Angie's LIST Guide to
Interior Design and Home Decorators

Looking for a strong style statement for your home's interior but don't know where to start? Hiring an interior decorator or designer can add lasting style and value to your home.


interior design
Interior decorators and designers can help you make the most of your space and stylize your home for everyday living. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Zach M.)

What is an interior designer or decorator?

An interior designer is tasked with creating usable and aesthetically pleasing architectural spaces inside a physical structure. Interior design professionals typically study the behaviors and movements of individuals in the working and living environment in order to create spaces that are both attractive and functional. Interior designers know and understand the current design trends in the industry and can help guide homeowners through the process.

Interior designers may also perform the interior decorating work on the spaces they design. An interior decorator, by contrast, does not design the space in which he or she works. Instead, interior decorators focus on the furnishings, wall and floor treatments and artistic touches that provide ambience and atmosphere to the interior space.

Differences between hiring a designer vs. a decorator

Most interior design professionals are employed by construction or architectural firms and work in conjunction with builders and architects to design usable spaces for a variety of human activities. In other cases, interior designers may be called upon to create a functional and beautiful set of interior spaces for a private home. Generally, however, interior design experts work for builders and contractors rather than directly for private individuals. Sometimes interior designers work with architects to redesign a home's space to maximize existing space, before homeowners remodel to add more space to the home.

Interior decorators are typically hired by homeowners to improve the aesthetic appeal of an existing space. These interior decor experts usually specialize in commercial or residential spaces and may use lighting, wall treatments, flooring, furnishings and accessories to create a look pleasing to the owner or manager of the space in question.

An interior decorator can pick the perfect accessories that help a room make a statement in your house. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lorna W.)

Benefits of hiring an interior designer or decorator

The services of a qualified interior designer are crucial in order to create usable spaces for working and living. Contractors and builders depend on these professionals to provide advice on a variety of ergonomic and acoustic issues and to help in the design of lighting and traffic flow patterns that make sense in the specific interior environment.

Homeowners can benefit significantly by enlisting the help of an interior decorator when remodeling or revamping their living and working areas. Interior decorators are knowledgeable about the effects of color and the right use of accessories to create an illusion of greater space or to provide a cozy, comfortable environment for everyday living. Interior decorators can also help homeowners avoid common decorating mistakes.

Education, accreditation and licensing

Most interior designers acquire, at a minimum, a four-year degree in their chosen field; many successful interior designers elect to complete a master's or doctoral degree in interior design. This formal education provides the interior designer with a solid grounding in safety issues, basic architectural principles and the application of state and local building codes to ongoing projects.

Interior design students take courses in computer-aided design, ergonomics, the visual effects of color and texture and managing temperature control in enclosed spaces. After graduation, many aspiring interior designers serve an apprenticeship in order to gain practical experience in the field.

Licensing is required by 24 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Even in states where this is not required, interior designers can elect to take the licensing examination offered by the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) to certify their own qualifications in the field. Continuing education is required to maintain certification by the NCIDQ.

Interior design
Interior designers help select colors, maximize space and choose decor. (Photo by Jessica Anderson)

Licensing requirements

While licensing requirements vary from state to state, typically these requirements include a combination of education and experience in the interior design field. For instance, New York requires seven years of combined education and work experience. Practical experience must constitute at least two years of that total. New York also requires that interior design applicants pass all three sections of the NCIDQ examination in order to be licensed in the state.

Benefits of licensing

Licensed interior design specialists have expert knowledge in the field and have undergone training in building and fire codes, accessibility requirements, OSHA regulations, ergonomic considerations and a wide range of other relevant factors that can affect the success of an architectural project.

Homeowners can hire licensed interior designers with confidence, as these highly qualified individuals have already demonstrated their competence and practical skills by achieving this advanced certification.

Use the Angie's List License Check tool to determine if a license is required for interior design in your city or town.

Education, accreditation and licensing for interior decorators

Interior decorators require no formal training. Some interior decorators choose to pursue a degree program in the field. These educational qualifications can often command a higher price in the competitive marketplace. Certification programs are available from several organizations including Certified Interior Decorators International, the Decorators Alliance of North America and the Designer Association of America.

Applicants must typically pass a written test to achieve certification from these organizations. Certification is usually permanent and requires no continuing education or retesting in order to maintain certified status.

Benefits of hiring a certified interior decorator

Certification provides a degree of assurance for consumers that the interior decorator has experience and knowledge in the field. Because there is little official regulation of the interior decoration industry, certification can often be the best available indicator of the professional credentials and knowledge possessed by an individual interior decorator.

Tips for hiring an interior designer or decorator

Most homeowners will never need the full range of services provided by an interior designer unless they choose to design and build their own home. However, the principles for choosing the right interior design specialist remain the same for both interior designers and interior decorators. Here are a few questions to ask before making a hiring decision.

• Can you estimate how long the process will take?
• Are you certified or licensed to work in this state?
• What services will you perform?
• Do you have a portfolio of previous work?
• May I contact your references?

Interior design
Interior designers maximize space in a home with furniture placement. (Photo by Jessica Anderson)

Of these questions, the last two are often the most critical to the success of the project. Looking over the portfolio and asking relevant questions about the projects can provide a better perspective on the process and allow greater insight into the overall philosophy of the designer or decorator. It is also important to get in touch with the references provided by the interior designer or decorator. Prospective clients should ask these types of questions:

• Were you happy with the job the designer or decorator did for you?
• Was the project finished on time?
• Were there any unexpected or unexplained financial charges associated with the project?
• Would you hire the designer or decorator again in the future?

This can allow homeowners to make informed decisions when choosing an interior design or decor specialist.

Fees and financial considerations

Interior design services are typically far more expensive than comparable services provided by an interior decorator. Consumers should ask a few questions about the financial arrangements before committing to a project with an interior designer or interior decorator.

• Are all additional charges and overages covered by the initial quote?
• Who pays for unexpected expenses if they arise?
• What compensation is available if the project is not finished on time?
• What specific payment arrangements do you require?
• When will payment be due on the project?

By hammering out the financial details in advance, consumers can avoid unpleasant surprises during the process and ensure that their project is completed on time and within budget.


Does your service allow for comments on quality of designers.

Hi there Burt,

One of the areas members rate service providers on is "Quality." Just like in school, our system awards grades A-F. Reviews also have free text space where members can write additional details of their experiences with each provider. If you're not yet a member, sign-up with promo code "ANSWERS" for 20% off an annual membership.

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