There are many things to think about when you begin a design project. Do you need an interior designer or an interior decorator? Are you tearing down walls or reupholstering furniture? Do you need helping selecting paint colors? Does your entire home need an overhaul?

 

It can be overwhelming, and you may find yourself looking for some professional help. In your search, you’ll find some professionals who call themselves interior designers and others who call themselves interior decorators. But is there a difference between the two? 

The answer is yes! Or, perhaps, maybe. In general, it comes down to the term they decide to use to describe their firm. It depends on how that design expert feels about the services offer and how they work. To clear up some of the confusion, I want to dive into the differences between what an interior decorator and interior designer do. I’ll share what makes them different and talk about a few of their similarities. I’ll give you a quick checklist so you can determine which design pro is best for your design project.

Do You Need an Interior Decorator or an Interior Designer?

First, I want to make it clear I don’t get too attached to labels. I usually refer to myself as an interior designer, but I definitely don’t bristle when someone calls me an interior decorator. I’ve often found the distinction to be a generational one. Many in the Old Guard call themselves decorators, while those in the New Generation of design prefer the term designer.

Technically, they are two separate occupations. Depending on your design needs, you may select to work with one or the other.

What is Interior Decorating?

Before we jump into what an interior decorator does, let’s talk about what interior decorating is. Interior decorating entails the use of decorative details and aesthetics to make preexisting spaces more aesthetically pleasing. Interior decorating focuses on design elements like color palettes, furniture, and accessories. It doesn’t address exterior elements, architectural features, or how the space functions.

What Makes an Interior Decorator?

decorator is much like a personal stylist. They’re hired to create an atmosphere within the home that aligns with their client’s personal style. They use paint, fabric, furniture, and accessories to change the visual aesthetic of a space. Their clients are homeowners, Realtors, or architects.

What Training Does an Interior Decorator Need?

Since interior decorators work on decorative details, they aren’t required to have a formal degree. Their work begins after the construction or renovation is complete. They finalize the look of the space. Many decorators have a degree in a related field, but having one isn’t necessary.

A formal living room with green drapery and a piano, designed by Laura U

Another look into the living room of Reba's formal living room, designed by Laura U

Do Interior Decorators Need Specific Credentials?

You don’t have to have formal certification. However, there are many programs and courses available to decorators that help with them hone their craft. They cover topics like selecting colors, furniture layouts, and understanding furniture styles. There are decorators who chose to pursue certifications from organizations like Certified Interior Decorators International (C.I.D).

What Do They Do?

Interior decorators work with their clients to establish their likes, dislikes, color preferences, and budget in order to develop and update their current space. Once a decorator understands the look their clients want to achieve, they begin sourcing the soft furnishings. This includes selecting colors, furniture, fabric, rugs, wallpapers, and accessories to create an inspiring atmosphere.

What is the Process of Working with an Interior Decorator?

Working with decorators is a hands-on process. They present clients with multiple options, mood boards, and get their client’s feedback in order to finalize the decor. The next step is shopping, either in person or online to select the pieces that represent their client. After the final selections are made, a decorator organizes the transportation and installation of all the furnishings. They’re often the ones doing the actual project install.

Is an Interior Decorator the Right Professional for Me?

An decorator might be the professional for you if you’re updating your home’s aesthetics. If you want to change paint colors, install new window treatments, or reupholster furniture, you might consider working with an interior decorator.

What Makes an Interior Designer?

Interior designers focus on proper space planning, as well as the aesthetics. They’re involved in the construction or renovation of an entire home or business. This means they work from the ground up or take an existing property to the studs and rebuild it. Interior designers are often said to be professionals that move walls.

In addition to having an eye for design, they understand interior architecture, renovations, and construction processes. They work on either residential or commercial properties and their clients are architects, builders, Realtors, and homeowners.

What Schooling Does an Interior Designer Need?

To become an interior designer, you need to have a formal education. This two- or four-year program teaches you about space planning, architecture, color, and furniture design. Many interior designers apprentice with registered designers after graduation to gain experience. For example, I have my BA in Studio Art and a Masters in Architecture. After graduation, I began working in the interior design field right away and gained years of experience before opening my own firm.

Lead designer Lexie Terry sources for her next project

The team at Laura U Design Collective, with a close up of Laura and Blair

Designers Lissa, Shenay, and Lexie assemble a colorway for a design project

Do Interior Designers Need Specific Credentials?

Depending on the location, interior designers may be required to pass an exam and register with a governing council. One of the governing councils is the American Society of Interior Designers. They’re the oldest and largest professional organization for interior designers, suppliers, and manufacturers. I’m thrilled that several of the Laura U designers are ASID certified, including myself!

