ASID Update: It's Time We Mind Our Business

Jan. 1, 2008

Opinions on the issue of interior design licensure should be formed with a clearer understanding of what the profession entails.

By Rita Carson Guest, FASID

Everyday as interior designers we make decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of our clients and their guests, employees, families and friends. To us, it is second nature. Yet now, some lobbying groups are trying to make the case that the work of interior designers has no affect on the health, safety and welfare of the public. We cannot let this challenge go unanswered.

Educated designers know that the specification of inappropriate materials can lead to tragedy in the event of a fire emergency. Compliance with toxicity tests, which measure the amount of toxicity a material omits when it is burned, is required in some jurisdictions. Five people died in a fire in the 1720 Peachtree Street Building in Atlanta in 1989-not from the fire itself but from toxic smoke inhalation. One man was killed so quickly from toxic fumes he didn't even have time to get up from his desk. Interior designers with accredited degrees and supervised experience, and who have passed the NCIDQ exam, are prepared to practice interior design so that these types of tragedies can be avoided.

Earlier this year, George Will, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, wrote an op-ed column entitled, "Wallpapering with Red Tape." Sadly, it is a typical example of the kind of debate we see too often from advocates who do not have a true understanding of the real practice of interior design. Referring to language (taken out of context) in a Nevada statute, Mr. Will states, "Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forefend." He goes on to conclude, "Commercial interests solicit regulations to obtain commercial advantage, as with titling laws ... but government licenses professions to protect the public and ensure quality. It licenses engineers and doctors because if their skills are deficient, bridges collapse and patients die. The skills of interior designers are neither similarly measurable nor comparably disastrous when deficient." I wonder if Mr. Will would like to talk to the wife of the man who died at his desk as a result of toxic fumes from inappropriately specified materials.

Other claims are being made that only special-interest "interior design cartels" want to pass laws to register or license interior designers as a way to eliminate competition from "designers" who do not meet the required qualifications. Lawsuits recently were filed in New Mexico and Texas to challenge Title registration acts that regulate the title of "interior designer" to those who meet the state requirements for registration. The New
Mexico lawsuit was resolved by changing the state law to regulate the term "registered interior designer" instead of the term "interior designer." The Texas lawsuit is still pending.

There is much confusion in the marketplace about what interior designers actually do. Most consumers think of interior design as glamorous and only about aesthetics. We need to help them understand that interior designers have the unique ability to design complicated spaces that are aesthetically beautiful and-at the same time-technically correct to meet building and life safety codes. 

As interior designers, we need to reach out to thought leaders and opinion-makers in the media to educate them about the scope of work performed by interior designers. We must make it clear that there is much more at stake in this issue than who gets to bid on what job. Having our professional qualifications questioned affects every one of us. Share your experiences about how your work protects the health, safety and welfare of your clients with the media, professional organizations, and with clients so that they and the public at large will come to appreciate how interior designers work everyday to protect the precious lives of human beings.

ASID president Rita Carson Guest, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer and longtime advocate for the interior design profession. She is president and design director of Carson Guest, a law office and corporate design firm in Atlanta, GA. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected] , and on the Web at www.asid.org.

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