Home Interiors - Clients Guide No1 - Interior Designer / Interior Decorator - What's the Difference?

"Do you do Curtains & Cushions?" As a professional Interior Designer that's the phone call we dread to receive!
It happens more than you may think; I then have to go on to explain (without sounding patronising) what this person really needs is an Interior Decorator, this will then no doubt follow-on with me having to further explain what the differences are between the two disciplines and try to steer them in an appropriate direction.
I don't blame these people for getting the two mixed up; the general public have been feed hours and hour of TV "instant" make-over programmes and continuous glossy magazine features all under the misleading label of Interior Design. Also this has prompted those in the Interior Decoration and Soft Furnishing business to elevate their tile to Interior Designers; again I don't blame them for doing this, it makes good business sense to up sell yourself. But the lines have become blurred as to what these two very different services offer - there is a market for the two approaches, but where confusion resides with the customer this has to be a bad thing!
So here with this Home Interiors - Client's Guide - series of articles I will address the key aspects for client's that have a Interior Design project in mind as to how they should go about searching for a Designer, what to look for, how they work and charge, how to get the best out of them and how a project gets off the ground to become a finished built reality.
Home Interior Design is not to be confused with Home Interior Decoration, as this tends to be only a skin-deep treatment to give a style change or "make-over" to a property. Home/Residential/Domestic Interior Design (whatever one may call it) is a much more fundamental approach to the way you live in a property and how a building can be made to work for the individual owners needs. This will not be just a coat of paint (some new curtains and cushions) it is likely to start with a in-depth rethink at how the property is planned and may involve some considerable changes put in place before one even thinks of decorations.

Interior Designers who specialize in Home Design can be viewed as Interior Architects, and their abilities should cover all aspects of building and architectural work to a property included minor/major structural alterations and building extensions etc. They will go on to cover all the "decoration" elements such as colours, finishes and furnishings, but this is not necessarily the starting point for a project. Kitchens, Bathrooms, Staircases etc are some of the core planning elements that can structurally and technically change a buildings layout; the flow and shape of a property can change dramatically when approaching these areas.
All the technical services that make up an Interior Design project will be undertaken by the Designer; Electrics, Lighting, Plumbing, Heating and Ventilation etc, all are fundamental that need to be design-in at the early stages of a scheme, even if it is just the principles of how these may work. It is becoming even more important these days with the opportunity for client to add-in to their project energy efficiency solutions for the whole building.
Many Clients only have a very basic idea or framework of what they wish from a project; it is however the Designers role to gain that information and drawer out of the Client the full details of their requirements, this then forming the project brief. This can be a very personal experience with the Designer asking questions on how you live now and changes you wish to make to your life style. Be as open as you can as this forms an important foundation for any new design, remember that the Designer is designing for you and not for them, so they need to know how YOU tick!
For most Clients they really enjoy this consultation, as this may be the first time that they have truly thought about their life style and what they really need from the project, apart from a floor, walls and ceiling. A good Designer will have the talents of a "pick pocket", you will not know that so much information has been taken from you until you see the first concept design, and then you will realise that the smallest details have been included that reflects you and your life style.
Personal recommendations are always good, but remember, the Designer has designed for the person who gave you the recommendation, so even if their project is not to your taste this does not necessarily mean that the Designer cannot design to your taste. If they were satisfied that the Designer produced a sound creative solution that matched their brief, then this Designer would more than likely be able to satisfy your project requirements.
Web Sites are a good way of looking at a Designers portfolio of work without making direct contact. Use the search engines and directories to track Designers that are within the broad area to where you live. It is no good having a Designer from Scotland if you live in London, and vice a verse, so aim relatively local of around a 50 mile search radius! Also be aware of companies that call themselves Interior Designers, but are really Home Furnishing companies and they are only really interested in selling from their shop or showroom. Offers of "free design service" will always have a sales agenda behind it. A true Design Consultant will be totally independent of any affiliated retail business and will use the global market to source what is right for your project, no commission or incentives involved.
Professional Bodies such as The Chartered Society of Designers have registers of designers in your area and can be contacted for a list. They also have a web site at you could visit. The Chartered Society of Designers is a body that vets individual designers to make sure they meet a professional standard, it starts with a student quantification "Diploma Member" and then "Member" (MCSD), and the highest level is "Fellow" (FCSD) and you should look for these qualifications or similar from your Designer.
I hope this has given you an insight into the world of Home Interior Design and if you are considering employing a designer is of help as to how to start to make a selection. Part of that selection process will be that first (no obligation) meeting with them; what can you expect to come out of this? Look out for the next article in this series by Chris Page.
Christopher R Page has been active within the Interior Design industry for over 35years with a wealth of knowledge in not only the creative process but its delivery into a three dimensional working reality. As a long standing Fellow of the Society of Chartered Designers he has shared his views and insights on TV, Radio and numerous articles, talking not only about his work but the Design Business in general and its relationship with clients. His well respected design studio is based near Rochester, Kent, UK, where he and his team undertakes all aspects of Commercial & Residential (Home) Design projects for wide and diverse customer base.