What’s the difference between an interior designer and interior decorator?

When it comes to home design, the terms “interior designer” and “interior decorator” are often used interchangeably. Both interior designers and interior decorators are talented professionals who can help you transform your home, but they approach the process from different angles. While both professionals can help you enhance the look and feel of your home, they have different roles and skill sets. In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences between interior designers and interior decorators, and why it’s important to understand which one you need for your project.

Afterall, the Napa, Sonoma, and Marin area is filled with interior designers and decorators. How to choose one is a separate blog post entirely!

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator Difference #1: Education and Certification

Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Marin interior designer designs a family friendly and functional home office with custom arched built-ins

A big difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator lies in their education and training. Interior designers are typically trained in the art and science of interior architectural design and have a degree or certificate in the field. Interior designers have a deep understanding of building codes, safety regulations, and construction techniques. They can work closely with architects and contractors to ensure that the space is not only beautiful but also safe and functional. They can also create custom pieces of furniture and lighting fixtures that fit perfectly within the space. 

Interior designers are required to be licensed in many states (but not in California, unless you want to call yourself an “interior architect”). They have undergone rigorous training and have a deep understanding of design principles, drafting, and project management.

Interior decorators, on the other hand, may have a degree in design or a related field, but it is not always required. Certification is also not mandatory, although many decorators choose to pursue it to demonstrate their expertise to clients.

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator Difference #2: Project Scope

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In short, an interior designer is your best choice if you are designing a space from scratch, and an interior decorator is a fine choice if you want to improve upon the space that you already have.

Interior designers are involved in the design of the entire building or home, including the layout, structure, and flow. They are often responsible for coordinating with architects, contractors, and other professionals to ensure that the design is executed correctly. Interior designers work on both new construction projects and renovations.

Interior designers are trained to handle the technical aspects of space planning and interior architectural design. They have the expertise to design an entirely new space from scratch, from floor plans and lighting to color schemes and furniture layouts. They take into account the needs and preferences of their clients, as well as the functionality of the space, to create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing environment. They are skilled in space planning as well as in understanding the technical aspects of lighting, acoustics, and materials. Interior designers are equipped to design an entirely new space, from the initial concept to the finished product.

Interior decorators, in contrast, focus primarily on furnishings and soft goods such as curtains, throw pillows, and rugs. They work with clients to choose the right fabrics, colors, and accessories to create a cohesive and stylish look. While they may make suggestions about the layout of furniture, they do not typically get involved in the technical aspects of space planning.  Instead, they focus on the aesthetics of a space, selecting furnishings and decor that match the homeowner’s personal style. Interior decorators are more concerned with creating a cohesive look and feel for a room, rather than making structural changes to the space. 

Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator Difference #3: Design Approach

Sonoma County interior designer designs a family friendly and functional living room. Beautiful white curtains behind a performance upholstered sectional with a cute dog. A bold custom upholstered ottoman cocktail table finishes the interior design.

Interior designers and interior decorators also differ in terms of their approach to design. Interior designers take a more holistic approach, considering the functionality, safety, and aesthetics of a space. They work to create a space that meets the needs of the homeowner while also incorporating elements of design and style.

In contrast, interior decorators focus more on the visual elements of a space, such as color, pattern, and texture. They may work closely with the homeowner to understand their personal style and preferences, and then select furnishings and decor that reflect those preferences.

While both interior designers and interior decorators are talented professionals, they bring different skill sets to the table. Interior designers are equipped to handle complex design challenges, such as structural changes and building codes, while interior decorators are skilled in creating cohesive, visually appealing spaces.

So, which one do you need for your project - an interior designer or an interior decorator?

Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Marin interior designer designs a family friendly and functional dining room. Approachable and friendly interior designer. Bold blue wallpaper with a vintage sideboard and blue performance upholstered dining chairs.

The answer depends on the scope of your project and your goals. If you’re building a new home or doing a major renovation, you’ll likely need an interior designer to help you plan the space and make the most of your budget. If you’re simply looking to refresh your decor or update a room, an interior decorator can help you choose the right furnishings and accessories to create a stylish and inviting space. 

When hiring a professional for your home design project, it’s essential to consider your specific needs and goals. If you’re looking to create an entirely new space, such as a home addition or new construction project, an interior designer may be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking to refresh the decor of an existing room or simply need guidance on color and style, an interior decorator may be a better fit.

It’s important to note that interior designers are also interior decorators, and vice versa, but they may choose to focus on designing vs. decorating. I’m a firm believer that if you focus on what you love, then positive results will follow.

Don't forget your budget when considering an interior designer or interior decorator

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It’s also important to consider your budget when deciding between an interior designer and an interior decorator. Interior designers typically charge more for their services, as they are involved in the entire design process and are responsible for coordinating with other professionals. Interior decorators, on the other hand, may charge less for their services, as their focus is primarily on furnishings and decor.

If you’re looking for an interior designer OR an interior decorator in the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, or Marin, consider Revelry Interior Design

Revelry Interior Design, interior designer in Sonoma County, Napa, Marin, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Napa Valley

I’m a trained Interior Designer and my passion lies in space planning, interior architecture, furniture design and color selection.

You can book your complimentary Discovery Call with me here.

Until next time!

Dana Feagles

Founder & Principal Interior Designer

Revelry Interior Design 

P.S. Have you read my latest blog posts yet? If not, don’t miss out:

Blog posts coming soon:

My Favorite Sonoma County Interior Designer Shops

My Favorite Marin Interior Designer Shops 

How Much Does a Professional Residential Interior Designer Cost (and is it worth it)?

3 Things you do NOT need to hire an interior designer for (and 3 things that you do)

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