Interior designer vs interior decorator: what’s the difference?


IInterior designers and interior decorators are job titles that are often used synonymously. However, everyone has their specific job description and function. What is the difference between the two professions?

The short answer is this: designers create functional spaces in a building, while decorators dress a space with decorative elements. Keep reading to find out what characteristics set the two apart and which profession will best suit your needs.

What is Interior Design?

The School of Applied Human Sciences at the University of Iowa defines interior design as “a multifaceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to create a built interior environment”. Interior designers study their clients’ work or living spaces and apply a systematic and coordinated methodology to meet their needs and resources.


Interior design requires formal training, usually from a two- or four-year program from an accredited school. Education includes the study of color and fabric, computer-aided design (CAD) training, drafting, space planning, furniture design, and architecture.

Many designers even apprentice with established interior designers before taking up their own practice or joining a design firm.


To practice as a designer, some states require interior designers to be licensed or registered. Some states also require the NCIDQ certificate, the industry-recognized indicator of mastery of interior design principles, to demonstrate experience and qualifications. Although not required everywhere, many interior designers choose to undergo accreditation and certification to distinguish them from decorators.


An interior designer researches and analyzes the needs of his clients and plans interior designs to make them physically, socially and aesthetically functional. They use technology to create virtual blueprints before coordinating with construction crews to complete the design.

Interior designers adhere to building codes and regulatory requirements and have strong problem-solving skills. Many interior designers have skills in interior design and offer this service in addition to design.

Who interior designers work with

Designers often work closely with architects, contractors and developers to create their design plans for the client. Some may work directly with homeowners or business owners.

What is interior decoration?

Interior decoration is the process of outfitting a space with aesthetic elements such as furniture, wall coverings, accessories, rugs, etc. Interior designers do not work with architects to create new interior spaces; they embellish already existing interior spaces.


There are no formal training requirements for interior designers as they primarily focus on aesthetics. They do not plan or participate in renovations or structural planning. A decorator focuses on the surface appearance of space. Many interior decorators have degrees in related fields or entered the profession as part of a career change or a hobby turned business.


Accreditation and licensing are not required to practice interior design professionally. However, there are courses that focus on color and fabric, room design, space layout, furniture styles, and offer decorators formal certifications to authenticate their training. Organizations such as Certified Interior Decorators International (CID) offer courses and certification.


Decorators help their clients choose a style, choose a color palette and purchase furniture and accessories. They are often hired to spruce up an existing space that needs to be updated or redone.

Who Do Interior Designers Work With

Decorators work directly with owners or business owners. They are not involved with contractors or architects, but they often partner with furniture makers, upholsterers, painters, and other industry professionals who provide home decorating services.

Should I hire a designer or a decorator?

Whether you hire a designer or a decorator depends on your needs. If your space requires structural changes, such as removing a wall, rerouting plumbing or electrical wiring, or adding new windows or doors, a designer is the best choice. However, if your space only needs a visual update such as new furniture, paint, or flooring, an interior designer can easily handle these tasks.

The essential

Choosing a designer over a decorator largely depends on the skills of the professional in question, not just the job title. There are plenty of decorators who have worked in the industry long enough to acquire design skills and designers who are excellent decorators.

Before hiring a professional, think about your needs, your budget and what you want to accomplish. Take a look at the professional’s portfolio and get references before making a decision.

More Advisor

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


Comments are closed.