The time has come to make a major overhaul of your home and the question arises: “Do I hire an ‘interior designer’ or an ‘interior decorator’?” Confusion lies with the fact that both terms are often used synonymously, and within the general public, this ambiguity leads to a very common misunderstanding. Aside from their distinctions in education, experience, and credentials, to better recognize the differences of the two professions, it’s best to outline the tasks of each in order to aid a homeowner in appointing the right person for your project.
Interior design has been part of the building practice since humans could build. The Egyptians erected civilizations composed of temples and ceremonial spaces; the Greeks and Romans created bath houses and arenas with an emphasis on quality, beauty, and proportion. However, the term ‘interior designer’ was not recognized until the mid-19th century, and only started being commonly used in the early 1900’s. Following World War II, with a boom in commercial industries, interiors became a critical component of architectural structures. The focus thus turned to the efficient needs of the user.
The role of interior designer was initially that of the architect or artisan, until an emerging talent named Elsie de Wolfe, a woman with natural flair and good taste, was given the first design commission: the Colony Club in New York City, a posh, women-only private social club. Although she was considered a decorator, her creativity, shrewd business sense, and sharp eye ultimately paved the way for the profession of interior design and the position of the interior designer.
Interior designers can wear many hats; they are involved in a project from concept to completion, often working alongside architects and engineers. Their job is to render an interior space that is not only functional, but also practical to the inhabitants’ lifestyle and customs. They are responsible for enhancing the quality of life of the interior dweller. Interior designers offer solutions to space planning – for instance, how to group zones for their optimal usage, such as formal space vs. family space. They analyze adjacencies to determine the best layout for the homeowner, they focus on traffic flow to establish the transition from room to room, and they are competent with structural changes (removing walls, re-locating plumbing). They are versed in millwork and construction details (cabinet design, built-ins, etc.) and they are knowledgeable about building and safety codes, as well as accessibility requirements for the physically challenged. Furthermore, the interior designer is also well-skilled in material, color, and lighting selections, giving focus not only to the aesthetics of these choices but also to their practicality. Interior design is a profession with many facets, and if you are looking to build, re-configure, add-on, or renovate your home, look to hire an interior designer.
The need to create a pleasant atmosphere existed long before buildings were ever constructed; early cultures adorned their walls with painted murals and added comfort with fur textiles. Interest in interior decoration stemmed from the development of the middle class in the late 19th century; interior decorated spaces were created to display wealth and reinforce status. Interior decoration was essential in the personalization of one’s environment, and this role was often designated to the craftsman or ‘woman of the house’. The profession was highly sought after by women, and the talents of women like Elsie de Wolfe and Dorothy Draper inspired many to enter the field. It’s unclear who exactly coined the term; the desire to decorate is an inherent part of human habitation and has been around since the beginning of time.
Interior decorators can wear just as many hats as their designer comrades…sometimes with a little more flair! Their job is not to create the physical space, but to adorn it – to embellish it, and to find a style that meets the desires of the homeowner. Interior decorators are responsible for changing the interior aesthetic. They plan furniture layouts in conjunction with sourcing the items; they select paint colours that will best improve the space; they choose fabrics, wall coverings, and artwork; they add decorative elements such as pillows, throws, and accessories; they are responsible for managing the decoration aspect entirely, often overseeing installs, booking deliveries, and coordinating with various trades (painters, floor installers etc.). The interior decorator is well-informed with the latest in décor trends and can often be found out in the field, sourcing new items to improve the lives of their clients. If your intention is to purchase new furniture, update your walls, select window coverings, and make your home a little more gorgeous, an interior decorator is the right person for your project.
The interior designer and decorator cannot thrive if they are not being used to the best of their ability. They are both responsible for capturing the personality of their client, visualizing the end result, and adhering to the science of human behavior. Both professionals are versed in the principles of design – proportion, balance, movement, pattern, repetition, etc. – and both are an asset when it comes to renovating your home. So whether you choose to hire an interior designer or interior decorator (or both!), the objective should be to hire a professional; not only will this help simplify the entire process, but it will also help enhance your lifestyle with form, function, and fabulousness!