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Interior Designer vs. Decorator: What's the Difference?

If you've ever dived into the world of home improvement or interior sprucing, you've probably come across the terms "interior designer" and "decorator." You might have even used them interchangeably, but here's the deal: these two roles are not exactly cut from the same cloth. There are actually plenty of fascinating contrasts between interior designers and decorators.

Setting the Stage

First things first, let's understand what interior designers and decorators actually do.

Interior Designers:

Think of interior designers as the architects of your inner sanctum. They are pros who work on improving how a space functions, ensuring its safe, and, of course, making it easy on the eyes. Interior designers look at the entire layout, spatial arrangement, and structural aspects of a space. But most of all interior designers are responsible for the complete interior vision. That includes everything structural to the finishing decorative details. They dive deep into the owner’s lifestyle, design aesthetic, and goals. They are an important team player along with architects and builders to make sure the interior and exterior match up seamlessly. Interior designers are the brains behind creating layouts, choosing materials, furnishings, and ensuring the place ticks all the building codes and safety boxes.


Decorators, on the other hand, are all about the aesthetics and vibes of a space. Their mission? To make a room look visually appealing and oh-so-cozy. Decorators work within the existing framework and layout, picking out furnishings, color schemes, fabrics, and accessories to create a cohesive, inviting atmosphere. They're the ones who fuss over the finer details like wall art, lighting, and decorative items, adding that extra sprinkle of magic to the overall look.

The Confusion:

Interior designers, especially residential interior designers, decorate. The decoration is integral to the overall design. Without decoration, the space is just a box. It may be a beautiful box, but it needs beautiful decoration to bring the design to life. Interior Designers are also decorators.

The Education

Here's where things get interesting — the background and education of these aesthetic maestros.

Interior Designers:

Becoming an interior designer usually involves earning a bachelor's degree in interior design, architecture, or a related field. Formal education is just the tip of the iceberg — many designers also roll up their sleeves for internships or apprenticeships to gain that all-important hands-on experience. Plus, in some areas, they have to pass demanding exams and obtain state licenses, showcasing their mastery of building codes and safety rules.


Decorators often show up to the design arena with their innate sense of style and an eagle eye for design. They might have taken a course or two or even earned a certification, but you won't find as many decorators who've followed the traditional academic path. Learning comes through real-world experience and the impressive portfolios they build over time.

The Projects They Tackle

The size of the projects these pros take on also differs quite a bit.

Interior Designers:

Interior designers typically handle larger-scale projects, like revamping an entire house or commercial space. They're the ones who work hand-in-hand with architects and contractors, sweating the major stuff like floorplans and structural changes. Their main goal? To optimize functionality and bring out the space's inner beauty.


Decorators often stick to the smaller game — think redecorating a single room or selecting the right furnishings and decor for an existing space. They're all about making the most of what's already there, without getting too fancy with structural makeovers.

The Money

When it comes to the green, let's touch on how interior designers and decorators deal with budgets.

Interior Designers:

Interior designers have a broader role when it comes to managing the budget. They're responsible for divvying up the money across various project aspects, including materials, labor, and contractors. Aside from construction costs, they also work with the owners to determine the cost of furnishing the space. They're like financial wizards, making design dreams come true within the financial realm.


Decorators are the budget stylists. They're confined to the budget allocated for furnishings and decor. While they keep a close eye on the purse strings, they're mainly concerned with picking items that fit the client's style.

Your Dream Team

Whether you're thinking of a complete home overhaul or just jazzing up a single room, knowing which professional to bring on board can make your design journey smoother and more fabulous.

Here are some points to consider when hiring a professional:

  • Will there be any construction work to be done; remodel/new construction?

  • Do you need a design partner who will dive in deep to explore your functional, aesthetic, and long-term goals?

  • Are you looking to collaborate with someone who can create a well-designed solution and communicate it to all involved parties?

  • Are you looking for a design partner to guide you from the planning phase all the way to the finish line of a beautiful interior?

If you said yes to the above, you are looking for an interior designer.

Final thoughts

To add to the confusion; in most states, anyone can call themselves an interior designer. So what do you do?

Ask questions. Wouldn’t you ask any professional you would consider hiring their educational and experience background? Check out their website and social media to see what types of projects they do. Have a conversation. Ultimately, the success of an interior design project will come down to good relationships.


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