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Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating

Although the terms interior decorating and interior design are similar, and thus are often used interchangeably, there are many differences between the two. If you are considering a career in design, it is extremely important that you understand each title so that you can make the appropriate decision about your education and your career.

Interior Design requires professional experience and training because to truly call yourself an interior designer, you must be certified. There are still people who refer to themselves as interior designers without the proper qualifications, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to legally do this; in 18 states it is explicitly against the law to call yourself an interior designer if you are not certified. In order to become certified, you must pass an exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which applies to both the U.S. and Canada. After passing this exam, an interior designer must also follow the professional standards set by the American Society of Interior Designers. An interior decorator, on the other hand, is not subject to all of these specifications.

Interior Decorators require no formal education, but in most cases it's necessary. Since this is the case, you could start working as an interior decorator today, but there is still a lot you need to know. Interior decorators typically work with the insides of buildings including homes and businesses and focus mainly on the surface decorations. They may be working with an entire building or just a single room and work to make the space aesthetically pleasing. To do so, interior designers concentrate on space-planning (layout), color schemes, furniture, paint, wallpaper, window coverings, fabrics, flooring, carpeting, lighting, art, etc. Because you are working with clients' living spaces, your main goal as an interior designer should be your client's approval of (and excitement for) your decorations. In order to achieve this, you will need to be able to review and measure space, prepare room layout proposals, obtain cost estimates, present samples to clients, arrange and oversee painting, wallpapering, flooring, etc., select and purchase furnishings and accessories, and much more.

An Interior Designer needs a more specific skill set. Their job can include interior decoration, but also extends to the actual buildings as well. The NCIDQ definition of an interior designer's objective is, "to enhance the function and quality of interior spaces for the purpose of improving the quality of life, increasing productivity, and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public." Interior designers can work in homes, office buildings, airport terminals, hospitals, manufacturing plants, government institutions, etc. and must be prepared to: analyze clients' needs, goals, and safety requirements; create working illustrations and specifications in compliance with universal accessibility guidelines and other applicable codes; work closely with other licensed professionals such as mechanics, electricians, and load-bearing designers. Finally, interior designers, who typically work for furniture and home furnishings stores, interior design services and architectural firms, or independently as freelance designers, must explicitly understand: flame spread ratings, smoke toxicity, and fire rating classifications and materials; space planning for public and private facilities; national, state, and local building codes; ergonomics, which is the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of a space; the quality and quantity of lighting a room requires; and acoustics and sound transmission.

As you can see, interior decoration and interior design can lead you down two very different career paths. It is important to consider which profession suites you best before making a commitment, but by carefully comparing your career and education options you are sure to find what's right for you.

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