Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator: What’s The Difference?

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

Interior designers and interior decorators are job titles that are frequently used interchangeably. Each, however, has a distinct job description and function. What is the distinction between the two occupations?

The short answer is that designers create functional spaces within a building, whereas decorators add decorative elements to a space. Continue reading to find out what distinguishes the two and which profession will best suit your needs.

What Is Interior Design?

The University of Iowa’s School of Applied Human Sciences defines interior design as “a multi-faceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built interior environment.” Interior designers study their client’s work or living spaces and apply a systematic and coordinated methodology to satisfy their needs and resources.


Interior design requires formal training, typically from a two-year or four-year program from an accredited school. Education includes the study of color and fabric, computer-aided design (CAD) training, drawing, space planning, furniture design and architecture.

Many designers even apprentice with established interior designers before taking up their own practice or joining a design firm.


To practice as a designer, some states require interior designers to be licensed or registered. Some states also require the NCIDQ Certificate, the industry’s recognized indicator of proficiency in interior design principles, to demonstrate their experience and qualifications. Although not needed everywhere, many interior designers elect to undergo credentialing and certification to set them apart from decorators.


An interior designer researches and analyzes their client’s needs and plans interior layouts to make them physically, socially and aesthetically functional. They use technology to create virtual plans before coordinating with construction teams to carry out the design.

Interior designers adhere to building codes and regulatory requirements and have strong problem-solving skills. Many interior designers have interior decorating skills and offer that service on top of the design.

Who Interior Designers Work With

Designers often work closely with architects, contractors and developers to create their design plans for the client. Some may work directly with homeowners or business owners.

What Is Interior Decoration?

Interior decorating is outfitting a space with aesthetically pleasing elements such as furniture, wall-coverings, accessories, rugs and more. Interior decorators do not work with architects to create new interior spaces; they embellish interior spaces that already exist.


There is no formal training requirement for interior decorators because they focus primarily on aesthetics. They do not plan or participate in renovations or structural planning. A decorator focuses on the surface look of the space. Many interior decorators have degrees in related fields or have entered the profession as a career change or as a hobby turned business.


Credentialing and licensure are not required to practice interior decorating professionally. However, there are courses focused on color and fabric, room layouts, space planning, furniture styles and offer decorators formal certifications to authenticate their training. Organizations such as the Certified Interior Decorators International (C.I.D.) offer coursework and certification.


Decorators help their clients decide on a style, choose a color scheme, and purchase furniture and accessories. They are often hired to spruce up an existing space that needs to be updated or redone.

Who Interior Decorators Work With

Decorators work directly with homeowners or business managers. They are not involved with contractors or architects, but they often partner with furniture makers, upholsterers, painters and other industry professionals that provide services for home decoration.

Should I Hire a Designer or a Decorator?

Whether you hire a designer or decorator depends on your needs. If your space requires structural changes, such as removing a wall, rerouting plumbing or electrical wiring, or adding new windows or doors, a designer is the better choice. However, if your space only needs a visual update such as new furnishings, paint or flooring, an interior decorator can handle those tasks with ease.

The Bottom Line

Choosing a designer versus a decorator depends largely on the skills of the particular professional, not just the job title. There are plenty of decorators that have worked in the industry long enough to obtain design skills and designers who are excellent decorators.

Before hiring a professional, think about your needs, budget and what you want to accomplish. Take a look at the professional’s portfolio and get references before you make a decision.

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