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What's the Difference Between an Interior Designer and Interior Decorator?

Updated: Mar 20

When you’re planning an interior design project, you may be wondering if you should look for an Interior Designer or an Interior Decorator and what sets them apart. Interior Designers and Interior Decorators provide similar services, which can lead to confusion. Here's a breakdown of what each professional can bring to your project.

Interior Decorators

While Interior Decorators may not have formal training in design or architecture, they possess a keen eye for aesthetics, trends, and spatial arrangements. They work closely with clients to understand their needs, visual preferences, and budget to give their clients the space they envisioned. 

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An Interior Decorator:

  • Focuses on the appearance of a space, through the careful selection and arrangement of furnishings, decor, and accessories.

  • Creates design boards featuring materials, finishes, and color.

  • Creates mood boards to illustrate the overall design style they are proposing to the client.

  • Works with furniture layouts and arrangement, but does not work with architectural elements like moving walls or redesigning the floor plan of a home. 

  • Can offer color services to create color palettes that enhance aesthetics, and create cohesive and visually appealing interiors

  • Can act as stylists, focusing on accessorizing entire rooms, or just vignettes. 

  • Can provide simple staging services, and are frequently cross-trained in that field.

  • Can design window treatments and upholstered furniture and accents pieces.


Interior Designers

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Interior Designers often work in tandem with construction professionals. With specialized training, licensing, or certifications, Interior Designers can provide much more in-depth services than an interior decorator, while also offering design solutions to enhance aesthetics. Often design projects are part of a larger remodel or new construction project. An Interior Designer can provide structural recommendations, and create the necessary drawings and documents needed for the construction permit process. 

An Interior Designer:

  • Is trained in the planning, designing, and execution of interior spaces to make them both aesthetically pleasing and functional. They can offer larger-scale design solutions and solve ergonomic and sustainability dilemmas through training and certification. 

  • Typically works on projects that involve structural changes to a space, such as renovations or new construction, and are often viewed as a valuable member of the construction team. 

  • Often collaborates with architects, engineers, and contractors to ensure that their designs are implemented effectively. 

  • Considers factors such as spatial layout, traffic flow, ergonomics, building codes, and safety regulations when designing interiors. 

Education and training are the factors that set the two careers apart. Interior Decorators require no formal training, and they’re often drawn into the career by their interest and intuitive skills in the aesthetics of design. Interior Designers, depending on the state where they’ll practice, pursue specialized education, certification, and licensing. 

Not all states or territories require specific education or training to practice interior design, but it’s important to know what’s required in your area: 

  • Title Laws are in place in some states and regions, which means the Interior Designer must complete a specific level of education and certification, as well as obtaining a license, in order to call themselves an "Interior Designer". 

  • Some regions have certification laws, which have similar requirements, but they’re only required when using the term “Certified Interior Designer,” other non-certified designers can still advertise themselves as Interior Designers. 

  • While certification, licensing, and specific educational milestones are not required in every area, presenting these qualifications can provide an advantage in securing projects and clients.

Interior Design Certification

Certification for Interior Designers is available through a variety of organizations, with some offering more professional weight than others. Specialty certifications are also available, which help Interior Designers work in a niche, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and other industry-specific paths. Here are common credentialing options:


National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ): The NCIDQ certification is considered the most important and respected in the interior design and construction industries. The educational and experience requirements, along with the rigorous testing, makes the NCIDQ the most-respected certification available. 

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): An Interior Designer can become LEED accredited through their exam program. The first step to achieving accreditation is passing the LEED Green Associate Exam. Accredited Interior Designers can further their LEED credentials by passing an Advanced Professional Specialty Exam. All accreditation must be maintained through continuing education over a two year period of passing the LEED exams. 

National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA): There are two main NKBA certifications available, both are focused on kitchen and bath design. The certification process for both is based on membership, work experience and/or education, and passing an exam. In addition, NKBA coursework is required before taking an exam. Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer (CKBD) is the first level of certification. The Certified Master Kitchen & Bath Designer (CMKBD) certification is based not only on coursework, career hours, and current CKDB certification status, but also requires specific experience as an ambassador to the industry, volunteerism, and a portfolio review.  

American Lighting Association (ALA): The ALA Lighting Specialist certification can be a valuable credential for Interior Designers who regularly specify lighting in residential settings. The certification process is through self-paced study, and an exam. The ALA Lighting Specialist will be educated on the latest trends, lighting requirements and technical considerations and advances. The ALA also offers the Certified Lighting Consultant accreditation which is their highest level of achievement. This is available to current ALA Lighting Specialists, and requires rigorous education, and Blueprint Exam.


In addition to specialty certifications that align with trade organizations, regional and State certifications are also available, commonly  in areas that require interior design certification or licensing. 

When you’re deciding on the right type of design specialist for your project, scope is the most important consideration and should be decided first. Knowing how extensive your project will be, and if you’re looking for a purely aesthetic change vs. a structural and aesthetic change, will dictate the type of professional you’ll need. 

If you're uncertain whether an Interior Designer or Decorator is ideal for your project, it's essential to interview potential professionals during the planning phase. The design team at Pamela Williams Interior Design is ready to assist in designing and/or decorating your next project. Allow us to help you assess your project's scope so you can confidently select the most suitable design professional for the job. Schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation with Pamela Williams Interior Design today! Interior designer near me.

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