What's the difference between an interior designer & interior decorator?

Interior designers sit alongside architects in considering how to get the most from your interior spaces.
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Interior designers sit alongside architects in considering how to get the most from your interior spaces.

If you are thinking about hiring a professional to help with your home, the first step is deciding the extent of your project.

Interior designers and interior decorators are often mistaken for the same thing, and while they have many similarities, there are some distinct differences which relate directly to the scope of your project.

Although there is no formal organisation in New Zealand that interior designers need to register with, there are some qualifications and skills that differentiate them from interior decorators.

Interior designers usually have undergone formal training,often at university with a focus on spatial design, and these professionals sit comfortably next to other formally recognised colleagues such as architects and lighting designers. Interior designers not only consider the aesthetics, but also the form and function of space.

If you are undergoing major renovations or a new build, then together with an architect, an interior designer can give advice on internal spaces, and work with you from the initial planning stage, until the final curtain is hung.

Designers have the knowledge to control the size, shape and volume of the interior environment. This means they need to understand not only space, but how the space will be used, and most importantly, the codes and restrictions of the local council.

Some interior designers are qualified to draw plans for council, but some will delegate this to an architectural draftsperson, or it will fall under the scope of the project architect.

In contrast, interior decorators focus completely on the aesthetics of a space. Often with a keen eye and a stylish disposition, interior decorators typically have a less-formal educational qualification,such as a certificate or diploma, or completing vocational training.​ 

Interior decorators are experts at whipping a room into shape, taking an already existing space, and will recommend decorative elements such as finishes, furniture and accessories.

If you are wanting a refresh of your home, and will not be making any structural changes, then an interior decorator can work with you on the aesthetic elements needed. Helping make decisions on purchases plus having a clear plan and budget is also the role of an interior decorator, which can alleviate some of the stress of redecorating.

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Both interior decorators and interior designers will have a network of industry professionals – such as lighting designers, kitchen designers, or suppliers that they can work with closely to get the best results for a home.

Interior designers and interior decorators are professions in their own right, but they are distinctly different – and deciding first the scope of your project can help decide which you need.

Tina Stephen is creative director at roomie.co.nz.

 - Stuff

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