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These Types Of Interior Designers Are Dangerous

It’s time to share this post about dangerous types of interior designers because interior design as a profession is starting to head into a direction that …


These Types Of Interior Designers Are Dangerous

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Table Of Contents

It’s time to share this post about dangerous types of interior designers because interior design as a profession is starting to head into a direction that worries me and it’s called regulation. It’s not regulation itself but the things that happen as a result of regulation. I want to be a voice and make a stand for the majority of practicing interior designers who are somehow left alone, penalised and marginalised on the outskirts of the industry for no other reason except for that they didn’t get a formal interior design education (such as a degree or diploma) even though they didn’t need one, to practise interior design.

Here is a trick question: Which profession can anyone do for themselves, yet as soon as they describe it as work, they require a four-year degree to qualify? A childminder? No, surprisingly. Plumbers? No, even though they weld with open flames near gas... Electricians (surely?) No, not even electricians require degrees.

I know you guessed it, but you probably can’t believe it. Anyone can decorate and design their own home legally and safely and have done so for as long as humanity has existed, yet as soon as we want to call that “interior design” and offer it as a service to friends or others, in some places around the world, this requires a FOUR YEAR degree and is regulated under title or practise acts (laws that prevent you from using the name interior designer or undertaking the work of an interior designer). It’s these types of interior designers who push for title and practice acts and fight for interior design regulation and legislation who are dangerous, not only to the future of the interior design industry but mostly to the people they are trying to protect (their future clients).

Why are these types of interior designers dangerous? We must start with a few historical facts about the profession of interior design before we can answer this question.

A Brief History Of The Interior Design Profession:

A Few Historical Facts About The Profession Of Interior Design

  • Interior design as the profession we know today (paying someone to decorate a space) is relatively new. Elsie de Wolfe is said to be the first woman to receive payment for decorating a space in around 1908 (although before that, predominantly male architects undertook the role of “interior designer” as part of their architect role).
  • The first formal interior design course (called interior decorating) was offered in 1906 by the Parsons School of Art in New York.
  • In 1931, interior designers formed a formal association in the USA to recognise interior design and decoration as a profession. It was called The American Institute of Interior Decorators (they changed their name to The American Institute of Interior Designers in 1936).
  • Between 1960 and 1970, more professional groups related to interior design started to pop up across the USA. Some were formed as new groups, and others were formed by merging and renaming existing groups. Some of these were: The National Society for Interior Designers (NSID), The National Office Furnishings Association (NOFA), The Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), The Institute of Business Designers (IBD) and The Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER which in 2006 changed its name to The Council for Interior Design Accreditation [CIDA]).
  • In 1974 (NCIDQ), The National Council for Interior Design Qualification was formed to “develop and administer a national interior design qualification exam”. NCIDQ Certification is (according to NCIDQ) “the globally recognized hallmark of a highly qualified interior designer” and certification assures that interior designers are “competent to meet industry standards not only for aesthetics but also for public health, safety and welfare”.
  • In 1982, the state of Alabama in the USA became the first to require registration legislation for Interior Design. Before this, no types of interior designers anywhere in the world needed degrees or qualifications to practise interior design. A Practice Act was granted in 2001; however, in 2007, the court reverted to a Title Act and removed it after it was declared unconstitutional by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2007 (it was, in plain English, seen as unjust).
  • Since then, more states and some countries have followed suit to create title or practice acts across the world, prohibiting aspiring designers from doing the work of an interior designer or using the title of an interior designer. Some places even have laws against calling yourself an interior decorator (yes, selecting furniture or curtains suddenly becomes illegal – in the public’s interest, of course…)
  • Interior design is not regulated in most parts of the world, but in some places (such as some states in the USA, Porte Rico, Canada and Malaysia) there are laws that prevent using the title or doing the job role of an interior designer. (If you want to know more about what title registration means, please have a read of this post before going further: Quiz | How To Become An Interior Designer ).

So now that we know how and when interior design regulation came about let’s look at the arguments these types of interior designers and organisations use for regulating the profession.

