Often, the titles "interior designer" and "interior decorator" are used interchangeably by the public, but the differences are actually greater than the similarities. Yes, both fields involve creating livable spaces in the most tasteful of terms, but the distinctions extend beyond that. Whether you're redecorating your home or deciding on a career in interiors, the distinctions of each field are worth noting.
Interior design is a far more complete field of study, requiring quite a bit of education. A designer will have all the color and artistic sense of a decorator, but also plenty of education and in most cases, a license to practice. In more than a dozen states, it is illegal to call oneself an interior designer without having been certified through the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDC), which operates in both the United States and Canada.
The schooling to become an interior designer is lengthier than that for many other fields. To qualify to test for a license, a person must have six years of work experience, a combination of two years of schooling and four years of work experience, or four years of studies in a college or university with accreditation from the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER). Considering the amount of things an interior designer has to deal with on the job, however, it's no wonder that so much education is demanded.
Here are just a few of the factors that an interior designer may face on a typical job: municipal and fire code standards regarding flammability of materials, light fixtures and floor plans, use of industry-accepted drafting standards, suitability of materials used based on various factors such as durability and off-gassing properties, architectural construction variables as they favor interior design and acoustic properties of materials used. These conditions rarely are the concern of an interior decorator.
In fact, no formal education or licensing is required to become an interior decorator, although it is fair to say that those who don't have a working knowledge of many of the interior design factors don't go very far. Granted, there are many who have a tremendous talent for putting together the interior of a room without a college degree, but studies in art and design certainly don't hurt. With interior decorators, word-of-mouth from satisfied clients is often more powerful than the schools on their resume.
Interior decorators normally only do what is considered the "end work" of the designers, such as the selection of specific fixtures, wallpapers, colors and artwork. The best interior decorators are intuitive to their client's personalities and spend long hours discussing their decorative ideals. They also know where to acquire hard-to-find fabrics, furniture and artwork, and how to work within a client's budget.
Whether a designer or decorator, those at the top of their fields command the higher price, although enlisting a decorator is usually more cost-effective. If the project requires more than changing the overall color and interior accessories of a space, however, an interior designer's expertise may be needed.