What’s the Difference? Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Marcia Prentice)

I have a confession to make and it’s a doozy: I’m an editor of a site about design (this one) and I don’t know the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. In fact, I’ve been using those two terms interchangibly for years. Bad editor! So I decided to educate myself (and you!).

Turns out, it’s pretty straightforward but there are some major distinctions. Here’s the scoop:

• An interior designer is usually involved with a building project from the beginning, perhaps even working with the architect. His job is to help create functional interior space by understanding how the inhabitants will use each room. He may consider light, sound and other design aspects but is also well versed in building codes and structural considerations. Because of this, in most states, designers need official training and a license.

• An interior decorator isn’t involved with the design of the building or the layout of the interior space. He is focused entirely on the furniture, colors, textiles and textures of a room. His job is to capture the personality and style of the residents and express it in their space. A decorator doesn’t need any official training to adopt the title.

So there you have it. Hiring a professional should simplify your process, not make it more confusing. And while others may get a little fast and loose with the differences between the two interior professions, you now know the truth. Go forth. Design. Decorate.