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Interior Designer vs. Decorator - Which is Right?

Modern transitional Scan-Asian inspired kitchen by top Houston interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors
Design: Nancy Lane Interiors | Photo: French Blue Photography

I was asked recently by a prospective client what the difference was between an interior designer and a decorator and what the "right" term would be to use. That question is totally up for debate, and will forever be a point of contention in the design industry. All I can tell you is what I prefer to be called, and I'm of the opinion that everyone else is free to call themselves what they would like to. #youdoyou

New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) president David Sprouls is quoted in a recent Elle Decor article saying: “Talking to people about what interior design is, I would draw a Venn diagram, with two big circles that overlap. One of the circles is architecture, and the other circle is decorating. And where the two overlap, that’s interior design.”

That overlap is where I feel the most in line with my business. Understanding how architecture and decor work together to create a functional, beautiful space has to take so many things into account - a client's lifestyle, desired aesthetic, scale, form, proportion, color, site considerations, etc. To minimize all that work into the term "decorating" has never sat well with me.

There are some designers who have gone to school for interior design, and feel very passionately that only they should be able to call themselves interior designers and work as interior designers. I will tell you that the vast majority of the designers who are kicking it in the design world have degrees in fields that vary from art, social work, fashion and merchandising, biology, chemistry, marketing, and law, and that very few actually went to school and received a degree in interior design. Don't believe me? Google the name of some top designers you know or love and see if they have an ID degree (or any at all).

Each and every state does it differently. There's been a huge fight over the years here in Texas, where you do not have to have a college degree in interior design to call yourself an interior designer or to work as one.

At this point in my business, I am confident in my portfolio of work, my experience having run my own successful design business over the last seven years, client reviews and referrals, and the joy I have doing what I do every day to claim and embrace the title of "interior designer." Your path is really what you make of it and I don't regret anything - I'm just glad that I found this second career and had the courage to start my business after friends and neighbors repeatedly asked for help with their own homes after seeing what I had done with mine. (Fun fact: Even with the continuous referrals, I worked for an interior designer here in town just to make sure it was something I really wanted to commit to before going out on my own.)

Some of you really value credentials and schooling, as do I (I've taken so many business and design classes over the years, I should have at least an honorary degree by now, ha!) However, I don't believe the lack of those things absolutely negates a person's ability to do something really well. You can learn the business of design through time, effort and experience but to truly succeed you absolutely need innate talent and fortitude.

I'll leave you with something my very astute husband once pointed out, when someone a few years ago tried to belittle my lack of an official design degree. He said "you know, the majority of musicians haven't been to Juilliard or any music school for that matter, some are completely self taught...they never took a class, but that hasn't stopped them from playing beautiful music or some from forging a path and successful career for themselves doing what they love."

Feel free to disagree or agree in the comments below! I'd love to hear other perspectives out there, as I know there are so many on this topic.


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