Documentary film producer, Jason Cohn, recently shared one of the primary lessons he learned about interior design while making a film about famed, interior design icons, Charles and Ray Eames, “It’s not a surface gloss you put on a product. When it’s practiced correctly, it’s about problem solving at a deep level.”
As an interior designer with more than 30 years experience, I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Cohn’s assessment of what constitutes good design. Clients and curious friends often ask me what the difference is between a designer and a decorator. My answer often is as simple as: “it’s surface versus substance.” What I mean by this is that a good decorator can help you create a new and beautiful “surface” for your space by helping you decide what color to paint the walls, what type of window treatments to use and how best to position your belongings and furniture so that it is pleasing to the eye. On the other hand, an interior designer is often called upon to go well beyond the surface, which means a designer needs to be able to deconstruct a room and know structurally how to put it back together again—often in a whole new way–so it will function properly. As a designer, my primary duty is to help my clients conceptualize, from floor to ceiling what their space could look like, create the design and then manage the design execution. I love that my work requires me to be both creative and strategic in order to create a space that is functional, structurally safe and aesthetically pleasing to my clients and all who visit their space.
Knowing the difference between a decorator and a designer can save you time, money and a lot of headaches. So remember, if you were thinking about hiring someone to help give your master bedroom and bath a two-dimensional facelift (i.e. change the paint color, buy new bedding, change the furniture placement) then you would be wise to hire a decorator. However, if instead of a two-dimensional facelift, you want to knock out a wall, add some new French doors in place of a window then you are better to hire an interior designer who can consult with you about how to creatively get the look you want and also advise you on what is structurally and functionally possible in your space.
At the end of the day, neither one is better than the other, but knowing whom to hire at the unset of your project is important. The next time you are considering taking on a design project think carefully about the scope of your project, what needs to happen in order for you to realize your dream room or home and then hire the right designer or decorator for the task.