Interior Design 101: A Breakdown

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Interior design is often confused with interior decorating. Even though these two terms are often used interchangeably, you are likely to cause offense by applying the decorator title to a true interior designer. Although in the United States there is no countrywide legal designation between the two, at least 20 states have some sort of recognition of the profession of Interior Design. In these states, an interior designer must have a license or certification to call themselves interior designers. There are many organizations for Interior Designers, including the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Interior Designers of Canada (IDC), Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NICDQ), which administers a qualifying exam for interior design students. When choosing an interior decorator, it is a good idea to get a feel for the person’s qualifications by determining if they belong to one or another of these organizations. Most hold rigorous standards for membership. Keep in mind, however, that having a certification might mean no more than the person was able to pass a test, which doesn’t really say much about their ability to design spaces.

According to the website of the American Society of Interior Designers, interior design is a “… total creative solution for a programmed interior. It encompasses the conceptual planning, aesthetic and technical solutions applied … [and] concerns itself with more than just the visual or ambient enhancement of an interior space, it seeks to optimize and harmonize the uses to which the build environment will be put.” Perhaps doubly confusing is that interior designers do the work of an interior decorator. The distinction seems to come in that interior designers do more. Typically, an interior designer will follow a project through from start to finish. Interior designers also do more than single rooms. A giant office complex or apartment building might hire an interior designer to create the layout of a multi-floor building. Interior designers also take into consideration all the aspects of a space. In considering the plan for a space, the interior designer will create a plan that encompasses functionality, aesthetic appeal, accessibility, environmental sustainability, and even safety. It is the job of the interior designer to make sure that all of these aspects come together in a presentation that is as attractive to the eye as it is practical to use.

Interior designers will often come in on a project in the earliest stages, when still in the architectural design phase, and will help prepare documents and supervise the construction period. An interior designer can be very helpful in dealing with layers of bureaucracy, and a skilled interior designer will be an expert in navigating the paperwork and policy that accompanies construction. Most interior designers – the good ones at least – are highly qualified and will have years of education and long lists of referrals to back up their qualifications.