Designers, Decorators, and Free Design, Oh My!

The Wizard Of Oz 75th Anniversary Photo 2 8863868

Interior design is an epically huge industry. From TV channels dedicated to decorating and home improvements, to commercial design being an essential part of construction. Despite being so prevalent, there is a lot of confusion about what the different titles and labels within our industry mean.

I can’t tell you how often I find myself explaining the differences between a designer, decorator, and free design services offered at retail stores. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. In my small town alone, there are over a dozen designers with a variety of backgrounds and level of experience. In almost half the country, anyone, and I mean anyone, can call themselves an Interior Designer.

Cidq Legislative Map
CIDQ Legislative Map showing requirements by state, as of 2022

For the states that do recognize ‘Interior Designer’ as a professional appellation here are the requirements: A 4-year degree from an approved college program, 2 years of experience under a licensed professional, and passing a 3-part exam. Once you have your license, it needs to be maintained by attending workshops and seminars. There are several other professional groups across the country for designers that require a level of education and experience to apply for membership. These are a great place to start if you’re looking to work with a professional.

“I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called Mister. Thank you very much.”

Dr. Evil
Austin Powers Mike Myers As Dr Evil
Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in Austin Powers

Organizations for Designers and the impersonators

Here are the major Alphabet Soup of organizations you may see on a designer’s website or business card. Educate yourself, so you know what you’re getting. Capital letters look important, but they only mean as much as the organization behind them. And, any organization with merit will require its members to maintain their knowledge through Continuing Education Credits and training vs. just paying annual dues every year.

Organization Logos
Interior Design Professional Organizations and Others

NCIDQ : https://www.cidq.org/ The National Council for Interior Design Qualifications – they make the test for licensing in the states that have a title act. You have to pass the exam to be able to call yourself an Interior Designer.

ASID: https://www.asid.org/ American Society of Interior Design – student, affiliate, and professional level members. All require schooling, CEU’s and active participation.

IIDA: https://iida.org/ International Interior Design Association – Specifically for commercial designers.

NKBA: https://nkba.org/ National Kitchen and Bath Association – Exactly what it says. It is for kitchen and bath specialists. It’s a certification program, not a degree, but is nationally recognized and is a non-profit.

CID: https://cidinternational.org/ Certified Interior Decorator – I know very little about this, it’s a course and certificate started by a designer out of Florida in the late 90’s. This can be easily confused with the other acronyms, so I think it’s important to point it out. The only way to get this certification is to take their six-week course. It’s quite popular with franchise design businesses like Decorating Den.

IDS: https://interiordesignsociety.org/ Interior Design Society:  I know little about this one as well. There are degreed and licensed professionals in this organization; there are also membership levels that just require a business card and dues. I sound like a broken record at this point, but I suggest taking the time to review their organization for yourself and determine if its right for your project.

Avenue August Entry Cranberry Copy 1
Entry by Avenue Interiors photo by Juliane Mazzarella

What you’re getting with a licensed designer

Interior Designers have taken classes on art, architectural history, interior design history, drawing, drafting, 2D design, 3D design, math, lighting, textiles, furniture construction & space planning. We learn about the building codes for electrical, plumbing, occupancy, fire safety, accessibility and the suitability of materials for their intended use. Unlike Fine Art, like a painting or sculpture, what we put together can’t just be beautiful, it needs to function too. A formal education ensures that we know what to consider when working on a project. It also means we should know our limitations. Your project should be include an Architect or Engineer if it involves moving a load bearing wall or changing the location of an essential piece of your home.

Ariel Leek X5l5pkkucog Unsplash Cropped
Ariel Leek via Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/X5l5pKKUCog

Please understand that when I mention education and qualifications it’s easy for me to sound elitist or an exclusionist. I do not feel in any way whatsoever that a person’s talent for design requires a formal education. There are a lot of designers out there who are extremely talented that do not have a design degree. There are a lot of negligent and misinformed people offering Interior Design Services that have absolutely no business doing so. And a formal education also can’t replace talent and an eye for design.

When the time comes to make improvements to your home

Hire a decorator when you want to refresh your space with some new lamps and some artwork, or even talk it over with a friend whose got great taste. Maybe add a rug, and switch out the pillows while you’re at it. Decorating is the jewelry of a space, the finishing touches that can make a real difference. Check out one of our accessory kits as well. It may be just what you need.

Consider working through a showroom and taking advantage of their ‘free design services’ if you’re looking for some new furniture. They will help with sizing and fabric selections and can provide any of the pieces needed to complete a room using their product. Be sure to know their return policy too.

If you’re planning to completely update a whole room or area, hire a designer. Especially if you want the new spaces to meet the needs of your household better, be pleasing to the eye, and be next level fantastic. We’ll take the time to provide a unique design made just for your family and lifestyle. If you plans include a kitchen or bathroom, or any major elements of your home, like the flooring or lighting your best course of action is to hire a professional designer.

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