Interior Designer verses Interior Decorator – What is the difference?

If you are like many people in the marketplace you might use these words synonymously. The definition between an interior designer versus an interior decorator can be different depending on the professional you ask. To make matters more complicated in some states (Oregon being an exception) the profession ‘interior designer’ is regulated for use only be those that hold a higher education, generally an associates or bachelors degree in an interior design related discipline.

Outside of the higher education definition, interior designers are said in some circles to be those that move walls, remodel and/or are involved in new and existing construction. In that same definition, interior decorators are said to be professionals that focus solely on furnishings like upholstered goods, case goods, window treatments, artwork and accessories.

I have found some interior designers with a degree in the field are offended by the use of the word ‘decorator’ referring to their design work. They also may not like non-degreed designers being called interior designers. Some may also feel a degreed interior designer working at a retail furniture store shouldn’t be called an interior designer. I personally think all of these things are silly. It doesn’t matter to me how you classify my line of work or the title you use to describe me. In the residential realm we do it all here at Angela Todd Designs: new construction, remodeling, space planning, elevations, surface and fitting selections, furniture, lighting, artwork, area rugs, window treatments and final accessories.

Interior designers (and interior decorators) in Portland come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some started young in the field and went to school specifically for interior design. Some were in complementary fields before design including artists, graphic designers and business people who had an innate talent and made the leap to a new line of work. Most people in all these categories were just born with design in their blood and learned the craft, processes and resources with experience and ingenuity.

I have often been surprised at who holds a higher design education and who does not. Sometimes someone without formal education is wonderfully talented at bringing spaces to life. Other times based on a low quality of work, I can almost tell a professional doesn’t have training in the field. I have also met interior designers by degree that blow my socks off with their work. In contrast, some degreed designers just don’t have the sauce it takes to implement creative and innovative spaces. I have found degreed designers tend to have more technical skills in construction and space planning, and based on when they graduated they may have more developed hand rendering and AutoCAD skills. Overall, there doesn’t seem to be a model for producing a great designer in the marketplace. I would say that regardless of a degree in design, you either have it or you don’t. A formal education can fine tune your craft, but not having a higher education in interior design won’t impede your ability to interpret a space if you have an innate design ability and hunger to learn and grow.

In my opinion, a design professional should be first reviewed by their body of work. When you are looking for an interior designer I recommend selecting someone that has experience in the particular project you are looking to execute. Preferably their approach, experience and portfolio also speaks to you. Perhaps education and designations are important to you, and if so ask them about their background.

If you are looking for an interior designer or interior decorator, I invite you to look at what we have to offer. Call us whatever you like. I mean this in the most respectful manner. We don’t care!

Angela Todd Studios For Custom Furnishings

Angela Todd

Owner & Principal Designer

Angela is the principal designer at her boutique interior design firm in Portland, Oregon. She is known for creating memorable backdrops that tell the story of fascinating and intricate lives.

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