Interior Designer vs. Decorator: What They Do and How They Differ

By HomeAdvisor

Updated January 21, 2021

Interior design involves everything about a renovation or remodeling project. It includes the safety and efficiency of the room as well as its comfort and practical use. Decoration covers most aspects after building is complete. It displays a homeowner’s personal style.

Interior designers and decorators fill different roles in home improvement. Here are several ways to distinguish the two, so you can pick the right pro for your needs.

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What Does an Interior Designer Do?

An interior designer helps property owners create a functional, enjoyable room. These pros consider the following details for each project:

  • safety
  • flow
  • space
  • efficiency
  • current trends

They act as a liaison between homeowners and contractors performing upgrades or remodels. They often work on commercial buildings, but many accept residential projects.

Interior Design and Décor

Décor describes additions made after construction, such as:

  • color palette
  • furniture selection and layout
  • creative accents

Interior design focuses on the permanent aspects of the room or building, but many pros in this field also decorate. Since these are two separate tasks, it’s important to ask a pro if they offer decoration.

What Does an Interior Decorator Do?

Decorators help homeowners select attractive elements and furnish a space to suit a theme. Although these pros may not have as much education in design, they have experience in the best ways to dress a room. For example, they may suggest changing furniture layout to improve flow and bring in more light.

Interior designers can also handle décor, but the reverse is not true. A decorator may work in a firm that provides comprehensive services, but many operate as independent contractors. It’s important to know that decorators legally can’t do design. Some pros use the terms interchangeably, and this should be a red flag.

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Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator


Interior Designers

Career development for an interior designer involves:

Interior Decorators

Since interior decorators do not need formal education or licensing, see if they have:

Cost to Hire

The cost to hire an interior decorator or designer ranges from $2,000 to $11,000 for most homeowners’ projects. Designers usually cost more because of their higher level of education and training. They also can offer a larger variety of services.

The price of the project depends on the size of the space and the finishes you select. The cost of materials and furnishings may be about the same whether you hire a designer or decorator.

Where Do Interior Designers or Decorators Work?

Interior designers and decorators work in a variety of jobs. Many pros run their own businesses. Others serve as employees of a larger firm.

Professionals in both fields often do most of their work on-site. Some may have a showroom or studio for clients to select colors and finishes.

What They Work On

Interior Designers
  • Remodel a kitchen or bathroom
  • Expand a reach-in closet to a walk-in
  • Renovate outdoor areas
  • Convert a garage into living space
  • Finish a basement
  • Assist with new construction
  • Add a room or level

Interior Decorators
  • Unify a theme throughout the home
  • Stage a house for sale
  • Decorate a home office
  • Convert a guest room into a nursery
  • Select a new color scheme and furniture for multipurpose room
  • Create a modern living room design

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What’s the Difference Between an Interior Architect vs. Designer?

Interior Architects

The cost to hire an architect runs about $5,200. They:

  • Meet the needs of the entire building.
  • Create the initial plans for new construction or remodeling
  • Require more training and can cost more

Interior Decorators
  • Analyze plans for the new design
  • Consider the project’s safe construction and reasonable use
  • May work with architects to create the blueprints

Hiring an Interior Designer or Decorator

Once you’ve made a decision, it’s time to hire a designer or hire a decorator. Be sure to take the following steps:

  • Check that the pro has the right credentials
  • Get three estimates on your project
  • Follow up on references

Now that you know which pro is right for your project, find local interior designers or an interior decorator near you.

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