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  • Lauren Bennett

How I Became an Interior Designer

Updated: May 6, 2020

“What is the Difference between a Decorator and an Interior Designer?”

In my very first college interior design class, this question was projected onto the classroom screen for us, the students, to ponder. At that point, I hadn’t really thought that they were different at all. My professor answered the projected question, saying that while a decorator and an interior designer are often spoken of interchangeably, an interior designer can do everything an interior decorator can do, and they are qualified to do more.

Let’s think of it this way: Think of your home as if it were a dollhouse. If we slice off the roof, and turn it over, dumping everything out of the house, all that would be left inside are the architectural elements of the home. A decorator works only with the items that have been shaken out of the house like the furniture, rugs, art, and accessories. These are important to the overall look of your home, and make your house look beautiful. However, these details have no relationship to the structure of the home. The interior designer can work within these architectural realms. They can play with walls, finishes, materials, lighting, plumbing, and so on. All these details that have to do with the interior (and sometimes exterior) structure of the home, are within the realms of what an interior designer can specify. It is common to see an interior designer working both as a designer and a decorator on a majority of the projects with which they are involved. However, it is much less common, and not recommended to hire a decorator to specify architectural interior changes. In other words, an interior designer decorates, but a decorator is not an interior designer. As soon as I understood the new world of creative opportunities that was available as a designer, I knew I had to pursue that dream!

Becoming an accredited and licensed interior designer might look different, depending on the state or country in which you live, but the basic structure includes attending an accredited design school, studying courses in interior design, working for an interior design firm as an intern, or paid employee, and taking and passing the NCIDQ. This is a comprehensive exam that tests knowledge of design history, building codes, client relations, and so on. There are several national associations like the ASID, the IIDA that recognize their members as valid and reputable interior designers if they meet certain criteria, including a certain amount of time worked in the interior design industry, and passing the NCIDQ. All this being said, the path to interior design work looks different for almost everyone. The interior design industry is a quite forgiving place in that if you have talent, enough schooling to get by, and surround yourself with the right people, you can still become quite successful.

In my case, after completing my BA at BYU, I realized that I had a real passion for design, and I wanted to learn all I could about the theories, psychology, and the social and artistic influences behind it. My sweet husband saw this in me, and encouraged me to go back to school, so I did! I studied interior design for two years at an accredited design school called the Savannah College of Art and Design, eventually graduating with my Master of Arts in Interior Design. To supplement my studies, I took myself on field trips, took extra classes on the side, bought countless textbooks off Amazon, and taught myself how to use Auto CAD, and other drafting software.

All the while, I was working in any job that related to the design industry, from the glamorous, to the not so glamorous. Each of these jobs taught me how to work with clients, stretch my creativity muscles, sketch and draft quickly and accurately, be brave enough to speak my mind and confident in my talents. It wasn’t easy, but my additional training and knowledge, paired with my experience within the design industry has made me appreciate the expertise that is required to make the leap from decorator to interior designer.

It was a lot of hard work, but I am so grateful that I am able to work as a designer with clients all over the map, while still being there for my family at home. To those, who would like to pursue a job as an interior designer, I say go for it! Put value on your education and enroll in an accredited design program! Be ready to work hard and glean knowledge from every design job you can find. Learn from the designers you work with, be brave, and get creative. That’s where you will find the best success and learn the important lessons.

If you have more questions about how to get started, or other tips and tricks for navigating the design industry, send me a message!

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