Angie's LIST Guide to
Interior Design and Home Decorators

Looking to make a strong style statement, or increase space and make your home more functional? See how hiring an interior decorator or designer can give your home a much-needed makeover.


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.)

Interior designers and decorators

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.

RELATED: Contractors Talk Home Remodeling Trends for 2015

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

Many 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.

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 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 (CAD), 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 maximize space in a home with furniture placement. (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.

Interior trends for 2015

Just like with fashion, interior design and home décor trends go in and out of style. Take wallpaper for example. It wasn't too long ago that wallpaper was considered "out of style," yet interior decorators now say hanging wallpaper is a hot trend.

trendy wallpaper accent wall
Wallpaper accent walls are a top trend for 2015. (Photo by Darcy Barrett)

Other popular trends include adding undermount sinks in the kitchen or bathroom, adding custom storage to fit individual needs and removing walls between the kitchen and adjoining rooms. Check out the full list of Top Interior Design and Home Decorating Trends of 2015, because some of them might surprise you.

Home design and décor ideas

While you may not want to change your home's interior décor or design annually, redecorating makes your home feel new again. You can decide to go big by changing everything from furnishing to wall colors, or go small by adding a few items here and there.

Here are a few popular ways to change your home’s interior:

  • Statement rugs: Make a rug the focal point of a room or hallway.
  • Use paper: Bold prints and geometric designs make wallpaper one of the most popular ways to update and redecorate a room.
  • Mix and match: Mix and math metals, bedding or an antique with traditional or contemporary décor for interesting appeal.
  • Off the wall: Take furniture off the wall and move toward the center for an intimate vibe.
  • Furniture facelift: Give furniture a new look by reupholstering with a new color, print or texture.
  • New neutral: Replace commonly used neutral colors with gray. The color can be used in any room in the house for a modern appeal.
  • Knock it down: Removing walls between the kitchen and adjoinging rooms dramatically changes the look of a home.

Bedroom ideas

It's the last room you see before going to sleep and the first one you see when you awake in the morning, so create a bedroom that appeals to your tastes. Transform your bedroom’s décor with these ideas.

  • Color: Decide whether you want to create a Zen-like environment, country theme or tropical paradise. Use paint or wallpaper to create a new look.
  • Bedding: Freshen up your bedroom with a new duvet or comforter and matching pillow shams, decorative pillows and a bed skirt.
  • Furniture: Add a chaise lounge, trunk or intricately designed nightstand.
  • Accessories: Lighting fixtures and artwork.

RELATED: Kids' Room Ideas: Best Interior Trends for 2015

Kitchen ideas

It's typically the busiest room in a home. Keep your kitchen fresh with these décor ideas.

  • Maximize space: Creative cabinetry such as toe-kick or sliding drawers, or hanging pots and pans from the ceiling are great ways to make better use of space.
  • Open shelving: Turn the kitchen into a showpiece by using open shelving for storage instead of cabinets.
  • Open concept: Remove a wall betwene your kitchen and living room to make your home more functional.
  • Window treatments: Windows in the kitchen don’t have to be bland. Dress up windows by adding curtains, blinds, etc.
  • Tile it: Make a statement by using textured tile for the backsplash or flooring.

open kitchen trend
The blue oven in this kitchen adds a unique touch. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jay W. of Seattle)

Living room ideas

The living room is the window into your home. Here are some décor ideas that add pizazz to your living room.

  • Accent color: No need to be afraid of bold colors. Use bold colors as an eye-catching accent color throughout the living room.
  • Light: Use interesting light fixtures or lamps as art while also creating ambience.
  • Slip covers: Slip covers are an easy, cost-effective way to change the look of furniture without the cost of reupholstering.
  • Pillows: Throw pillows in interesting patterns or colors provide a new look in seconds.
  • Window treatments: Try new curtains or replace curtains with blinds and valances.
  • Art: Make a large piece of art a focal point in your living room décor.

Bathroom ideas

Bathrooms don't have to be boring. Whether large or small, create a bathroom you won't want to leave with these décor ideas.

  • Mirror, mirror: Mirrors aren’t just for utilitarian purposes. A mirror can double as art when sconces are placed on either side, or a strategically placed mirror creates more light.
  • Tile: Use tile to create a decorative backsplash.
  • Accent wall: Use wallpaper, tile or paint to create an accent wall.
  • Splash: Add a splash of color throughout for a refreshing look.
  • Texture: Create depth by adding 3-D tiles or textured wallpaper.
  • Mix it up: Mix prints and textures for an interesting look.

Separate shower and tub
When space permits, many homeowners prefer a separate shower and tub. Walk-in-in or low-threshold showers are popular, while clawfoot or Japanese soaking tubs replace the standard bathtub. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Alan W. of King of Prussia, Penn.)

