom?

If the answer is yes, you need to hire an interior designer.

If your project consists of painting a room, rearranging or adding furniture, selecting new art, window treatments, color, and finish selection, rugs, textile, and upholstery, then a decorator would be a great option. But there’s still one more thing to consider.

The second thing to examine before hiring a designer or a decorator is their style. What does their work look like, and how does it make you feel. For example, don’t hire a decorator specializing in modern when your tastes lean more towards rustic.

If your project consists of decorating, that doesn’t mean you should only hire a decorator. Interior designers don’t take jobs that only include knocking down walls and tearing up floors. Instead, they will happily help you with your window treatments, picking paints, buying furniture and art, or whatever ideas you’d like to see come to life. Their job is to help you love where you live.

So be sure to look at their finished projects. Most have a portfolio online and choose the designer or decorator that best fits you and your venture.


You should now be a step closer to finding the help you need to reshape your home to love where you live.

If your project consists of decorative qualities, look at interior decorators AND interior designers. Designers can help with projects of any level. The most important thing is finding a good fit for your home or business vision, so look closely at portfolios to find a style that speaks to you.

If your project requires any form of demolition or reconfiguring of the structure itself, you will need to hire an interior designer and possibly an architect. Hiring a designer has the added benefit of building a relationship. Sometimes, remodeling a home can take years. Starting with a designer who first redecorates a room is a great way to begin a relationship that can help with a complete remodel down the road. This collaboration will be the foundation of making the vision of your future home a reality.

Set up a consultation

If you’re thinking about hiring an interior designer, please fill out the contact form below. I’m a formally trained interior designer with an associate’s degree from Bellevue College and over 20 years of industry experience. We can discuss your ideas, goals, and preferences. I look forward to hearing from you!


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