I’ll Tell You One More Time: Decorators Aren’t Designers
“Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.
Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability.
The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology—including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process—to satisfy the needs and resources of the client.”
I suppose that since my few previous articles have been a bit more lighthearted and consumer-centric, it’s about time for an angsty, honest discussion about something that has become, quite possibly, the singly most annoying misunderstanding of all time.
Since the time that my undergraduate education started back in 2005, I have been learning and seeing and hearing all about the common and blatant social misunderstandings surrounding Interior Designers and their respective field of work. In school, there was this silent (or perhaps not silent) understanding that architecture students and interior design students just didn’t get along. Sure we would cross paths at house parties or have nearly touching desks encroaching on the invisible division lines in design studio; but aside from these, it was a nightmare to imagine working with one or the other on a collaborative project. Why? Because to most architecture students, interior designers just didn’t know enough. Plain and simple. There was nothing that an interior design student could present that an architect couldn’t handle herself. In fact, there was a pretty obvious and generalized assumption that interior designers were crowding in on architectural work; touching things that shouldn’t be touched by non-architect hands and thinking about things that were too…architecty. We were considered the female-dominant degree that moved walls that couldn’t be moved without the building falling down and then continued to make things look pretty.
Not the case. Not at all.
I was always an interior design student who pushed boundaries and moved far into the realm of architecture by exploring structural systems and developing these on my own time to coordinate with my projects. However, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by all of the studio-trash talking in undergrad and the continuation of said problems post-graduation. There was just an overall air toward interior designers that was distasteful, and as I emerged in the working world I realized just how many people in the public tend to think we are as worthless as the architects tried to make us feel. In fact, it is common that we are referred to as decorators. By clients, professionals, and vendors alike. It’s insane. It’s not that clients don’t need us, but when they don’t understand what we do, we miss out an entire market and a whole plethora of opportunity that others get to tap into.
Having completed a BS in Interior Design as well as a M.Arch, I feel I have a right to take a verbal dump on both sides. I’ve been through both studio environments, both types of critiques, and worked with people in both concentrations. My opinion? Interior design and architecture should always be nothing short of collaborative fields that respect each others’ principles and goals as professions. They are too segregated and shouldn’t be as such. As for me, I chose to continue my life in interior design for a reason. Being an interior designer involves more personal interaction and deep psychological understanding than any field that I have ever explored. Architecture tends to involve more arrogance and less objectivism while interior design can be deeply introspective and personalized to a client’s every need. Don’t get me wrong: I love architecture. I love many architects. However, it’s hard not to be bitter when insanely intelligent and hard-working designers everywhere are being downgraded to decorator status, and much of this title-slinging comes from architects as much as it does clients and peers.
Let me cover my bases. I am in no way disrespecting decorators, either. However, I have over $100,000 in student loan debt, only half of the upper part of my right index finger, and several lasting health conditions to show for my efforts in interior design school. Schooling to be a designer is rigorous, expensive, and entirely demanding. Decorators are not required to obtain any degree to practice, and have not in fact been educated in the technicalities of buildings and their systems as interior designers have been. As an interior designer, I am constantly drawing electrical plans and configuring switching patterns; I am relocating plumbing and shopping for rough-in valves. As an interior designer, I am selecting beautiful finishes and then managing their manufacturing. I am designing kitchens and developing every inch of their construction detail. I know the typical spacing of floor joists as well as I know the Pantone color of the year. In fact, I do everything in a project with the exception of load-bearing adjustments. I leave that to the architects and the engineers.If you’re a member of the general public reading this, familiarize yourself with the differences between decorators and designers. Don’t use the term unless you understand what you are saying, and pay these fields the adequate respect they deserve by properly identifying them. Architects: don’t call yourself an architect unless you’re licensed. No for real, it’s illegal. Also, don’t shy away from working with designers. They are specialized in the psychology of space…who doesn’t want to work with that? Interior designers: don’t be elitist. You need to know when to open your arms to architects and other professionals because you can’t control every part of a project. Also, it’s your duty to educate! If someone calls you a decorator, or pays disrespect to the field of design by not recognizing its vast sea of qualities, correct them. You have to make a point to ensure that the differences are understood so that designers are receiving the accreditation that they deserve in the professional world.
I encourage all of you to read more about the differences between decorators, architects, and interior designers. The NCIDQ website offers a great introduction to the definitions. Aside from this, Google it sometime. You may be surprised to see just how many designers out there are trying to clear the air of this misunderstanding along with me.