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The Difference Between Interior Design and Decorating

Posted on Apr 30, 2013
breakfast bar in timber frame home

When we envision that dream timber frame home of ours, it is the elegant finishes both inside and out that we see, not the fresh drywall and exposed wiring for the electrical system. We like to see our home as a finished whole that looks picture perfect from every angle, not the work it takes to get there. However, a step exists between daydream and dream home. And, it’s a necessary one to achieving both beauty and functionality for the final product. That step? Interior Design.

Is Interior Decorating the Same as Design?

Interior decorators are in the profession of making a space attractive through fabrics, wall treatments, furniture, and accessories. Their expertise does not involve how that space will function in stride with the lifestyle of its inhabitants. For example, a decorator may help a homeowner select lamps, but has little/no influence on the home’s lighting plan.

Interior Design of a Kitchen
Decorators specialize in making interior spaces more attractive

A decorator might also put together color schemes for a space’s walls and furniture, but would not be the person a client seeks aid from to conceive the overall layout of a kitchen or facilitate the construction of their cabinetry.

Then, What is Interior Design?

In its definition of the field, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification notes, “Interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.” [ii] Suffice to say: interior designers focus on the physical aspects of a space, determining its functionality is congruent with the homeowner’s lifestyle. In short, their interest goes beyond how a space looks. 

timber frame kitchen
Interior design professionals focus on physical aspects of spaces, establishing a functionality congruent with the homeowner’s lifestyle

“Work triangles,” for example, are a professional designer’s reference to efficient traffic patterns created between fridge, range, and sink. [i] Utilizing this tool, kitchens are designed to be easier to work in.  Other features of the home that would be considered by a designer are things like complete fireplaces, lighting schemes, cabinetry functionality, flooring layouts, and the overall continuity of architectural space.

Now that you know the primary difference between interior design professionals and interior decorators, you can choose the level of services needed to bridge the space between your dream and its reality.



[i] Further reading available on the website of the industry’s professional resource, Architectural Digest.

[ii] Locate American professional interior designers at the IIDA website here. Canadian interior design professionals are found here .

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