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Interior Designer Vs. Interior Decorator – What’s the Difference?

The terms interior designer and interior decorator are often used interchangeably without much thought, but did you know there is a difference? Interior designers secretly cringe whenever someone refers to them as an interior decorator – “what did you just call me?”

Ok maybe it’s not that bad, but it can get a little tiring telling people you’re an interior designer only to get the same response “that must be so much fun! I would love to shop for furniture and pick paint colours all day!”. Yeah that would be fun, too bad that’s a small percentage of what we actually do.

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Interior designers and interior decorators work in the same industry and share the same goal of creating spaces that are aesthetically pleasing for their clients. Both can select finishes and furniture, but an interior designer goes further than that. Interior designers understand how people move through spaces and use that knowledge to create environments that are safe and functional. Interior decorators primary focus is on the overall aesthetics of a space and will use furniture, paint and accessories to bring personality and beauty to a space. In short, interior designers can decorate, but decorators cannot design. Interior designers are in no way better than an interior decorator; we have a great deal of respect for what they do, our roles are simply different.

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The big difference between the two professions is education. Interior decorators don’t require any technical training, but will often take a 1 yr certificate program. There is a Canadian Decorators Association, but they are not regulated and few register. The next ‘level up’ is a two year diploma which earns you the title of Interior Design Technologist. Interior design technologists have a technical background and they are required to have an understanding of building code and construction standards. Interior designers however require a degree. Once an interior designer has received their degree and has acquired the necessary experience/ hours they can apply to write the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam. The NCIDQ exam tests designers on their knowledge of building code, fire code, construction standards and contract administration. Once they have passed the NCIDQ exam they are able to apply for licensing with their provincial association (for Alberta its Interior Designers of Alberta or IDA for short) and can then call themselves a Registered Interior Designer. These designers are regulated by the province and are required to complete continuing education classes every year, carry liability insurance and adhere to a code of ethics in order to maintain their licensed status.

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So how do you know if they’re an interior designer? You can look at the type of services they offer – if they do construction drawings and primarily do renovations and new builds you’re in luck! Another way is to look at the letters by their name. Look for CID (certified interior designer), IDT (Interior design technologist), IIDA (international interior design association or IDC (interior designers of Canada). All of these people will have the technical training required to assist you with your renovation project.

Happy renovating!

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