Should you hire a designer or a decorator?

Do you know the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator? We love HGTV for bringing our profession to the masses, but what is shown on television tends to be more décor than design. And let’s face it — not entirely realistic. The distinction between roles in the design world can be important when selecting the right professional to take on your project.

Let’s dive a little deeper to determine if you need an interior designer or a decorator to help you realize your dreams for your home.

Two images side by side with text overtop saying "design or decor?"

What is interior design?

The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) says, “Interior design is defined as the professional and comprehensive practice of creating an interior environment that addresses, protects, and responds to human need(s).”

So you see, décor is included in interior design and why it might get a bit convoluted. Interior design focuses on the function and flow of a room, whereas décor is the finishing touch of aesthetic appeal. Interior design is any time that you arrange a space for function by altering the furnishings, structural layout, and cabinetry, or by adding décor and accessories.

In some countries, the interior design profession is called interior architecture because it requires additional education, building codes, and drafting knowledge. That means you can’t become an interior designer without education. A person can’t decide on a whim to say, “Hey, I’m an interior designer!” Contrarily, while there are programs to get an education in interior décor, education is not necessary to begin a career as a decorator.

Why does this matter? Because of their education, designers can make decisions that will help you and your home long-term. Along with how you use your home, they consider each trade or discipline in their process so they can suggest designs that will result in fewer surprises down the road. These deeper considerations allow you to have a beautiful space that adds to the functionality of your life.

What is interior décor?

Interior décor is the soft finishes and it’s the icing on the design cake. These are primarily the finishing touches. They might be accessories, art, furnishings, lamps, throws, pillows, linens and the like. For the most part, it’s things you could take to your next home. However, it can include things you aren’t likely to take with you like wallcoverings and paint. Interior decoration is an art and a skill that takes time to hone.

It’s not likely that an interior decorator will move walls or design a custom kitchen or bathroom as they have not been trained to do so. They can help you work with your custom kitchen designer, but they’re not likely to design the kitchen themselves. A decorator may suggest finishes (cabinet styles and colours, countertops, faucets, and hardware). They can collaborate with your contractor, but they’re not likely to produce a full set of construction plans like an interior designer would. If your plans include any of these things, you should connect with a designer, not a decorator.

Can an interior design project include décor?

A space is not complete without décor! That being said, whether or not a project includes décor is dependent on the client’s needs and goals. Some designers prefer to focus on projects that include furnishings and décor and there are those who enjoy the more technical aspects of creating a functional and beautiful space. It’s always a good idea to ask your interior designer where their passions and expertise reside.

An interior design project may include strictly layout changes, finishes, wallcoverings, and lighting. It may include limited to no décor at all. Some of Krista Hermanson Design’s projects do not include accessories or furnishings. In those cases, we have often made extensive structural and layout changes to the home. After such a large undertaking, the client may wish to take a break for a while. Later, they can reach out again for help with furnishings and décor for the space. During every project, designers will give suggestions to send the client in the right direction for décor and furnishings to come.

Here's a Quick Comparison Between These Two Fields

  • Interior Designers

  • Interior Decorators

  • Require Formal Education

    Interior Designers typically have a 4-year degree in interior design OR a 2-year diploma in interior design and an advanced certification such as NCIDQ which takes a minimum of 2 years to qualify. Some interior designers are also architects.

  • Don't Require Education

    Interior decorators may have certifications and be very qualified, but they are not required to have formal education.

  • Know Building Codes

    Interior designers are knowledgeable in and legally required to adhere to building codes and safety requirements

  • Building Codes Aren't Required

    Decorators aren’t required to be trained in building codes and safety requirements

  • Complete Actionable Home Plans

    Interior designers can complete visual representations, sketches, as well as structural and construction layout designs that are used to build your home. Some items require a civil engineer sign-off.

  • Offer Visual Representation

    Can complete room layouts, use mood boards and can produce 3D sketches, but it is unlikely that they will produce full construction plans to be used in a renovation unless they have taken extensive drafting education

  • Can Lead Construction Jobs

    May coordinate large construction projects and direct subtrades

  • Can Lead Décor Jobs

    Don’t coordinate large construction projects, but may oversee trades on small projects and work with a renovation company/ project manager

  • Can Help with Décor

    Can help you with furnishings, window coverings, and décor, but this isn't necessarily their primary focus.

  • Can Help with Décor

    Can help you with furnishings, window coverings, and décor. This is their primary focus.

  • Can Find You Unique Pieces

    Often have relationships with high-end trade-only stores

  • Can Find You Unique Pieces

    Often have relationships with high-end trade-only stores

  • Wide Range of Services

    Have a wide range of focuses and skills that may include a primary service of décor

  • Primary Focus of Décor

    While they don't often deal in moving walls, they are highly skilled in furnishings and décor.

  • Can be General Contractors

    Because of their knowledge of building code, designers can become general contractors themselves, so they can ensure quality control through their projects (like Krista Hermanson Design)

  • Must Work With A GC

    As they don't generally have the knowledge to run a full construction job, they work with the general contractor and are at the mercy of the quality standard that the contractor allows

  • Designers Work Here

    Designers can be found running their own design firms (that may employ decorators, stylists, and designers), as freelancers, in kitchen design stores, or working for home builders

  • Decorators/ Stylists Work Here

    Decorators and stylists can be found running their own firms, as freelancers, partnering with realtors to sell homes, or in furniture stores

How do you choose?

A decorator/ stylist or stager is a great option when you need a little assistance with the look of your home. As credentials are not required for an interior decorator, stylist or stager, the average interior decorator’s hourly rate is often less than an accredited interior designer’s rate. If budget is a concern, select a decorator.

Engage an interior designer when you need to improve the functionality of your home. If you need to change the layout of your space or have something that needs updating with the bones of your home, an interior designer can help. Designers will look at your space holistically and create a cohesive space from the function to the feel. They can assist with all aspects of your renovation and are very likely to spot things that you may not have considered. They can also help with all things décor. While an interior designer’s rate may be more than a decorator, you’re going to get a higher, and more long-term return on your investment.

Always check credentials and look at portfolios to see what types of projects the interior professional specializes in. Whichever professional you select, be sure they are insured and qualified to do your specific work. For more information on what to look for in your renovation professional, read our blog on how to hire the right renovator.