The Argument For Regulating The Interior Design Industry

I truly believe that the reasons behind regulation are genuine to improve education within the industry, something I am passionate about myself and the reason why I started an interior design school! However, I feel that this perspective has been lost, and the types of designers who fight for regulation are now using different arguments, inflating the importance of the role of an interior designer, creating discrimination and confusion in the industry. Here are a few of the typical reasons designers argue “for” regulation:

A Few Of The Typical Reasons Designers Argue “For” Regulation:

  • “The object of the Bill is to regulate the practice of interior design in the public interest”.
  • Regulating “Allows state-qualified interior designers to perform additional services related to the practice of interior design as applicable governing jurisdictions deem appropriate, primarily, the voluntary independent ability to stamp & seal construction documents for permit for nonstructural interior design elements.” ASID.
  • “Title acts serve to raise public awareness about the qualifications of professional interior designers. Practice Acts go a step further, requiring individuals to be licensed by the state in order to perform certain professional interior design services.”

This may not seem dangerous and it shouldn’t be, except for the effect of regulation on real humans who start to feel bitter about the fact that they had to go through additional training to other who didn’t have to, causing a rift between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. If you’ve ever searched anything online about “how to become a self-taught interior designer” you’ll have come across a lot of conflicting information as well as insulting and derogatory comments by these types of interior designers who are quick to point out that interior design is dangerous and if you’re not “qualified” you might kill people, your house might fall apart or your home might not be safe to live in.

This article contains fictional examples of some of the comments I have come across. This article is not nor is it intended to be, a full verbatim of account of what was said by these types of interior designers. Identifying personal data and characteristics of individuals as well as the content provided below has gone through the process of anonymisation for the purposes of this article.

Some Typical Comments You’ll See Around The Topic Of Self-Taught Interior Designers

Here are some typical comments you’ll see around the topic of self-taught interior designers alluding to the idea that it might be dangerous to you, to your home and to others to hire someone who hasn’t got a degree or license in interior designing:

Imagine if a ceiling light fixture falls off in a hotel lobby because you knew nothing about bearing loads or if a staircase collapses because you don't know building codes? Interior design is not an artistic field, it's highly technical and it is not possible to do interior design without the proper qualifications. Private clients might not know any better, but no contractor will work with you and you will be putting your clients in danger.

Person 1

Interior designers put in hours of work to learn building codes and how a house functions and learn the detail of a space. Decorators, decorate a space, paint furniture and choose fabrics. A designer designs bathrooms and kitchens and knows how to build a house.

Person 2

Think about it this way, a nurse can’t call themselves a doctor or surgeon without being qualified and the same is for interior designers. Self-taught designers are only decorators who can design minor things but they aren’t legally responsible for people’s safety in buildings, designers are!

Person 3

Interior design is not choosing furniture, choosing paint colours and decorating rooms. Hiring self-taught interior designers means your house will fall apart.

Person 4

Its like calling yourself a teacher when you are really a babysitter.

Person 5

It was many years ago that I first saw these types of comments, and I must admit I thought they were a one-off, but worryingly, I am starting to see a resurgence and many similar comments from these types of interior designers who are starting to compare interior design to engineering and architecture.

If an interior designer is responsible for the safety of building users and requires structural calculation knowledge of stairs and ceilings, that starts sounding very much like an engineer or architect. As a working interior designer and someone trained in both architecture and interior design, I find it very alarming to see these types of interior designers comparing themselves to architects.

Here are just a few of the types of comments you’re likely to read on this topic by these types of interior desingers:

Interior designers are interior architects. There’s a big difference. Interior decorators cannot call themselves interior designers. I’m not sure how an “interior designer” can be self-taught since there are more things to consider than colours, furniture and finishes. People degrade Interior Designers because they are often mistaken for a profession that just chooses colours, furniture, finishes, etc. when in fact they do so much more.

Person 6

Interior designers are on par with architects, and have to know so many clearance and safety measures and laws about building codes. They’re trained in using professional computer drafting programs like AutoCAD and SketchUp, which are industry standard for architects. The details of building codes, construction terminology, communicating with subcontractors and managing project timelines and budgets are more than half of the job of a professional interior designer. It’s so much more than selecting paint colours, tile, flooring, furniture and accessories. It’s no joke being an interior designer.