What Do Interior Designers Do?

Clients usually hire an interior designer at the start of a construction project. They’ll partner with architects and builders to help develop floor plans, electrical, and plumbing plans. Interior designers make project specifications for things like floors, millwork, moldings, lighting, and countertops.

Ideally, we engage at the earliest possible moment. These are my favorite kinds of projects when we can assist the build team. I’ve worked hand in hand with some of my favorite architects in the Houston area.

What is the Process of Working with an Interior Designer?

Let’s describe an ideal scenario for the Laura U Design Collective. A wonderful client has just purchased a home in need of extensive renovations or is planning a new construction project. They contact us immediately. We discuss their style, passions, what brings them joy, how they want their home to function…all the little details. Through the process we build a relationship with the client, which is important because some projects take years to complete!

When construction begins, we’ll make frequent site visits and participate in the construction process. The initial construction phases are technical and require a trained eye. An interior designer’s formal education and training ensures the space plan, structural details, and design elements are executed properly. Being there in the beginning stages and understanding the materials used is essential. We get a feel for the build team, who are our partners for several months.

Once the build out is complete, we begin with the decorating portion: painting, furnishings, and final touches. We design and build many benchmade furnishings for our clients, and it takes weeks for these items to be completed. It’s a full-time job in itself to manage the logistics of getting all the elements together in time!

From the initial drawings to placing the last accessory, interior designers are involved in the entire process.

Is an Interior Designer Right for Me?

If you’re doing construction or remodeling in addition to updating the aesthetics, working with an interior designer might be the best choice. An interior designer can help you with space planning, managing the construction process, finalizing finishes, and selecting furnishings and accessories.

We are an Interior Design Firm in Houston, but You Can Call Us Decorators Too!

We’re lucky to serve as both interior designers and interior decorators for our clients. The design team is educated in the art and science of design and approach every project holistically. We explore creative environments that integrate beauty and function, inspired by our client’s passions and joy. Everything we do, we do for the love of home.

Laura U as an Interior Designer

The architecture, flow, and function of a home is equally as important as the way it looks. The home’s physical space, natural lighting, and structure play an important role in our interiors. We take a “wholistic” approach to every project. Our process is highly collaborative and deeply personal.

Because each client’s project is singular, there’s not one specific time we start working with clients. If they’re doing construction, we’ll work with their architect and builder to create a design that’s perfect for them. We help develop floor plans, electrical, and plumbing plans. We work with our clients to select the architectural materials, like tile, plumbing fixtures, and lighting. Each element of the design is thoughtful and serves a purpose.

A wonderfully decorated boys room with a baseball theme, designed by Laura U

Living room design with a gallery wall by Laura U

An impressivley grand staircase and a high contrast guest bedroom designed by Laura U

We work to make sure our client’s design intentions are clearly communicated to the construction team through plans, elevations, presentations, and finish schedules. This is crucial for new construction or large-scale renovation projects. Once the construction or renovation is complete, we begin working on the interiors.

But we also take on projects that focus on the furnishings only. In these collaborative projects, we conceptualize a curated interior that restores and welcomes you home. We love these projects because they push the boundaries of color and pattern.

Laura U as an Interior Decorator

My approach to interior design is about finding what’s beautiful and beloved, and surrounding our clients with those things every day. Each interior design project is client-centric and site-specific. We thoughtfully mix furnishing and accessories in a way that’s bold, contrasting, and timeless.

This is where our role as interior designers and interior decorators collide. Our goal for any project is to curate spaces that are a beautiful reflection of what’s most important to you. Each project is designed to last and be enjoyed for generations to come.

Interior Decorator VS Interior Designer

As you think about working with an interior designer or interior decorator, the most important thing to consider is what you need. To help you determine which professional is right for you, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

  • Do you need someone to manage the entire project for you and assist with the build out and aesthetics? Consider hiring an interior designer.
  • Are you hoping to update one room in your home and looking for someone to make your design visions come to life? Perhaps working with an interior decorator is the best choice.
  • Does your project involve making functional or structural changes that may be difficult to solve when things pop up unexpectedly? This may be a project for an interior designer.
  • Do you need help determining your distinct vision and creating a space that celebrates your home’s character in a modern way? This could be a design project for an interior decorator or an interior designer. Both can help you!

Understanding what kind of design assistance you need helps you select the right professional for your project.

Find the Design Professional that Works for You

Hiring an interior designer or an interior decorator is about more than a job title. It’s about making sure their skills, experience, and portfolio make them the best fit for the job. Don’t be afraid to work with an interior decorator who has a reputation for good construction management on a renovation project. An interior designer with an eye for detail may be the perfect fit for your interior decorating project.