There are many things to think about when you begin a design project. Are you tearing down walls? Are you reupholstering furniture? Do you need helping choosing paint colors? Or 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 will find some professionals who call themselves interior designers, while others will call themselves interior decorators. But is there a difference between the two?

The answer is yes! Or, perhaps, maybe. It really depends on how that design expert feels about the services offer, how they work, and generally, which term they decide to use for describing their firm.

To clear up some of the confusion surrounding the two titles, I want to dive into what differences exist between what an interior decorator does and what an interior designer does. I’ll share what makes them different, talk about a few of the similarities they have, and give you a quick checklist so you can determine which design pro you will want to work with.

Do You Need an Interior Decorator or an Interior Designer?

I want to first make it clear that 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 a decorator. In fact, I’ve often found that the distinction is a generational one, with many in the Old Guard calling themselves decorators and those  in the New Generation of design opting for the term “designer.”

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

The Laura U interior design team meeting to discuss a project for the first time.

The Laura U team of interior designers tackles our next project

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 visually appealing. Interior decorating focuses on design elements like color palettes, furniture, and accessories. It doesn’t address the exterior elements, architectural features, or how the space functions.

What makes an Interior Decorator?

A decorator is much like a personal stylist. They’re hired to create an atmosphere within the home that aligns with the 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 schooling do interior decorators need?

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

A feminine and jewel-toned high rise in Houston, TX.

A well-decorated, jewel-toned room in River Oaks.

Do interior decorators need specific credentials?

You don’t have to have formal certification. However, there are many programs and courses available to interior decorators that will help with honing the 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?

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

What is the process of working with an interior decorator?

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

Is an interior decorator right for me?

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

A colorful mood board: blue hues, lots of texture, and accents of red and yellow.

Pinning samples and creating a mood board at the Laura U studio

What makes an Interior Designer?

Interior designers focus on planning the space so it functions properly, in addition to determining how the space looks. They’re involved in the construction or reconstruction 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.

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

What schooling do interior designers need?

To become an interior designer, you need to have a formal education. This is a two- or four-year program where you learn 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.

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 onset of a construction project. They’ll partner with architects and builders to help them develop floor plans, electrical, and plumbing plans. They 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.

A stunning white kitchen in Houston, TX for an active young family

Interior designers love kitchen renos – take it down to the studs!

What is the process of working with an interior designer?

Let’s describe an ideal scenario for my firm. A wonderful client has just purchased a home in need of extensive renovations or they are planning a new build. They contact us immediately. We discuss their personality, what they love, how they want their home to function…all the little details. 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 that the space plan, structural details, and design elements are executed properly.

We build a lot of custom elements for our clients, so being there in the beginning stages, 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, final touches. We design and build many custom furnishings for our clients, and it takes weeks for these items to finally be completed. It’s a full-time job unto 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.

Houston Interior Designer Laura Umansky in a bright yellow hard hat

For interior designers, hard hats are a common accessory!

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. My team is educated in the art and science of design and approach every project holistically. Through our unique Process of Design, we create singular residential interiors all over the world. These timeless interiors blend form and function to create livably luxurious spaces.

Laura U as an Interior Designer

The architecture, flow, and function of a home is just as important as the way it looks. The home’s physical space, natural lighting, and structure play an important role in our designs. Our goal is to design spaces that maximize a home’s functionality and highlight its beauty.

Because each client’s project is unique, 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 intentional and serves a purpose.

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 a new construction or large-scale renovation project. Once the construction or renovation is complete, we begin working on the interiors.

But we also take on projects that require new furnishings only. And these can be really fun!

Laura U as an Interior Decorator

The client’s style, personal joys, and their story helps shape the designs we create. This is where our role as an interior designer and interior decorator collide. Our goal for any project is to design spaces that are intentional, functional, and luxurious. Each project is designed with their family’s needs in mind and will last for generations to come.

Our Classically Current interiors tell each client’s story and showcase what brings them joy. They blend iconic designs of the past with modern pieces to create spaces that are unique to each client. We source and select details, small and large, that reflect our clients’ style and personality. Whether it’s a color, something they collect or an experience they want to remember forever, we weave those elements into our interior designs.

Interior Decorator vs Interior Designer

As you think about working with an interior designer or interior decorator, the most important thing to think about 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? Consider hiring an interior decorator.
  • Does your project involve making functional or structural changes that may be difficult to solve when things pop up unexpectedly? Consider hiring an interior designer.
  • Do you need help determining your design style and creating a space that reflects that? Consider hiring an interior decorator or an interior designer. Both can help you!

Knowing what kind of assistance you need will help you choose the right professional for your project.

Find the 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. And interior designers who have an eye for detail may be the perfect fit for your interior decorating project.

Whether their title is interior decorator or interior designer, isn’t the most important thing. You want to make sure whoever you work with understands your vision and designs functional spaces that tell your story! I hope today’s post gives you some insight into which professional is the best fit for you.

Follow along on Instagram for a behind the scenes look at the interiors we’re planning and designing.