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Interior Designers: What Do They Do? When Do You Need One?

By Stacey Freed Rise Writer
Feb 3, 2021

Interior design covers numerous areas, from space planning to color schemes, material choices, furniture styles, and placement. There are so many things to think about when renovating or building new. You've probably heard of interior designers but may not actually know what they do. Today, we'll help you sort through the clutter and help you decide whether you need one for your project.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is An Interior Designer?
  2. How Is an Interior Designer Different From an Interior Decorator?
  3. When Is It Worth Hiring an Interior Designer?
  4. Should I Hire an Interior Designer or an Architect First?
  5. How Can an Interior Designer Help You Build a Sustainable Home?
  6. Can an Interior Designer Help if I'm Building a Passive House?
  7. How Do I Find an Interior Designer? 
  8. What Happens at a Meeting With an Interior Designer?

What Is An Interior Designer?

Interior designers design solutions that are safe, functional, and attractive. They may work independently or as an employee of an architectural or building firm. Regardless, projects are most successful when the interior designer collaborates with other building professionals on a job.

Paint Samples

How Is an Interior Designer Different From an Interior Decorator?

Anyone with a sense of style can call themselves an interior decorator. That person may bring excellent skills to the table, but they don't have the formal education required of an interior designer.

In the United States, a professional interior designer holds at least an associate degree and has taken courses in construction, design theory, business and communications. Some states may require an interior designer to take the NCIDQ exam given by Council for Interior Design Qualification. Some states require licensure, particularly for those interior designers working in commercial or code-regulated settings. An interior decorator, on the other hand, does not need to be licensed.

In Canada, interior designers have similar requirements, including a minimum of a four-year baccalaureate (except in the province of Quebec). They must follow educational standards set by CIDA, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.


When Is It Worth Hiring an Interior Designer?

In the past, consumers may have thought of hiring an interior designer as a luxury. But now, there are many points of entry at all affordability levels. "Many interior designers are offering more a la carte services," says New York City-based interior designer Diana Mosher. You don't have to purchase all your furnishings directly from them, which was often the case in the past. You can choose to work with an interior designer on just one room and not a whole house. "They are more open to consulting opportunities."

Now, many designers offer e-design services, where you can pay per room rather than per hour because of the Internet. You might fill out a questionnaire, upload measurements and as-is photographs. An interior designer then responds with a plan, color concepts, and furniture selections. Then, you can purchase products yourself.

Ultimately, an interior designer can save you money by helping you make the right choices and avoid costly mistakes.

Design Planning

Should I Hire an Interior Designer or an Architect First?

You should hire an architect first, particularly if your objective is to build an energy-efficient home. Here's why:

An energy-efficient home will have certain restrictions and requirements to reach peak energy performance. Take insulation levels, says Sandra Leigh Lester, a registered interior designer and certified sustainable building advisor at Affecting Change.

Let's say you choose to insulate with straw bales. "You could lose 14 inches on either side of a room. The thick walls may not leave a lot of interior space, which would affect the interior designer's suggestions for layout." If you had the interior designer first, you would have to double back on work. "You will get the proper space function but not the proper plan for energy performance."


How Can an Interior Designer Help You Build a Sustainable Home?

"Homeowners often start their search on the Internet," Mosher says, but "they quickly become overwhelmed by the number of product, finish and material choices and options and the different approaches to sustainability. And, they can be confused by greenwashing. This is where an interior designer's training and education come in handy."

According to Mosher, an interior designer will be knowledgeable about products and their impacts on society, the economy, and the environment. They will know about a product's off-gassing properties and emissions and how to use new products. "And if they don't know about something, they will be able to research to help you find answers."

House Plan Stamp

Can an Interior Designer Help if I'm Building a Passive House?

Passive House is energy efficient, but not every energy-efficient house is a Passive House. And, if you're building one, you definitely need to hire an architect before hiring an interior designer, Lester says.

Lester says that an architect, particularly one trained in Passive House design, will know about energy balance for the building, insulation levels, and the window-to-wall ratio, which varies according to orientation. "On the south side of the home, you'd want more windows; on the north side, you'd want fewer but enough to let in natural light."

The architect is the person who will make these determinations. While the interior designer may understand the science behind passive house design, they will take what the architect has specified and use the information to "determine the size of the window you want for the view. They'd look at window choices from an aesthetic and style aspect," Lester says. "They might make choices to enhance curb appeal and to enhance access to light within the space and how the window and window coverings affect the interior space."

How Do I Find an Interior Designer? 

You can start by looking at the Find a Pro page of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) website. There, you can search for professionals for residential or commercial projects. Online platforms also have myriad images posted by interior designers, and, of course, you can ask a builder or friends, relatives, and colleagues for suggestions.

Couple Designer Planning

What Happens at a Meeting With an Interior Designer?

When hiring an interior designer, you're establishing a relationship. Start with a phone or Zoom call. Usually, a designer will do a quick consult and ask questions about your space, what you'd like to have designed, the project's scope, what you like and dislike about the space. They'll want to know who lives (or will live) in the home, how they use various rooms, and who the key decision-makers are. They will ask about your communication style, e.g., do you prefer email, texts, phone calls. They may also talk about how they work, e.g., whether they work on the weekend.

They will also give you space to ask questions: find out about their qualifications, ask for references, look at photos. Find out whether the designer has processes and procedures.

"That initial meeting is generally a way of getting to know each other and seeing if there's a rapport," Mosher says. "A good designer will be asking questions that seem like a conversation." If that first meeting goes well, you and the interior designer may sign a letter of agreement that clearly defines the project's scope. "This helps protect the client as much as the designer," Mosher says.

Cozy Living Room

Ultimately, a good interior designer "will have talent and vision and will be able to interpret and enhance their client's style without trying to impose their own style," Mosher says. "They'll have all those creative things down, but they also need to be coherent in their business practices, processes, and communications."

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-26T16:50:05+0000
Stacey Freed

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Stacey Freed

I’m constantly on the hunt for a way to hike and write simultaneously.