Interior décor styles

Art Deco: The predominate style of decorating during the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco uses bold colors, geometric shapes such as chevrons and arcs. Art Deco regained popularity in the 1960s.

Arts and Crafts: Also known as Mission in the United States, Arts and Crafts began in England toward the end of the 19th century during the Victorian period. The style highlighted expertly crafted furniture over mass produced furniture of lesser quality.  

Asian: This minimalist style incorporates design philosophy such as Feng Shui and elements influenced by Japanese and Chinese culture. Asian-inspired style includes natural elements, such as plants and water to create balance. 

Coastal: Think easy, breezy beach living with colors that bring to mind the sand, water and sky. Furniture is comfortable and easy to maintain and wood floors are ever present.  

Contemporary: Developed in the late 20th century, Contemporary décor encompasses current styles of the time. Characterized by clean lines that are curved rather than straight, open spaces, walls and furniture in neutral colors and bold accent colors. Contemporary design often uses chrome and metallic colors as well as accent walls and large pieces of art.

interior decor styles
An Interior decorator can help you pick a style that fits your personality. (Photo by Jessica Anderson)

French: Known as French Country or French Provincial, the style takes its cues from the countryside of South France and influenced by the Baroque period. French Provincial uses bold colors, toile fabric, elegant and ornate design juxtaposed with rustic features such as exposed wood ceilings and beams.

Eclectic: Mixes and matches décor styles from different periods, but unified through color, texture and furniture size.

English Country: Whether formal or casual, English Country is always inviting. It combines traditional furniture, floral chintz fabrics, patterned wallpaper and plenty of books and bookshelves. Surfaces are decorated, and portraits of horses and dogs adorn walls.

Mediterranean: Characterized by colors that are influenced by the sky, sea and sand, Mediterranean décor incorporates olive greens, golden yellows, reds and cobalt blues along with pottery, tapestries and mosaic inlays. Floors are usually dark hardwood, terra cotta or marble and furniture often includes intricate carvings.

Mid-century Modern: Recalling decoration and design from middle of the 20th century, Mid-century Modern uses clean lines with minimal décor. Graphic, patterned wallpaper and statement lighting are cornerstones of this style.

Modern: Often confused with Contemporary, Modern interior decorating style actually is quite old and is a style of its own. Modern interior decorating incorporates styles that are current at the time. Developed in the 1920s by the German Bauhaus school of design, Modern includes clean lines and neutral colors and emphasizes function.

Moroccan:  A blend of styles from Spain, Portugal and France, and African, Islamic and Persian influence create this décor style. Reds and oranges as well as blues and greens dominate the color scheme. Pillows in luxurious fabrics often accompany low-set furniture.

Shabby Chic: The no-fuss interior décor style was coined "Shabby Chic" by fashion designer Rachel Ashwell in the 1980s. Shabby chic incorporates large comfortable furniture, a pastel color palette and wooden accessories that look well worn.

Traditional: An interior décor style that creates a timeless look regardless of current trends. Furniture is symmetrically placed, the color palette consists of warm neutral colors and accessories match.

Transitional: Marry Traditional and Contemporary to create an elegant and classic but comfortable look. Clean lines, warm neutral colors and simple, but elegant window treatments comprise Transitional interior décor.

Tropical: This interior decorating style uses colors and foliage found in tropical climates. Furniture is made from natural fibers such as bamboo and rattan.

Western: Incorporate colors found in nature such to create a Western interior decoration style. Use natural materials, accessories from Native American tribes and artwork that recalls life on the ranch.

DIY decorating

Redecorating doesn’t have to break the bank. If completely revamping your home isn’t in the budget, small changes make a big difference. Think of adding or changing the color of throw pillows, replacing light fixtures and cabinet hardware or adding a fresh coat of interior paint.

colorful throw pillows
Throw pillows are inexpensive and can give any room a much-needed pop of color. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jeff F. of Miami Beach, Fla.)

Looking to decorate on a dime? Check out these DIY decorating tips.

Hiring an interior designer or decorator

Typically, 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 project 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?

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. Finally, it's important to hire an interior design pro that you feel comfortable working with.

RELATED: How to Have a Positive Relationship with Your Interior Designer

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?

MORE: 3 Key Qualities of an Interior Design Pro

How much does it cost to hire an interior designer or decorator?

Interior design services are typically 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?

Both interior designers and decorators typically charge a fee for an initial consultation, but you may be able to have the fee subtracted out of the project cost if you end up hiring the interior pro. Expect to pay $100 to $200 for the consultation. Interior jobs are often priced by the hour, so you could pay anywhere from $50 to $500 an hour, depending of the scope of the project.


Does your service allow for comments on quality of designers.

Hi there Burt,

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