Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator – What’s the Difference?

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator

Are you planning on revamping your home, but feel overwhelmed by all the terminology used in the home decorating business? You’ve probably heard of ‘contractors’, ‘architects’, ‘ designers’ and ‘decorators’. These are all professions within the real estate industry that would be involved in home renovation projects. 

People generally mix up the terms ‘interior decorator’ and ‘interior designer’, and while some things are similar, they are quite different in nature. In this article, we will explore the differences between them and discuss when they are applicable for a renovation project.

What do Interior Decorators do?

Interior decorators are mainly concerned with the aesthetics of a room. They will use combinations of things like lighting fixtures, furniture and colors to create a visually appealing design.

They take space that is already there, and use these elements in a creative way to match the owner’s preferences, style and personality. Like an artist, they need to understand the visual style and personality of the owner pretty well. 


Because they are not dealing with the structural elements of the space they are decorating, they don’t need official education or training in the field. They just need to have a good eye for detail and creativity.

However, there are courses you can take to help you improve your knowledge of color combinations, types of fixtures,  materials, space and layout planning. Bodies like C.I.D (Certified Interior Decorators International) offer courses and certification to enhance your knowledge of the practice.

Role in renovations: 

They will decide between materials, textures and color schemes of furnishings. They will consult with the owner and choose things like artwork, curtains, cushions, etc.  They will arrange these things in the most aesthetic way. They work with the existing space, and do not change the size and shape of it.

Others they work with: 

Out of everyone, they probably have the closest professional relationship to the owner. Apart from the owner, they work with furniture makers, fabric designers, paint specialists, and other professionals involved with choosing furnishings. 

What do Interior Designers do?

Interior designers are concerned with designing the interiors of properties. They are involved in designing the shape, arrangement and sizes of interior spaces, so they need a more technical understanding than interior decorators. In essence, interior designers need to understand both visual and technical principles, while decorators only need to understand visual ones.


Since they are involved in designing structural elements in a building, they need a more rigorous and formal training than interior decorators. In addition to things like furniture design, they also need skills in CAD (Computer Aided Designing), drawing, layout and space planning. Here in the US, aspiring interior designers will need to take the National Council for Interior Design qualification exam to demonstrate minimum competence as an interior designer.

Role in renovations: 

They will decide on how best to use space, and how much to dedicate to each area. They will have a deeper understanding of technical principles such as lighting, functional design, acoustics, window or door placements. 

Others they work with:

They will work with other professionals who are involved in the technical aspects of construction, such as structural engineers, architects and contractors. 

Which One Should I Choose?

To summarize, the basic differences between interior decorators and interior designers are:

  • Designers are concerned with structural, spatial and visual elements. Decorators only worry about aesthetics.
  • Designers affect the size, shape and arrangement of a living space. Decorators only dress up the space they are given. 
  • Designers work more with engineers and architects. Decorators work more closely with furniture businesses and homeowners.
  • Designers require more formal training, better understanding of technical principles and specialist knowledge. They need to be licensed and registered. Decorators don’t need a license or formal training.

Ultimately, which one you need to choose will boil down to the nature of your project. If there are structural changes involved, you need an interior designer. Ask yourself:

  • Does the size or shape of the space have to be change?
  • Do you need changes made to plumbing and electrical wiring?
  • Do you need to change structural elements like windows and doors?
  • Do you need to remove a wall?

If you answered yes to any of them, then you need an interior designer. If you only need to change furniture styles and color schemes, then you need to choose an interior decorator. Decorators help you with things like:

  • Choosing wallpapers and paint colors
  • Picking color schemes
  • Choosing lighting and other accessories
  • Choosing furniture like beds, chairs, tables, etc.

Since interior designers change vital aspects of your property’s structural integrity, you need to spend more time choosing one. Check their licensing and other credentials. Ideally, you should interview a couple of designers and talk to their past clients to gauge their performance.