What's the difference between a designer and a decorator?

The Role of the Interior Designer vs. the Role of the Decorator

The interior designer's work on a project begins when he or she is hired by an architect or developer. While many designers may be on-staff with architectural firms, others are independent businesspeople who are hired on a project basis. Generally, by the time the designer comes on board, the architect has laid out the basic shape of the building and has consulted with structural, mechanical and electrical engineers on the project.

First, the designer will meet with the end users of the space, or their representative. At this meeting, they'll attempt to understand how the space will be used. True interior designers are able to apply the science of human behavior to design a building that maximizes the ability of the space to serve its intended function. They're most concerned with efficiency, functionality and safety.

Using the architect's basic design, the designer will lay out the walls and floor plan, keeping in mind local building codes and fire safety and accessibility. They even consider such factors as sound transmission and acoustics. After the basic layout has been determined, they'll present it to the end users for review. During this time, they often have to explain why certain design and layout features were done the way they were and why this will maximize the functionality of the project.

As the project progresses, the designer will also take on the role of a decorator, choosing furnishings, paint and other finishes, as well as creating a lighting plan that best serves the building occupants.

Decorators, on the other hand, aren't involved in designing the layout of the space. Decorators may be called onto projects while they're still under construction, but in general, they come on board after the project is complete. They're hired by homeowners or developers of multi-family residential units to create a look that will be comfortable and inviting for the home's occupants. Decorators choose furnishings, fixtures, lighting, paint and fabric, creating a decorating scheme that's well-put together, while still reflecting the personality of the homeowners. To do this, decorators will meet with the home owners to get an idea of their interests and may try to incorporate items that reflect those interests into the décor.

To understand why the roles of the designer and decorator differ, we must understand the different educational requirements between the two. Read on to the next section to learn what types of programs are available for each.