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Interior designer or decorator: Something Southern explains the difference

May 7, 2011

By CYNDI RUTHERFORD
For Starkville Daily News

As an Interior Designer, many times I have sat with clients in conversation while I was referred to as a “decorator.” Although I always knew the client didn’t understand the difference, I tried as often as I could to interrupt, with a smile on my face, and kindly correct the inaccurate title with as much tact as possible. This became routine for the first few years of my eleven-year career. Eventually, I began to accept the misunderstood title, as I knew the clients who didn’t know the difference, also had no preference of either. They didn’t need to know the educated process at which I based design decisions. All that mattered to me was that they were pleased in the end with their design.
The differences between an Interior Designer and a decorator are many, although both share one common goal concerning aesthetics. A decorator is trusted with good taste, an eye for color, and the ability to decorate with furniture and accessories. An Interior Designer is equally entrusted. However, considering the design elements of line, space, color, scale, balance, and proportion, a Designer is trained to see, then present to the client, an end result before a project begins. This often saves time and a great deal of cost. For example, purchasing fine furniture for a beautiful room would be a simple task for anyone with great taste until once delivered, the furniture doesn’t fit the room or the fabric looks different in its new light. Site measurements, floor plan drawings, and expertise of design elements, materials, treatments, and resources are often needed to avoid costly mistakes.
Interior Designers are trained through a four-year university program of required curriculum such as building construction, computer aided design, space planning, resource materials, and residential as well as commercial design. As a result, Designers are qualified to draw floor plans, understand construction, head project management, contract manual labor, and specify appropriate materials. To initiate a project, the programming process for a Designer is most important, as a relationship is built with the client. Understanding the use of space and the number of people affected, as well as likes, dislikes, habits, and schedules greatly determine the direction in design and overall result. Overlooking details such as these produces a design based on the one hired while not reflecting the client in any way.
An Interior Designer can be costly if time is not well managed, since work is most commonly charged by the hour. After working for an Architect and venturing into commercial design, I had the opportunity to free-lance for over two years. I managed projects, hired contractors, constructed plans, specified materials, and sometimes simply shopped for clients. All of my time was billable. Today, with managing a showroom of resources and having suppliers within reach, my clients are free of hourly rates. And while I am more importantly a Designer before a sales person, they can feel confident in knowing this showroom, like few, is not commission based.
It is not common knowledge that a qualified Interior Designer can be free of charge in working through a professional showroom, just as the differences between Designers and decorators are still often misunderstood. However, in this field, the main objective is not to educate our clients, but to provide the best specialized services, as our expertise should be evident in our designs.

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