Person 7

Being an interior designer is like being an Architect, yes, it is an artistic field but it is also more than that. We studied for years, passed exams (like architects and lawyers and doctors do) and look after the health, wellbeing and safety of building users. It’s more than choosing paint colours!

Person 8

There has to be a distinction between being an Interior designer and an Interior decorator since there is no other "Official" title for those of us who have Education Examination and Experience. The term "Interior Architect" is a lot closer to what we professionals do. I went to school for 4+ years. I've taken and passed a test, I know structural construction, I can provide drawings for custom equipment, and furniture. If you are just someone who has a flair for making pretty things, you are a decorator, not a self-taught interior designer.

Person 9

People must not adopt a title they didn’t earn. I’m undertaking an interior design degree and my lecturers say that TV shows don’t show the real interior design. For example, an interior decorator decorates and Interior designers = architects (but we cannot build the plans we make we work with architects and engineers to do the heavy work for us. It’s not all about colour and furnishings)

Person 10

These types of interior designers are dangerous because they are spreading misinformation that interior design is interior architecture, inflating the importance of the job-role of an interior designer and causing real confusion about who clients should hire to undertake regulatory-specific work in buildings.

As someone trained in architecture, I truly believe that there should never be any confusion as to whether someone should hire an architect or an interior designer and these types of interior designers are creating confusion with titles, names, descriptions, registrations, licenses and laws that belittle self-taught interior designers making them out to be dangerous (when we all know, that this isn’t true).

Imagine if you believed these designers’ comments and hired an interior designer to do structural work for you, believing they were qualified interior architects, or worse, the designer themselves, with their hyper-inflated egos, believed they were qualified to do so. This is much more dangerous than the worst thing an interior designer could actually do (like underspecifying the slip resistance on a lobby floor [which thanks to Hollywood movies is common sense] or specifying a heavy light fixture without a pattress [which a builder {who doesn’t need a degree} would flag up before installation anyway]).

A List Of Self-taught Interior Designers

Who are these inferior interior designers, you ask? These supposedly uneducated, self-taught, dangerous, pillow-plumping, curtain-choosing decorators who shouldn’t be calling themselves interior designers are surprisingly among some of the most famous and successful designers in the world (shocking, I know).

I’m not sure how it is possible, but the following list of popular interior designers whom you’ll regularly find on the world’s top designers lists are self-taught interior designers WITHOUT four-year interior design degrees (shh, as far as I know, they haven’t killed anyone yet):

Self-taught Interior Designers

  • Athena Calderone
  • Brian Patrick Flynn
  • Betsy Burnham
  • Joanna Gains
  • Jonathan Adler
  • Kelly Hoppen
  • Martyn Lawrence Bullard
  • Martha Angus
  • Max Humphrey
  • Nate Berkus
  • Ryan Korban
  • Shay McGee
  • Vicente Wolf

It only takes one flick of your wrist to swipe on social media to see that there are hundreds of thousands of successful, “amateur” and self-taught interior designers out there making a legitimate living, minding their own business, not harming a soul – and being attacked by these types of interior designers who believe they are superior because they got a degree in interior design (or interior architecture which is supposedly the same thing…)

Personally I find it frustrating when people misuse the title as I am studying interior design at university and putting a lot of work and effort into it. I don’t want others thinking they can become a self-made interior designer, because they can’t.

Person 11

As an ACTUAL interior designer, I find interior decorators calling themselves interior designers insulting. I have spent a lot of money being taught building codes, colour theory, textiles and design history. If you don’t have a degree you’re a decorator so all of those middle-aged moms and 20 somethings out there calling themselves interior designers are dangerous. Until you have spent thousands of dollars and years of time in a classroom you cannot call yourself and interior designer!

Person 12

You cannot call yourself an interior designer without certification. It lowers the title of people who have actually studied and worked hard to pass exams. It is disrespectful and lowers our status and adds to the stereotype that interior designers just plump cushions, pick paint colours and choose furniture. Which is not true.

