Designer vs. Decorator: A Fundamental Difference

What makes a design project different from a decorating project? What makes an interior designer different from an interior decorator? For some, when they hear the words interior designer, their minds immediately jump to their most recent HGTV room makeover show that they binged. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good before-and-after, but there is a fundamental difference between designing and decorating and real life and tv.. The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design explains it pretty perfectly- interior designers may decorate but decorators do not design. Let’s unpack this together to ensure you are hiring or not hiring the perfect professional for your project.

Elevated architecture drawing board with ruler and blue prints scattered


One of the major differences between designers and decorators is the level of schooling required to become successful in either profession. Public and private universities offer associates, bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees in interior design. Decorators do not have these same requirements although there are certificate programs out there to supplement schooling for interior decorators.

White tiles on a white desk, with tile samples and wood samples laid around table


One of the reasons for the higher level of schooling for designers is because they will work closely with architects and general contractors both in pre and post construction. Decorators normally enter a project after the structural and architectural process has been completed. Designers are comfortable with spatial planning and can help design and renovate interiors—from drawing up the initial floor plans to placing the last decorative accent. 

Two women sitting at a white desk in white leather office chairs and large natural light fixture hanging over table

Property Type

Designers don’t just enhance the look; they also enhance the function of a room (The Spruce). Decorators will be hired solely for aesthetic purposes- to ensure the styling of a room is cohesive and that the traits and characteristics of a client are represented. Designers typically work in both commercial and residential spaces while decorators are often seen only in residential spaces. 

Two women working at a white table with white office chairs

So let’s see, do you need a decorator or a designer? Well if you want to tear down a wall, build a new home, or change the layout of a room you hire a designer. If you are looking to simply upgrade a room styling or “look” you hire a decorator. Both are there to ensure that the space you are living in is perfect for you! 

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