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What is an interior designer?

When I tell people that I work at a Commercial interior design firm, I often get asked if I could help them decide on colour schemes or furniture placement in their home. When I explain that I am not an interior decorator they look at me confused, ‘Aren’t interior designers and interior decorators the same thing?’


The term interior designer and interior decorator sometimes are thought as the same, but don’t be confused because they are not.

Interior designers plan and design functional, structural living or work spaces to satisfy the unique designs of a brief. So whether it’s a home, a public building, a business or an institutional facility (such as offices, restaurants, retail establishments, hospitals, hotels, or theatres) designers must be familiar with the materials and products that will be used in the design and with the ways that texture, colour, lighting and other factors will interact to create the desired result in a space. But beyond this, they must understand the structural requirements of their plans, the health and safety issues, building codes, and other technical aspects.

For example, a client may be building a new restaurant space which as specific capacity specifications, safety rules and regulations, or occupational health and safety guidelines that the building will need to work within. It is then the interior designer’s role to develop a feasibility study, budget analysis, design concepts, finish specifications and furniture specifications.

A day in the life of an interior designer can include any of the following:

Working across the planning and design of a building:

  • Conducting feasibility studies,
  • Space planning,
  • Developing drawings including; proposed space plans, detail drawings, elevations, 3D sketches, animated walk throughs.
  • Working through a budget analysis,
  • Inspecting finish specifications,

Working across construction co-ordination:

  • Liaising with project management,
  • Post occupancy evaluations

Differently, decorators furnish interior these interior spaces with furniture and accessories, creating an aesthetic to the newly developed environment.

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In short:

Interior decorators are ‘stylists’. Their expertise is in selecting and arranging colour palettes, finishes, paint, furnishings and accessories. They are talented in creating beautiful spaces!

Interior designers require post schooling qualifications; they are experienced in understanding human scale, acoustics, lighting, life safety, building code, accessibility, sustainable design, technical construction.


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