Person 13

I suppose if I did a four-year degree that didn’t mean anything, I might act this way too. However, these types of designers are not only bitter, discriminative and condescending, they are supposedly following something called a code of conduct, which requires them to act professionally at all times and avoid making any intentionally false statements, (either written or spoken), that can harm any other designer’s reputation or disparages their character. According to one of the certification bodies’ code of conduct, they also should not be endorsing certification or licensure or misrepresenting anyone who hasn’t got a degree in interior design.

So, these types of interior designers, should really know better…And yet, you can see the divisive nature that interior design registration and legislation creates. Even though the intention isn’t to create division, it does, because even though some designers are able to get these qualifications, many others can’t and this isn’t due to them being lazy or not wanting to study. Many, simply don’t have access to these opportunities.

I was one of these people. There was no-way someone like me (first generation immigrant, on benefits, coming from a non-English speaking family) could get the marks let alone the money to study a degree in architecture which required a final score in the top 98%. I was LUCKY.

I knew I wanted to do architecture but I never thought it was possible for someone like me, so I never entertained the idea. It wasn’t until my art teacher in my final year of high-school made me see that it was worth trying, even if the path wasn’t direct – and I found a way. I made it, but this is not everyone’s story.

I believe I was lucky (not without hard work, debt and effort), but definitely there was luck involved too. Many of these types of interior designers believe that self-taught interior designers choose not to go to university, but this isn’t true. Not everyone is academic (I wasn’t – I received VERY low marks for all of my essays at university, but that didn’t make me an inferior designer!) others cannot afford the time (due to other commitments) and others again simply cannot afford the fees.

Degrees are NOT necessary to undertake the job role of interior designers. They are for architects and engineers in many places around the world but these job roles require different things, and it is important not to confuse them.

One thing I want to highlight is the ability for interior designers to sign off code-related items and pull permits for minor interior retrofits. I feel like the question needs to be asked – how many interior designers does this affect? Is there any real data on the number of interior design companies out there losing huge amounts of profit because they’re doing architectural work but can’t hire an architect to approve the drawings.

Larger companies typically hire architects as part of the team anyway, so this only affects smaller design businesses (I’m guessing). How many interior designers are struggling to make ends meet because architects need to approve their drawings? Isn’t it good practise to have someone check your work anyway (especially if you’re working solo) and isn’t it worth not having extra liability and expensive insurance? I genuinely would like to understand a real situation or person who this affects – if this is you, please tell us about your situation in the comments.

The Argument “Against” Regulating The Interior Design Industry

Considering that the majority of countries around the world don’t regulate the interior design profession, it is surprising how convincing these types of interior designers can be in making you believe that it’s regulated everywhere. I’m sure that in some Canadian states you can’t even buy an interior design magazine unless you’ve got a four-year degree 😊.

So, we now know the typical arguments for regulation, let’s now look at the arguments against regulation:

Arguments Against Regulation:

  • “The legislation is unnecessary because it does not protect the consumer or enhance public safety.” AIA Wisconsin
  • “Arguments put forth by proponents of interior design regulation directly challenge architects and existing state statutory requirements enacted to protect public health, safety and welfare.” AIA
  • “In states that regulate interior design, reducing competition means a bigger payout for elite groups of licensed designers… This shows that occupational licensing does have the intent of their proponents in established industries of limiting competition.” Manhattan Institute Article Interior Design Doesn’t Kill But Regulating It Does

You might say, “Well of course” architects disagree with the legislation; that’s obvious! Maybe? Maybe not? Interior architecture is an established profession. It isn’t interior design. It is interior architecture, a speciality of architecture where the path to qualification requires you to study architecture first to understand building science and then specialise in interior architecture.

To become an interior architect, you must be a licensed architect (not an interior designer). Studying interior design (or even interior architecture) and thinking you’re an interior architect is very dangerous. But why?

Why Are These Types Of Interior Designers Dangerous?

