So, you’ve decided to become an Interior Designer or Interior Decorator – but are unsure where to  begin? What is the difference between becoming a designer or decorator? What educational steps do you need to take? How can you best prepare to enter an industry that is often considered exclusive?

Not to fear my friends – this article will provide you with easy-to-understand information to bring you some clarity and hopefully help you choose how to direct your career path.

Interior Designer or Interior Decorator – What is the Main Difference?

Often, the line between the roles of an Interior Decorator and an Interior Designer is blurred, but it is important to understand since they hold some key differences.  

Interior Decorators, like designers, create floor plans, pick furnishings and fixtures, schedule and manage their own businesses and projects. They have their work displayed in publications like magazines or TV. However, to keep it brief, decorators cannot design spaces architecturally – they work within the physical existing space and its elements. They decorate and furnish the space to create a specific aesthetic or style requested by their clients.

An Interior  Designer, however, studies the art and science of creating spaces that are often universal and functional. They are able to make structural changes to a space with engineering approval. And, accordingly, they spend a greater length of time studying in school than the decorator. 

Educational Requirements

To become an Interior Decorator, no formal education is required per se but is greatly encouraged. Some famous designers (eg. Shea McGee or Sarah Richardson) don’t have any formal training. 

Formal education can include a certificate or diploma from an accredited school, whether it is in person or online. A minimum number of years to study is typically 1 – 2 years. These programs teach you about design and decorating history, styles, how to draw floor plans, use computer aided drawings, create renderings while also helping you to get started if you want to set up your own business. It is recommended to look for a program with an internship program – as that is valuable experience to take with you once you graduate.  

If you choose to become an Interior Designer, you are required to have an advanced diploma or Bachelor’s Degree of Interior Design from an accredited and recognized school. These programs are 3 – 4 years long and dive deep into understanding the theory of interior design including form, space & order. These accredited programs are often tied to the NCIDQ – National Council for Interior Design Qualification. And, at the end of the 4 years of study before you graduate – you will complete an internship and write your NCIDQ exam. 

Getting Started in the Industry

The hardest part is getting your first interior design job – whether you strike out on your own or get hired on with a firm. 

To meet others and let them know you are looking for work in the décor and design industry,  join an association such as the Decorators and Designers Association of Canada to network and  make connections and always be sure to put your best foot forward! Create a killer portfolio that shows your top skills and abilities to potential clients and employers. This portfolio will be developed over the course of your schooling career or projects done in your own home/friend’s home. 

Also, make sure that what you are presenting in your cover letter, resume and portfolio is clear and concise while also being original to you. Don’t forget that there are other candidates who also want this job and are as equally passionate about it as you are, so show your potential client or employer what makes you more desirable over other candidates. 

You may not get a call back right away – but hard work pays off. Stick to your guns and keep marketing yourself as the designer or decorator you’ve worked hard to become. You will see when you get the callback, you’ve got the job – all the years of hard work will have been worth it!

Written by DDA Member Alix Whyte