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The Difference Between Interior Design and Interior Decorating

Interior design students are sometimes referred to as interior decorators, when in reality, the two professions share little in common. It's similar to how some people confuse the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, or an optometrist and a opthamologist. There are a number of differences between the two professions.

The biggest difference is that an interior designer spends more time in school than an interior decorator. An interior decorator can begin working after receiving a two-year associate's degree from a community college. This short program can also be done through a distance or correspondence school. In some cases, the individual will go right from high school to working in an interior design firm without any education or formal training.

An interior designer goes through a four-year program and receives a bachelor's degree. Only after they receive this degree can they work as a designer or call themselves one. Many designers will also go onto graduate school and finish another two years of school. There are even some employers who will not hire an individual as a designer unless they have an advanced degree completed.

Interior decorators are concerned only with the look or appearance of a building or space. The basis of the profession is that these individuals can only change the aesthetics of a room. They can change the walls, the floors and add decorative elements to the room. The one thing they cannot do is remove or alter any standing structure. For example, a load-bearing wall cannot be removed by an interior decorator or moved to another area.

Interior designers on the other hand have experience in working with architecture. While only architects can alter load-bearing structures, interior designers can move non-load-bearing elements that do not affect the structural foundations and stability of a building. In addition they are focused on anything within a given area of space. The interior designer handles furniture, accessories, lighting and even exterior elements like windows and doors. An interior decorator doesn't work with those exterior features of the building.

One way to look at it is that an interior designer can change the architecture of a building, whereas an interior designer is only concerned with the interior aesthetics. Design students spend a good portion of their time learning about architecture and the structure of a building. They are more concerned with how the entire space looks rather than just the interior. These designers can also change the roof of the building to add skylights or add exposed wood beams, but since these are architectural elements, an interior decorator cannot do the same thing.

Another difference between the two professions is that interior designers often specialize in one specific area while decorators work in all areas. A designer might focus on only commercial or retail space or handle only the exterior of a building. A decorator will work in all areas within a given building or space.

These differences make it clear that interior decorating and interior design are two very different fields. Those who want something more complex in nature should focus on learning more about interior design.


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