Decorator, Designer, and Architect: Differences for DIYers

Interior Design and Interior Decorating

Interior design and interior decoration can overlap – if you’re an interior designer.

Many of us would love to work with an interior designer or decorator when improving our homes, but just can’t afford it. Others are concerned that they’ll be getting someone else’s look, not their own. There area variety of reasons to study and practice interior design and interior decorating.

These factors play only a small part in why I’ve begun studying these areas. For me, it’s about a love of creating functional beauty, a love of learning, and excitement about the personal growth that will happen when I push myself to learn new things. Since I also do my own renovation work, it just makes sense to learn as much as I can so that I can plan more effectively – after all, I have to live with the results.

First things first: let’s make a distinction between an interior decorator and an interior designer. There are areas of overlap between the two roles, but there are also important differences. For the DIYer, understanding the role you are playing can help you do a better job.

An interior decorator can make aesthetic adjustments to an existing structure, but cannot change the structure itself. They study interior surface finishing – choosing and adding wall treatments, colours, fabrics, furnishings, as well as kitchen and bathroom fixture choices to a predetermined floor plan.  They should know the history of décor styles. A decorator will provide the polish that makes a house into a home in a way that’s fashionable, but still tailored to the personality of the occupants. In a nutshell, they improve what’s there.

A good decorator will also be able to plan a successful lighting strategy as well. A decorator, however, would not plan a wall removal or the layout of an addition to your house. A decorator may have gone through a two-year program to earn a college diploma, but technically anyone can call themselves an interior decorator, even if they haven’t had any formal training.

Interior designers can also take on the roles of a decorator – I think that’s where the confusion comes in. An interior designer, however, does a lot more than a decorator– they are concerned with the entire interior of a building, not just the finishings. An interior designer will change layouts of entire floors and plan other significant modifications (they would need to consult an architect or engineer on anything impacting things like load-bearing walls or the exterior of the house). Designers need to know building safety codes so that they don’t break them.

An interior designer operates on more of a functional level than a decorator does, ensuring that a plan factors in efficiency, safety, and usability for the different body types (child, adult, senior, disabled) who will be using the space. They also consider how they will be using the space. An interior designer needs a good understanding of human behaviour, and how behaviour effects the interaction with household features. Acoustics and the sound transmission properties of construction materials may also be factored in.

Considering things like where windows should be, how wide doorways need to be, how users get from room to room and floor to floor are responsibilities of designers. For example, a designer would decide if a circular staircase is appropriate for a house, and how high each tread can be. I like to think of them as “indoor functionality experts”.

In terms of schooling, an interior designer completes a 4-year program and earns a Bachelor of Applied Arts; some have almost studied enough to become architects.

Architects, as most people know, plan the entire building structure – inside and out. They’re responsible for making sure that the building will stand up over long periods of time, when the winds will be blowing and snow piling on the roof year after year. While working on a contract an architect may design the basic structure and then collaborate with an interior designer to ensure maximum usability of the interior of the home.

You can see that there’s obviously a progression in difficulty and depth of understanding. For the DIYer, decorating tasks can be done by almost anyone (how well is another story), but few will ever have the expertise to build an entire building.

Understanding which role you are assuming is the essential first step in any project, and will help guide you to the right research and mode of thought to plan and carry out your project successfully. If you’re trying to figure out what colour to paint a small room or house interior, you’re dealing with décor and should be looking at resources for decorators. If you think you need to fix the traffic flow through the flow of a house, you need to study interior design fundamentals.

Both roles are crucial to the success of a DIY renovator’s work; you never know when a small piece of information will come in handy!


by Jennifer Priest



Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Priest. I write my own stuff, so you should too!