Interior Designers vs Interior Decorators

Interior Designers vs Interior Decorators

Designer samples on Table

Interior Designers vs Interior Decorators

An Interior Designer is often misunderstood as an Interior Decorator. Many assume that both Interior Designers and Interior Decorators are the same thing and therefore use the titles interchangeably. However, contrary to popular belief, both professionals have clear differences. The main differences can be narrowed down to Education, Experience, and Scope of WorkIn this article, we will uncover the differences between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator, this way you can hire the right professional for your home interior project!

Comparison Chart

Interior Designer
Interior Decorator
Bachelor's Degree
NCIDQ Certification
Commercial Interiors
Residential Interiors
Construction Drawing Sets
Structural Changes
Cosmetic Changes

Interior Decorator

As the name implies, Interior Decorators primarily focus on aestheticsTheir job is to decorate your interior and this is also known as furnishing or styling. Some services decorators may offer include: evaluating the placement of decorations, wall colours, curtains, and other things that have more to do with a home makeover

To further simplify, think of it as
cosmetic changes vs. structural and functional changes.  Don’t confuse yourself with the word makeover though. This doesn’t mean you can only hire an Interior Decorator for cosmetic changes, an Interior Designer can tackle a makeover project as well.

When it comes to education, no school or formal training is required so essentially anyone can become an Interior Decorator. Institutes and other organizations may offer classes, courses, or a short program where you can become certified but you cannot get a degree in Interior Decorating.

In Ontario, anyone can open up a decorating service, as there is
no regulation on the title “Interior Decorator”. With Interior Decorating, the curriculum does not go into the technicalities you need for Interior Design.

Because the education is different, the experience and scope of work will be as well. Typically, Interior Decorators are limited to residential design. Legally, a decorator wouldn’t be able to work in commercial design (doing actual design work) as it’s a liability because code and building technologies are in effect.

women typing on laptop with fabric samples on table

Legally, decorators cannot make structural changes or implement code in commercial spaces.

If something were to happen, insurance wouldn’t cover it and this can result in hefty finesdenied permitsdelayed schedulesindustry bans, and more. As stated, the scope of work for decorators is limited as it relies solely on aesthetics. Decorators can pick a paint colour, tile, accessorize, furnish, style, DIY, and related. 

For more complex projects that involve kitchen and washroom details and assemblies, we recommend hiring an Interior Designer as these projects are intrinsic and cannot be solely based on existing placements. An Interior Designer is better educated in structural, architectural, and engineering components than a decorator and can be a great asset in providing a vision of the overall layout and flow of your project. 

We can’t draw a clear line and would never impose a decision on you, but to make it easier for you,  consider the following factors before hiring an Interior decorator.

Are you:

  • Looking for a home/office makeover or revamp?
  • Wanting to tidy up your space and don’t have the time to do it yourself?
  • Having a hard time choosing the right colour palette or decorations?

If you answered yes to these questions, then working with an interior decorator is a great option!

Interior Designer

Now that we have a fair understanding of Interior Decorators, let’s find out what value Interior Designers bring to your project. Interior Design is both an art and a science, it’s the understanding of how folks behave and interact within a space. Understanding this is critical to creating beautiful and most importantly, functional interiors.

In contrast to Interior Decorators, education and formal training is
required which makes the path to becoming an Interior Designer more specialized. You’ll need a diploma or a degree from a CIDA accredited school and this will determine your scope of work and any further credentials you wish to receive.

In the province
of Ontario, you
cannot become an Interior Designer
by just attending training programs
or seminars.

Stone table with laptop, ruler, notebooks, pens and coffee
A registered Interior Designer typically undergoes four years of formal education at the post-education level in an accredited Interior Design or Environmental Design program. They have to complete work placements from ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario) or NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) registered design firms and gain the necessary experience, these hours will vary between programs but are typically two weeks long or 80 hours.

Once the required experience has been achieved (usually 2 years working full time), prospects must pass 3 exams that prove their expertise in understanding and applying current codes established to protect public health, safety, and welfare in addition to knowledge in design fundamentals and applications. 

Because of their education, Interior Designers work in both residential and commercial design and work closely with architects, contractors, and trades directly. They are able to make decisions more confidently and quickly regarding the structure and limitations of a space. 

In a CIDA accredited program, the curriculum focuses on principles and elements of design, history of architecture and design, construction documentation, drafting standards and conventions, CAD and 3D software, design and concept communication, building systems and technologies, and code.

You’ll also learn about industry standards and terminology, materials and finishes, environmental human factors, ADA standards, sustainable practices, electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems, custom furniture and millwork, design theories, drawing and rendering, professional practices, and more. 

Multiple hands looking over an Interior Design project on a Table

So, how would
you know if an Interior Designer is registered?


Simply ask them.

Ask for proof of membership from our governing body, ARIDO, and be wary of sales associates in furniture and retail stores that say they are in-house “Interior Designers”. 

Interior Designers are capable of doing everything that an Interior Decorator does in addition to architectural knowledge. They offer more than just a selection of colour palettes and patternsInterior Designers help solve space layouts that are functional to ease circulation within a home or commercial space in addition to aesthetics.

All of these details are typically beyond the scope of an Interior decorator. It becomes quintessential for you to hire an Interior Designer if you need solutions for a problem of this nature.

These are some points to consider before hiring an Interior designer:

  • When you have a complex project that requires more detail and higher expertise.
  • If you have plans to make structural changes, like relocating a window, door, or even a wall.
  • You want to solve circulation issues or make changes in your layout.
  • If you want to do a makeover of the kitchen, washroom, or any other spaces that include architectural and mechanical components.

So, who should you hire?

Essentially, Interior Designers and Interior Decorators both work with your home interior, the difference is the level of education and expertise. Their job is to bring the best out of your space and give ideas you would never have thought of. Smaller projects that are more furniture and decor based with all the finishes, materials, and structure in place can be handled by an Interior Decorator as well as Interior Designers. 

Anything more complex and technical is better suited for an Interior Designer, especially a commercial space. 

Final Thoughts

Everyone’s path is different and there’s
nothing wrong with being an Interior Decorator. The issue lies in calling yourself something you’re not as this leads to erasure and fuels the misconception of an entire industry. To put it simply, think of it as a registered dietician and a nutritionist, while the two professions are similar, the education and scope of work are still different. 

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