What's the Difference

April 1, 2003
Charlotte Laramore

What's the difference

While serving as a consumer member on the Florida Regulatory Board of Architecture and Interior Design, I became acquainted with Sharon Del Bianco, also on the Florida Regulatory Board. Del Bianco is an interior designer and current chair of the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design. I am also the public member on the board of directors of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). I am not an interior designer.From my experiences, though, I do know that the obligation of the interior designer to the client is not only to provide ambience and eye-appeal to interior space, but also to design the space for efficient use and safety. In order to fulfill this obligation, interior designers must have the proper education and training. The public may not consider safety the responsibility of the interior designer; however, this is the primary message that must be sent.From my perspective as a consumer, I have compiled the following questions and answers—posed from a consumer's viewpoint—that explain the difference between interior decorators and registered interior designers.As a prospective client, should I inquire if the interior designer has a valid certificate of registration from the area, or jurisdiction, in which my project is located? Absolutely; many jurisdictions have either title legislation, which basically protects the use of the title interior designer to those who are eligible, or practice legislation, which restricts the practice of interior design to those who qualify. Both forms of legislation are implemented primarily for the protection of the public's health, safety and welfare. Does the length of time a professional has been practicing affect the quality of the services provided?There are many factors involved in choosing the interior designer that is right for a specific project. The complexity, size and specialized nature of a project play an important role in pairing the right professional to the project. What educational background, experience and examination requirements are important to look for in a qualified interior designer? As a professional in a regulated field, licensing requirements are generally a combination of education, experience and examination. For example, Florida requires that education and experience have to total six years with a minimum of a two-year degree in a FIDER-accredited, or equal, interior design program. Diversified experience—such as the Interior Design Experience Program (IDEP)—including consultations, programming, space planning, design analysis, drawings, specifications and contract administration, is also a necessary element of the career path for a professional interior designer. The NCIDQ examination is the third key and helps to determine whether an individual meets the minimum competency standards to practice. Which part of your education and/or experience do you feel was most beneficial in preparing you to provide protection for the public? Both the education and experience were invaluable elements toward the ultimate goal of combining critical and creative thinking for the purpose of improving the quality of the built environment as well as protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.Should I seek an interior designer that specializes in the particular type of work I require and ask what percentage of their practice involves that type of work? Interior design practice can include residential, commercial and institutional types of work. A professional can practice all types of interior design, providing they are qualified as required by legislation in the project jurisdiction. However, given the amount of specific knowledge required for practicing in a specialized field such as healthcare, hospitality, tenant finish, etc., many professionals tend to limit the types of projects they work on. When designing a residential space what are the specific things that an interior designer does that directly relate to protecting the health and safety of the public? The challenge with residential work can be providing solutions for multiple age groups from infants to the aged. Specifically, interior designers can be responsible for making sure that door openings are wide enough to accommodate someone on crutches or in a wheelchair (what if the occupant has an accident or needs a hip replacement?), specifying flooring materials that are slip resistant, ensuring that transitions from one room to another have minimal steps (how about a multi-level home with many toddlers running about?), and specifying materials that meet the occupants' specific needs (interior designers need to be aware if they are designing a space for people with asthma, allergies to dust, etc.).Are there any additional considerations regarding the public's health and safety when designing a commercial interior? Commercial interiors have special requirements, as it is necessary to specify materials that meet or exceed fire codes, comply with all applicable building codes, consider ergonomic impacts, identify proper paths of egress (the way someone leaves a space toward a fire exit) and provide barrier-free design.How does an interior designer protect the client's financial welfare? A well-conceived project can be built more efficiently and economically. Selection of the appropriate products that are durable as well as aesthetic provides a long-term cost effective solution by saving on frequent maintenance and replacement costs. The interior designer will typically estimate and refine project budget costs at several phases of the project in order to ensure actual construction costs are relatively similar to anticipated costs. Thorough drawings and specifications also make it easier for the contractor to accurately price and build the project. Working with contractors, interior designers can help the client end up with a project that meets their needs, working within budget and timeframe.How are fees usually structured?There are a variety of ways that interior design services are billed. The most important factor is that the interior design professional fully explain to his or her client which method he or she is using. Typically an interior design contract outlines the specific services that will be performed for the fee as well as reimbursable expenses and what tasks are considered additional services. The scope of services should be compared with project tasks being performed by other consultants so there is no duplication. Interior designers plan the project with the client. As ideas evolve, changes can be made on paper much less expensively than when construction is underway. Good design sells. A well-designed store attracts customers; a well-designed work environment attracts employees and increases productivity. As the interior design professional specializes in the interior built-environment this focused knowledge can substantially reduce the overall cost of the project. Often one finds that the interior designer's fee is "paid for" by the amount of cost-savings on the project construction.How do interior designers keep current with their practice, and is continuing education necessary in regard to health, safety and welfare issues?Many professional organizations and legislative jurisdictions require continuing education as they feel it is an integral factor in enriching the interior designers'knowledge of health, safety and welfare issues. In addition, interior designers read trade magazines, are informed of new products by manufacturers' representatives, network with other professionals and research required information for new projects. What are some of the ways to inform the public of the importance of interior design and its impact on public safety? The legislatures in many jurisdictions have taken the first step by regulating the profession. Many governmental jurisdictions and professional associations publish consumer information and launch media campaigns to educate the public. However, the financial aspects may eventually do the most to foster public awareness, whether through associated professionals advocating the use of a qualified interior designer or the insurance companies deeming it standard practice.Are there additional things that the interior designer can do to insure the health, safety and welfare of the public?
In addition to detailed knowledge about life-safety codes, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), fire codes, ergonomics and universal design, an interior designer has a technical skill and a practiced understanding of the essential elements of proportion, color, style, balance and comfort. The accomplished professional has the ability to understand scale and knows how to balance and coordinate the elements to create aesthetic harmony for a specialized environment. A qualified interior designer has the education, experience and vision to guide the client through the entire design process, from helping define what they want and need to helping them get the most for their dollar. They create total environments, interiors that satisfy functional needs, are exciting dynamic spaces—and, most importantly—protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.The majority of consumers do not make a distinction between interior designers and interior decorators, mainly because they do not know there is a difference. Consumers that do know that these are two separate professions often use the latter title (interior decorator) because the title interior designer is a relatively new one. When I was appointed to serve on the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design in 1993, the Title Act had just been passed for Florida interior designers. One year later the Practice Act was passed. What has been achieved nationally since then is phenomenal. Additional states have passed legislation that legally recognizes interior designers, and the public is becoming more clear about what constitutes an interior design professional. This work has all been done by people within the profession who set goals and reached them through dedication, determination and teamwork. However, the work to educate the public about the profession of interior design is still a work in progress. Recently I heard several interior designers express how frustrated they become when they hear a client make a statement such as, "Can you call me back later, I am with my decorator," or "Oh hi, I don't believe you have met my decorator." If all interior designers will use every opportunity that arises to promote and publicize the profession, the public will become aware of the knowledge and experience that is required for the protection of their health, safety and welfare.Charlotte Laramore is NCIDQ's public board member. NCIDQ is located at 1200 18th St. N.W., Ste. 1001, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 721-0220

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