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

Designer and Decorator Careers

Think you might be interested in a career as a designer or decorator? Let's look at how these professionals spend their day, as well as ways to prepare yourself for the design industry.

The majority of decorators work in small, independent firms. They typically specialize in residential work, interacting directly with homeowners to find a style and décor that meets their needs. They may spend their days meeting with potential clients to outline their services, overseeing the decoration of a current project or tracking down the perfect lighting fixture to finish off a room. Between meetings and material acquisitions, much of their time is spent out in the field, not sitting in an office sketching up the perfect living room décor.

Interior designers generally are employed by architectural firms, though some may work as consultants or independent contractors. They spend their days meeting with architects, clients and contractors, designing spaces and coordinating installation and project completion. They may utilize the product library that most major architectural firms compile to compare materials, fixtures and finishes. Because their work is more technical than that of the decorator, they spend a significant portion of their day referencing code books and safety standards while drafting floor plans and project specifications.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medium income for an interior designer in 2006 was $42,000 [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Decorators on average earn slightly less, but because many are self-employed, income is truly limited only by hard work, marketing and regional income levels.

Both interior designers and decorators may choose to specialize in a specific type of project. For designers, this could mean schools, retail, healthcare or office buildings. For decorators, this could include high-end residential, multi-family or even certain types of commercial work, especially renovations.

If you plan to get into the design field, balance your artistic interests with math and science courses, which can provide a solid foundation for the technical courses you'll experience when working towards your degree. Don't forget to study business, accounting and marketing as well to prepare yourself for running your own firm, if that's something you may like to do. With 25 percent of those in the design industry currently self-employed, these courses may be as important as sharpening your design skills [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics].

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Pile, John. "The History of Interior Design." ArchitectureWeek. September 5, 2001. (January 20, 2009)http://www.architectureweek.com/2001/0905/culture_1-1.html
  • National Council for Interior Design Qualification. "Exam and IDEP Eligibility Requirements." 2009. (January 20, 2009)http://www.ncidq.org/exam/examreq.htm
  • National Council for Interior Design Qualification. "Member Jurisdictions." 2009. (January 20, 2009)http://www.ncidq.org/who/members.asp
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Interior Designers." December 18, 2007. (January 19, 2009)http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos293.htm