Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator: Are They Different?

September 8, 2023 - Michelle Murphy

Ever scratched your head trying to figure out the difference between an interior designer vs interior decorator?

Trust me, you’re not the only one.

These two titles are often thrown around interchangeably, but let’s set the record straight:

They’re not the same gig.

It’s not just a case of “tomayto” versus “tomahto.” These titles represent two distinct roles with their own expertise in the world of interiors. Knowing which expert to hire can make all the difference if you’re planning to spruce up your space.

In this blog post, we’re going to dig into what sets them apart, their skill sets, and overall impact.

Keep scrolling for more!

interior designer sample selection

Defining Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator

You’ve likely come across these two titles, but what does each entail?

Let’s break things down.

Interior Designer

Educational & Professional Requirements

Interior designers usually undergo rigorous training. Typically, a minimum education of 4 years post-secondary and a bachelor’s degree in interior design are required to practice.

Additionally, there are educational requirements to become licensed by different associations. In Alberta, for example, interior designers must have a degree in interior design to be licensed by the Alberta Association of Architects.

Role in Structural Planning & Functionality

These experts aren’t just about making spaces look good; they’re about making them work well.

Interior designers can reconfigure layouts, ensure spaces are functional, and often collaborate with architects and builders. They make sure that a space is not just beautiful, but also safe and compliant with local building codes.

Usage of Specialized Software and Tools

From 3D modeling software to CAD (Computer-Aided Design), interior designers use technology to bring their ideas to life and make modifications even before implementation.

Want to know EXACTLY what being an interior designer is all about? Get the insider scoop.

Michelle Murphy Calgary interior designer

Interior Decorator

Focus on Aesthetics of a Space

When you want to jazz up a space without altering its structure, decorators can help you out. Think of them as the stylists of the interior world - they make spaces look their best without necessarily changing the bones of a place.

Not Typically Involved in Structural Planning or Changes

If you’re looking to knock down a wall or reroute plumbing, decorators usually aren’t your point of call. Their domain is everything that’s added after all the structural work is done.

Often Don’t Need Formal Education in Interior Design

While many decorators have a natural knack for aesthetics and some might take courses in design principles, they usually don’t need the same formal education or licensing that designers do.

In essence, while there’s some overlap, the roles and expertise of designers and decorators are distinct.

interior designer design material selection

When to Hire Which?

Both interior designers and interior decorators play pivotal roles in shaping a space, and both have a hand in:

That said, it’s important to understand this major distinction:

**An interior designer can do everything an interior decorator can, but the reverse does not hold true. **

Here are some tasks that you’d want an interior designer for:

Structural Modifications

Interior designers are trained to handle renovations that involve shifting walls, changing layouts, or adding new rooms. They ensure that these changes are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional and safe. *Note that in some jurisdictions, interior designers are not allowed to sign off on structural changes. They can use their expertise to advise and guide, but an architect or engineer is needed for final review and stamp.

Building Code Adherence

If you want your space to meet building codes and regulations, you’ll need an interior designer. They’re knowledgeable about local codes and can work with contractors to ensure compliance.

Integration with Architects & Builders

For new construction or major renovations, interior designers are equipped to work alongside architects and builders from the ground up, ensuring that design aesthetics align with structural integrity.

Space Planning

Beyond mere aesthetics, interior designers can evaluate a space for its best usage, optimizing for flow, functionality, and design harmony.

Safety & Accessibility Considerations

Designers are trained to consider the well-being of occupants. This includes everything from ensuring the safe placement of fixtures to designing for unique accessibility needs, such as for the elderly or individuals with disabilities.

While both designers and decorators have their unique place in the world of interiors, it’s important to consider which professional aligns with your project’s needs. When in doubt, consider the complexity of your project and the expertise required to bring your vision to life.

Michelle Murphy top Calgary interior designer

Finishing Touches

There you have it! We’ve talked interior designer vs interior decorator, their specialities, skill sets, and scenarios where you might choose working with one over the other.

Understanding the differences between these two titles is more than just semantics. It’s about recognizing the value each brings to the table and ensuring you enlist the right expertise for your unique needs.

Need help from an interior designer who can do it all? Contact MMID today!

Contact MMID