The Interior Decorator vs Interior Designer Debate Will Soon Be Dead

converse stepping on toy, text: interior designer vs interior decorator

I’m going to preface this piece with a few things because some people get all bent when this topic is brought up.

  1. I earned an interior design degree.

  2. I earned NCIDQ and CCIDC certifications.

And to be clear, I'm coming at this article from the residential side of things in general. Now that that is out of the way...

The Interior Decorator vs Interior Designer Battle Royale

For years there have been two warring factions within the design community — the interior decorator vs. interior designer. While most people search for this because they are likely thinking about a career in the interior design industry, I'd bet you that the number of potential clients exploring this topic is maybe 5.

Clients of interior designers and decorators do not give two shits. They don't know the difference, certainly don't care what title they use to refer to you and any attempt to educate them falls on deaf ears of those who only want to make their space better in whatever form that means for them.

So, knowing that most people searching for the interior decorator vs. interior designer differences is done by those who are either in the industry or looking to enter the field, understand that you're hopping into a world where interior designers are basically peeing all over marking their territory as the arbiters of interior design. 

I know, I did it, too. 

If you read a handful of the blog posts out there articulating the differences, most written by someone that is an interior designer, you'll find the same tired points brought up, time and again. Including the bit about not dissing your neighborhood interior designer or the entire industry by calling them an interior decorator because the terms are not interchangeable, you dick you. 

The usual talking points go something like this...

Interior Designers:

  • Also an interior decorator

  • Has formal training and a degree

  • Understands blueprints

  • Understands fire and building codes

  • Understand people's behavior to create functional spaces

  • May be involved in the design of a building

  • May be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

  • Requires certifications and/or licensing

  • Use fabric, paint, furnishings, and accessories to change the aesthetics and its functionality

  • Arrange furniture

  • Redesign spaces

  • Shop for furniture and accessories

  • Salary average of $47,388

Interior Decorators:

  • No formal training required

  • Cannot be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

  • Use fabric, paint, furnishings, and accessories to change the aesthetics and its functionality

  • Arrange furniture

  • Redesign spaces

  • Shop for furniture and accessories

  • Salary average of $38,852

That's all fine and dandy, and there are probably a few other ticky-tack points that are pertinent only to specific states, but the list covers most of their talking points.

As for where the friction lies within the industry, I can point to these reasons brought up regularly by interior designers when they elucidate on the points for the dullards:

  • Interior decorating and interior design are two very different professions

  • Interior designers bring value through their professional training, planning skills, and building code knowledge

  • Interior designers are the crème de la crème because of their education and qualifications

And for years, I bought into the horseshit until I realized why I was feeling all sorts of pissy about the whole interior decorator vs. interior designer conflict.

Could it be that the degree and certifications that afforded me a bunch of stupid letters to put after my name were not as valuable as I was led to believe?

A degree, certification, licensure shows that a person learned the information to prove their competency to practice interior design. There is no one certifying individuals on their creativity.

Just that they understand the knowledge that they were taught, furthermore, anyone can become an interior designer by investing, money, time, hard work and persistence. So then when the interior decorator, who will assume in this argument hasn't ponied up all of the money to join the cool kids club, comes sniffing around the same potential clients we're looking at? Well, it can only mean war for the interior designer.

But now, at this point, why would you spend all that money to become an interior designer?

The Value of an Interior Design Degree is Falling

If an interior designer today is counting on a college degree coupled with additional certifications to demonstrate their value in the marketplace they'll be crying the blues soon.

If we're honest, and I hope we all are, anyone who graduated and went working in the interior design field right away quickly realized that they knew jack shit. Everything learned after college that was valuable was through experience and learning from others working in the field. 

Interior decorators and interior designers then have the same chance to learn through valuable on-the-job experiences.

Shitty College ROI And The Rise Of Hal 9000

We've seen that the ROI on a college degree is shit. Seriously, looking at the average salary for an interior designer is less than $10K more than the interior decorator? College seems like a terrible investment when you consider how much the cost of tuition has risen compared to salaries.

In the future, assuming that AI and AR crap comes to fruition, which I'm pretty sure it will... we won't need the distinction between an interior designer and interior decorator. 

Remember the interior designer talking points? A computer will do everything on this list.

  • Understands blueprints

  • Understands fire and building codes

  • Understand people's behavior to create functional spaces 

  • May be involved in the design of a building 

  • May be involved in structural change decisions during renovations

I mean, there are planes that can fucking fly themselves and people are going to pretend that a computer can't replace a degreed interior designer? Pffft. And hopefully, this will get those ASID and NCIDQ pricks that are joined at the hip to make more money off of the design industry out of here because we won't need them.

What About Life & Safety?! We've Gotta Protect The WORLD!!

The computers will be the first line of defense, and the inspectors of the world will be the enforcers and double checkers, as they always have been.

Gone will be the days of someone trying to spec some textile that could go up in flames because the computer will check the schedule against the ASTM compliance. 

And just like that, an interior design degree will be muerto.

Why hire a human when you can just hire a computer to design your home?

Ahhh, yes and now we've come to the most critical part of all of this. I've written before on how I see holistic interior design emerging as a powerful niche for those in this industry to look to as interior design as we know it dies. But please, don't jump on the holistic interior design bandwagon because you're looking to make money. Please. Don't.

For the non-woo-woo types, it could mean that with machines doing most of the heavy front-end lifting, you'll have time to fully flesh out creative and novel ideas that allow you to stand out in the world.

It also means that all of this interior decorator vs interior designer bullshit should stop.

My only hope it isn't replaced with some other crap dreamt up by the institutions that care only about their interests.

If you were born to transform people’s lives through interior design, then get yo’ ass in the Society.

Get access to online no-fluff training courses and support from designers like you so you can build the business you've been dreaming of. Join us now in the Society.

Alycia Wicker

Alycia Wicker is an interior design business coach specializing in helping soulful interior designers attract clients with clever marketing strategies. Celebrity gossip whore.