Home & Decor

Interior Designer vs Decorator – To Certify or Not To Certify

The Interior Designer vs Decorator conversation/debate has been done to death.  And honestly, I highly doubt that anyone really cares except perhaps the folks holding the certifications.

For me and my (current and future) clients, I’d like to put the debate to rest once and for all.


Interior Designer vs Decorator

Also known as…

To Certify or Not To Certify


As I clearly state on my FAQ page, I am decorator NOT a designer; technically I am an Interior Designer, just not a “REGISTERED Interior Designer”.   What that means IN TEXAS and several other states is that I choose not to sit for the NCIDQ exam.  I use the word “choose” because although my degree is NOT in Interior Design, I still meet the requirements to sit for the exam.  Passing it… well, that’s where continuing education comes into play.  And WE ALL, decorators and designers, should be doing that!


Interestingly enough, IN TEXAS a general contractor DOES NOT require a license.  However, for a general contractor to build homes (i.e. a custom home builder) s/he MUST be licensed and registered through the state as an Architect.


That brings me back to why it does not matter to me or my clients whether I am considered an Interior Designer vs Decorator… Having worked under a licensed custom home builder and general contractor prior to starting my own business in 2003, and having acquired the required experience I could have sat for this test, provided my work experience, and claimed my title (and perhaps joined an organization to add letters behind my name).  I have chosen to not concern myself with the process for these 3 reasons:

  1. I have never had anyone interested in my expertise ask me about certifications.  If anything they ask for references.
  2. I have had no problems completing any project over and above expectations as a result of not being a “registered interior designer” in the state of Texas.
  3. All other things being equal, I have trouble with the concept of a designer in what I call a “loose state” (e.g. ID, KS, NC)  being any different from a decorator in a “strict state” (e.g. GA, FL, TX).


You may be asking yourself other questions such as:

  • Since you’re not a designer, doesn’t that mean you can’t draw up building plans (i.e. for kitchen or bath designs, remodels, new builds or add ons)?  I can draw up the plans; however, I cannot get permits if required.  That licensed custom home builder I mentioned… I run everything through him that requires any building modifications.
  • How is it possible for you to draw up plans that are accurate, to scale, ?  Well, back in the day before my college advisor politely informed me that I was in the wrong major (Engineering), I learned all about CAD and design principles.  Turns out all that is really useful information for me today.


Interior Designer vs Decorator Fast Facts:

  • 26 states REQUIRE successful completion of NCIDQ for Interior Design license and registration.
  • In most of those, the requirement gives designers the right to 3 specific things:
    • right to use the state seal
    • right to legally use terms like “Certified Interior Designer”, “Registered Interior Designer” (TX), and in a few cases just “Interior Designer” (on contracts and LOAs for example)
    • right to pull permits in some states
  • Most, if not all, professional Interior Design organizations have various membership levels – not all levels require the exam or licensure.
  • I have found NO vendors yet that require such specific licensure.  There ARE other requirements though – there are many perks to being in the industry.


Who knows, maybe one day I will decide that I want a different title and multiple professional affiliations.  Until then, as a decorator I will respect my designer friends and even refer clients to them who are insistent on the designer designation.  I will expect the same of my designer friends as well.  At the end of the day, knowledge, skill, and the client experience are more important for Xtraordinary by Design than the title.


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