My plea resonates among professionally trained and qualified interior designers all over the United States and Canada. For reasons that may not be widely understood or well known among the general public, there is a vast difference between an ‘Interior Designer’ and an ‘Interior Decorator.’
Interior designers are highly trained (formal college education) and have documented experience with a qualified mentor/teacher. In the U.S. and in many Canadian provinces, laws have been passed requiring interior designers to earn the NCIDQ certification, which has been in place for more than 40 years. The NCIDQ requires arduous guidelines that have enabled clients to have confidence in the caliber of work from certified designers. This certification demonstrates their experience and qualifications.
By contrast, interior decorators require no formal education, training, experience or licensure. Individual state statutes vary as to what the verbiage is that one can use to describe their profession, but make no mistake: Interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.
Knowledge is key
The education and training required to be an interior designer is not without warrant because our work affects the health, safety and welfare of the occupants of any given space. Safety codes and regulatory requirements govern the art and science of interior design. Creating functional spaces within a building requires knowledge and coordination within the building structure acknowledging the physical location and social context of the project.
Knowledge of major elements of lighting, plumbing and building systems is essential for licensed interior designers. Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a building that are functional, appealing to the senses and beneficial to the occupant’s wellbeing and culture. The interior design process observes a very clearly defined and precise system of methodology including research, study and integration of knowledge into the creative process — to satisfy the client’s needs and budgetary requirements.
For emphasis, I would like to describe a typical route to be eligible to sit for the NCIDQ exam: CIDA Degree 1-6-year Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from a CIDA-accredited interior design program and 3,520 hours of work experience must be earned to qualify to apply for the exam.
Knowing this, it’s probably easy now to understand why a highly trained and experienced interior designer does not want to be called a ‘decorator.’ There are only a handful of fully licensed interior designers in Santa Fe and many, many interior decorators.
There is a new program of NCIDQ Ambassadors that I am proud to be part of. This program gives newly educated individuals in interior design to seek out professional mentors/ trainers who can guide and advise them toward their journey of becoming a licensed skilled professional and passing the NCIDQ exam. NCIDQ Ambassadors are practitioners, educators or advocates who are stellar examples and motivational role models of the industry.
There is much work to be done in educating the public about the differences between interior design and interior decoration, especially considering the ‘design TV’ programs that interchangeably uses the term ‘decorator’ and ‘designer.’ So, please don’t call me a decorator!
Lisa Samuel ASID, IIDA, CAPS, is founder, principal and lead designer of Samuel Design Group based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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