Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator: Key Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

While there might be some overlap in the roles of an interior design and interior decorator, these careers often involve different skill levels, tasks and duties. Interior designers create functional and aesthetically-pleasing indoor spaces, whereas interior decorators work with furniture and lighting to decorate an indoor space. Your preference between the two careers depends on your specific creative objectives and interests, and learning more about how these roles compare could help you determine which is best for you. In this article, we discuss an interior designer vs an interior decorator and explain what each role does.

Interior designer vs interior decorator

You might think that the two job titles are interchangeable, but there are substantial differences between interior designers and interior decorators. Interior designers and interior decorators are both creative professionals but use different methods to create a space for their clients. Interior designers usually work for architects to design particular parts of a home for a client. Interior decorators are exclusively concerned with working with what is already built to create a client's desired look. These two careers also differ in education. Here are some of the key differences:

Interior designer's duties

An interior designer's role is to create safe, functional, efficient, comfortable and beautiful interior spaces for their clients. You do this work on an independent basis with an emphasis on improving existing buildings rather than as part of an initial design process. You often have a good amount of experience with interior architecture and the construction field. Common duties in this role may include:

  • designing the shape of a room's walls and floors

  • creating design, style and mood concepts for a room

  • selecting colour schemes and sourcing fixtures and furniture

  • working within a client's vision

  • working closely with architects to create an interior space

  • designing for accessibility and utility

  • adhering to sustainable design/building practices

  • consulting with clients and design briefs

  • creating designs that fit well with architectural plans

  • ensuring all work fits within the client's budget

  • using computer programs such as AutoCad or Photoshop to create design drawings

Interior decorator's duties

Interior decorators plan and create a decoration design for residential homes or commercial settings. You work with colour schemes, lighting and furniture to create an attractive space for your clients. You often supervise tradesmen, such as painters or carpet layers. You do this to ensure the different decorations of a room work seamlessly together. Typical duties in this role might include:

  • inspecting a client's premises to take measurements

  • selling decor items to clients in a retail setting

  • advising clients on the selection of colour, layout, furniture, floor coverings, curtains, wallpaper, paint and blinds

  • providing sketches of designs for clients

  • using computer programs such as AutoCad or Photoshop to create design drawings

  • supervising tradesmen and coordinating the installation and layout of furniture and furnishings

  • ensuring subcontractor work meets quality and safety guidelines

  • keeping within the budget of the client

  • selecting suppliers of materials

Key differences in qualifications and experience

Interior designers and interior decorators often differ in their education and experience. Interior designers tend to get a university qualification whereas interior decorators tend to go through a registered training organisation, such as a Technical and Further Education institute. Here are the different qualifications and experience for becoming an interior designer vs an interior decorator:

Interior designer qualifications

You don't need a qualification to become an interior designer, but it's desirable for many employers. Completing a diploma in interior design is a good starting point for your career. Consider pursuing further study with a Bachelor of Design or a Master of Design to be more attractive to employers. There are plenty of options for you to gain experience in the field, including kitchen design, textile design or design in the film industry. You could volunteer or search for freelance projects. Gaining experience in interior projects and establishing an extensive portfolio of your work is a good way to display your abilities to future employers.

Read more: How to Become an Interior Designer

Interior decorator qualifications

Degrees are advantageous but not essential for interior decorators. Begin your career with a qualification in interior decoration. This could be a Certificate IV in Interior Decoration or a Diploma in Interior Design & Decoration. You could also complete a Bachelor of Interior Design which will help you develop and refine a range decorating and design skills. Continue to work on your portfolio throughout your education with course projects, designs you use in your own home and any industry experience you can find. Temporary assistant roles are your best entry point into the field.

How much do interior designers and interior decorators get paid?

The average annual salary of an interior designer is $78,387 per year. The average annual salary of an interior decorator is $86,975 per year. These salaries are largely dependent on your experience. Whether your clients are residential or commercial, the location and types of projects you work on can also influence salaries. Self-employed interior designers tend to have a larger salary range, earning more or less than the average, depending on a fluctuating customer base.

What skills should an interior designer and an interior decorator have?

Interior designers and interior decorators often differ in their hard skills, such as business and design. Interior designers tend to have more construction and architectural knowledge. Both interior designers and interior decorators use financial skills to keep within clients' desired budgets. Both use adequate computer skills to create quality designs using specific software.

Although their technical skills differ, both roles employ similar soft skills to complete their jobs. Here are a few soft skills both roles utilise:

Communication skills

Interior designers and interior decorators collaborate with their clients and other professionals in the design and construction of their projects. Effective communication skills allow you to easily explain ideas and designs to clients and streamline projects. Using active listening can help you to develop a thorough understanding of clients' requirements.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Problem-solving

Designs occasionally encounter problems during the implementation stage of the process which can set the project back in time and budget. Interior designers and interior decorators both benefit from problem-solving skills that help them resolve situations by making good decisions that can minimise errors. The time and resources available to you for any given project are likely to change, so quick thinking and creative approaches to challenges are key to success.

Creativity skills

Interior design and decorating are very creative careers. They often involve a lot of innovation when trying to create the perfect aesthetics for each specific client. Thinking creatively can allow you to find unique ways to bring a client's vision to life. Trying new things, experimenting with projects in your own time, getting input from other members of the community and doing research may help to develop your creative options.

Attention to detail

Interior designers and interior decorators often undertake many different projects at once. You ensure projects are all completed seamlessly to the client's specifications. It can be valuable to create checklists and plans that allow you to maintain a high level of quality control throughout any project.

Organisational skills

Interior designers and interior decorators usually oversee an entire project. This can include many components that all run smoothly. The most effective way to meet deadlines is to spend some time initially to roadmap the project, anticipate obstacles that may arise and have solutions ready to be put in place. Strategic planning, goal setting and delegation are all good methods of keeping things in order.

Teamwork skills

Having strong teamwork skills can help interior designers and interior decorators when collaborating on design projects. These skills can also help you to develop new processes, communicate with stakeholders and delegate tasks more effectively to other members of the project. Being a good teammate often includes practising empathy, humility and expertise in your area.

Self-motivation

Interior designers and interior decorators often receive little supervision from others. You generally rely on a certain level of self-motivation to ensure you carry out your work effectively and on schedule. Holding yourself accountable for the project's success can help you to stay motivated, as can rewarding yourself for your successes.

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Roles related to interior designers and interior decorators

There are a couple of other job roles that share many of the responsibilities and skill requirements as designers and decorators. They are:

Interior stylist

An interior stylist is an interior decorator who usually doesn't hold any formal qualifications. Your duties are usually less detailed than interior decorators. You're usually hired to style home or commercial spaces before sale or style one-off events like weddings. Interior stylists can be knowledgeable and creative professionals in the industry, though their duties are usually not as broad and elaborate as those of an interior decorator.

Interior architect

It is common to use an interior architect interchangeably with an interior designer. Interior architects are qualified architects who choose to focus on the interiors of a building. You also focus more on the structural and technical aspects of a building, such as lighting and plumbing, rather than design elements like colour schemes. An interior designer is a combination of an interior architect and interior decorator.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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