These Types Of Interior Designers Are Dangerous Because:

  • 1. They create discrimination and exclusivity because not everyone can afford the time or money to do a 4-year degree and retrain to become an interior designer, especially designers who are looking to change careers later in life or those who have been unemployed for long periods such as stay at home mothers. Also, it’s common sense; we all know that NO-ONE actually needs a four-year degree to become an interior designer (I prove this every day with my successful mentorship program, and so do the hundreds of thousands of successful self-taught interior designers worldwide).
  • 2. They create an “us and them” mentality and superiority between designers, causing segregation and humiliation of legitimate designers (defaming their character and undermining their hard work).
  • 3. They make the job role of interior design more important than it is, comparing it to interior architecture scaring the public and exaggerating to make a point that they are saving people’s lives and reading building regulations (which tradespeople do without four-year degrees).
  • 4. It makes these types of designers less competitive in the market because they cannot practise in locations outside of their license, which in an online world where anyone (including myself) can design interiors without certification in other countries, makes the title or practise acts irrelevant, even if they are in place. (No wonder they’re bitter and twisted!) and most importantly,
  • 5. They are creating a grey area where interior design and architecture cross over, confusing the general public about the job roles and whom they should trust with structural, legal and regulatory design work on a project.

These types of interior designers who fight for interior design regulation are dangerous, not only to the future of the interior design industry but mostly to the people they supposedly protect from self-taught interior designers.

Diversity In Design Pledge

I am proud to say that I am an interior designer with a degree who is not a proponent of regulation but I work tirelessly to make interior design accessible by providing an alternative pathway into the profession which doesn’t discriminate against anyone due to their education, age, background, gender or ethnicity.

I am proud of my past mentee Rukmini Patel, a successful, professional, self-taught interior designer (link to Rukmini’s website Rukmini Patel | Design For Diversity ) who alongside Kate-Watson Smith (you might know her as the writer behind the famous blog “Mad About The House”), have created an inspiring and important pledge for diversity within the interior design industry.

The Pledge is a three-point Pledge covering “Visibility, Opportunity and Accessibility to help the design industry to become diverse. It is a first step to working towards a diverse design industry and giving brands, businesses and bloggers guidelines on areas they can work on.”

As the CEO of the Interior Designers Business School in London, I am proud to make this pledge and place this badge on our site. I also hope that by creating this post, many more designers worldwide will learn about this pledge, become proponents of it, and wear the badge proudly on their websites, social media and marketing material.

Conclusion | These Types Of Interior Designers Are Dangerous

As an interior designer and a mentor, I constantly tell my mentees that part of our job is helping to educate others on what it is that interior designers do. I feel like these types of interior designers who fight for regulation have the right intention, but the results are very dangerous.

These types of interior designers are dangerous even though their aim is to support education, they’re alienating people who want to be educated, but don’t have the means. They also keep information hidden from the people who need it the most – self-taught interior designers. Please join me in the pledge for diversity, use the hashtag #deregulateID, and help provide freedom of education to interior designers without discrimination.

My intention with this article has been to help raise awareness about what regulating the profession does to the interior design industry. I personally believe that interior design should not be regulated and that a clear distinction between interior design and architecture needs to be made by the profession world-wide. Interior design, including interior decorating, interior styling, interior staging and all other proponents of interiors should fall under the heading of interior design. But for the health, wellbeing and safety of building users’ interior architecture should be just that, architecture with an interiors speciality, not the other way round. Let’s not make interior design illegal. Every day I’m grateful that I can practise and teach interior design. It brings so much joy to designers as well as their clients, let’s work together towards getting the right education to interior designers rather than making interior design something it isn’t.

What is your experience of being an interior designer? Whether you’re a university taught or self-taught interior designer, please share your experiences and stories in the comments. Let’s close this gap and feel proud that we are all interior designers making a positive impact in our client’s lives (whether that’s creating accessible homes, designing oversized chandeliers or plumbing cushions).

If you’re ready to start your dream career as an interior designer, check out our mentorship program here: Online Interior Design Course.

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak is an architectural and interior designer and mentor at the Interior Designer’s Business School that trains interior designers to set up professional and successful interior design businesses and gain experience working on real projects. She is trained in architecture, interiors, business and life coaching and runs her architectural and interior design studio in London UK.
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  1. Avatar of Mairéad Collier

    Great article Jo . Needed to be said. Thank you.

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