I know that “interior designers design and decorators decorate,” but that doesn’t go far enough.
If you have a design project in mind, it’s important to know the difference between these two types of designers and who will be a better fit for your project.
During my online search, I found interesting viewpoints on what differentiates the two. The definition I like best is from the design department at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design: “Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building, while interior decorating is the furnishing or adorning of a space with decorative elements to achieve a certain aesthetic. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”
Decorators, or interior decorators, do decorate. They change the visual aesthetic of a living space using furniture, decorative objects, paint or wallpaper, essentially any object that can be added into a living space without physically changing the living space. This is an important detail to keep in mind when referencing the two types of designers.
For example, let’s say you moved into your home about five years ago. Your furniture still fits your living room perfectly, but the pillows and throws, artwork on the walls, tabletop baubles and ambient lighting feel stale and bland, even somewhat of an afterthought.
A decorator could bring new decorative items to completely change and update your living room with a whole new aesthetic. Maybe a new paint color on the walls, a new area rug that brings in color and texture, drapery and decorative hardware, a new lounge chair and ottoman for an empty corner you’ve been meaning to fill.
The American Society of Interior Designers defines interior designers as “creative and technical problem-solvers who work with their clients to develop design solutions that are safe, functional and attractive. Combining aesthetic vision with practical skills and knowledge, interior designers impact the human experience and transform lives.” An interior designer really does design interiors.
We can also describe the human experience as form and function. What makes each interior designer different is how they interpret these guiding principles to create living spaces.
For example, you may be considering an addition to your residence – a new primary bedroom, bathroom and walk in closet, along with a secondary washer and dryer room and a small home office. You may have hired an architect to design this addition for you, or you’ve hired an interior designer who has designed the space and worked with an engineer to complete the construction documents.
Either way, much thought has been put into designing your addition. You’ve considered the flow of the living space between the existing structure and new addition, the size and shape of the various rooms that will make up the addition and what the architectural details will look like: pitched ceiling, windows and skylights, varying types of doors that make sense as you meander through the various living spaces that also might be design statements.
The difference between an interior designer and a decorator really does come down to “interior designers design and decorators decorate.” Interior designers are not only able to adorn or dress a living space, but they are looking for permanent ways to make a living space more functional, while a decorator has the skills and resources to create an aesthetic, working within a living space.
Jennifer Leischer is the owner of J. Designs Interior Design based in Clayton, CA. Combining a public relations degree from California State University, Chico, with further studies in design and interior architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, Jennifer began her career as an interior designer in 1998, working for various firms in San Francisco and Orinda, and Denver, Colorado. She describes every designing moment, throughout her career, as a wonderful tutorial about the importance of relationships, open communication, and getting down to the basics of functional, yet stylish, living spaces.