Are you interested in not just beautifying homes but also making them easier and more enjoyable to live in? Do you have a knack for kitchen or bathroom remodeling? Do you enjoy arranging and rearranging spaces to optimize movement and utility?
You might want to become a Certified Residential Interior Designer. Though becoming an interior designer often requires 5-6 years of higher education and experience, professionals who work on existing homes and residences have an opportunity to get to work in as little as six months.
Interior Designer vs Decorator: What's the Difference?
Both humans and search engines treat these jobs as synonyms, but there's a distinct difference between interior designers and interior decorators.
Interior decorators choose furnishings and décor to create a desired aesthetic. The results are largely geared towards the visual effect, rather than the functional use of the space.
Interior designers may decorate, but their primary focus is on space requirements and usage goals to meet a client's needs. They tailor the design (and décor) of a space to make it functional, practical, safe, beautiful, and inclusive for the people that use it.
The distinction is more pronounced for interior designers that work in commercial spaces or collaborate on the design of new construction. For residential interior design, the difference between decorator and designer can be less clear. It's more of a spectrum based on the types of services you offer.
What Does an Interior Designer Do?
Think of interior design as space planning in addition to decorating. In a hospital, office building, restaurant, or even a home, the layout of rooms and the arrangement of furnishings can have a huge effect on how well people can live or work safely and make efficient use of the space.
First, interior designers determine a client's goals and requirements for a project, consider how the space will be used, how people will move through it, the occupants' needs, and how the building's shell limits or dictates use of space. Then, they come up with design solutions that take those factors into account.
They sketch design plans for the client, traditionally by hand, but more and more, using computer-aided design (CAD) software. They make suggestions about décor style, color scheme, furnishings, and materials, and refine these choices with the client.
They're in charge of creating project timelines and budgets, then overseeing the process to ensure the project stays on track. You need to know vendors and contractors, be able to negotiate trade discounts, and even design and create bespoke items when the situation calls for it. You may need to work with architects, engineers, and other building professionals.
In addition to design skills, this means you also need project management, networking, and strong interpersonal skills. You may require knowledge of building codes, fire safety, accessibility, acoustics, and other technical or regulatory topics, especially when working in commercial spaces.
Where Do Interior Designers Work?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 27% of interior designers are employed by specialized design services, 22% are self-employed, and 20% are employed by architectural, engineering, and related services.
Most interior designers specialize in a particular type of room or space. Commercial interior designers might specialize in hotels, healthcare facilities, or restaurants and become experts in the unique workflow and demands of those businesses. Residential interior designers might specialize in bathrooms or kitchens.
Some specialties can be applied in commercial or residential settings, including lighting, sustainable design, and accessible or universal design.
How Much Do Interior Designers Make?
According to the BLS, the median salary for interior designers in 2020 was $57,060. That works out to $27.43 an hour.
Income can vary significantly by state, specialty, credentials, and other factors.
How to Become an Interior Designer
What does it take to break into this field?
Do You Need a License to Be an Interior Designer?
Legally, licensing is only required in a few states, including Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Even then, it's only required for unsupervised work in commercial spaces.
Unlicensed interior designers can still do commercial work in these states under the supervision of a building professional with a license, like a licensed interior designer, an architect, or an engineer.
Completely residential spaces don't require licensing or supervision.
Do You Need State Certification to Work as an Interior Designer?
In about half of all states, you have an option of becoming a certified or registered interior designer. This is mainly a matter of title and credibility – it allows you to call yourself a Certified Interior Designer (CID) or Registered Interior Designer (RID).
If you're not certified or registered, most states still allow you to call yourself an interior designer, and you can still do most of the work of one. However, your status may impact your ability to perform specific duties related to building codes, permits, ordinances, regulations, and official documentation.
Most states use the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam to qualify interior designers for licensing, certification, or registration.
Do You Need a Degree to Be an Interior Designer?
A degree never hurts, and it's certainly the safest and most conventional "in." Additionally, you need at least an associate degree, and more often a bachelor's degree, to qualify for the NCIDQ exam.
Depending on who you ask, interior designers who have a degree make between $5,000 and $15,000 more a year than those who don't, but you should balance that against the cost of your education and the years you won't be earning money or direct work experience.
If you don't live in one of the few states that requires certification, the question of whether or not you need a degree honestly depends on the kind of work you intend to do.
Going through the traditional educational, training, and credentialing process is definitely necessary if you intend to work in or on:
- Jurisdiction where certification and licensing is required
- Code-based settings like commercial interior design
- New construction or gut renovation
- Making structural changes to a building
- Drawing up lighting and/or electrical plans
- Specializing in accessibility or environmental sustainability
If you intend to do non-code-based (residential) work without major structural changes, you may be able to follow an alternative path.
How Do I Become a Residential Interior Designer Without a Degree?
If you're not planning to do work that requires an interior design degree, experienced residential interior designers say it's possible to self-educate through a combination of experience, non-degree coursework, and other independent learning opportunities.
Hone your design eye and start thinking about the use of space in people's homes. Observe what works or doesn't, think critically about practical layouts and use of space, and devour all the relevant information you can get your hands on.
You can give yourself a jump-start on the basics by studying for the Residential Interior Design Exam (RIDE), which is sponsored by the Designer Society of America (DSA). It's a path to interior design certification that doesn't require years of education and experience.
Our RIDE certification program is just six months long and has no degree or experience requirements. Your training will introduce you to design basics, space planning, materials, industry regulations, and the reality of working as a residential interior designer. RIDE will serve as your final exam.
When you successfully complete the program, you'll be RIDE Certified, which will make you a stronger job candidate. That's where interior designers agree you'll get your real education – getting hands-on experience and practice.
If you meet certain eligibility requirements, you may be able to participate in an optional 40-hour internship. Even without it, you'll come out of the course with a portfolio to show potential clients and employers.
Graduates of our program also get a free one-year DSA membership that will provide networking opportunities, a free digital portfolio, trade discounts and affiliations, and other tangible benefits.
Look for other courses that can expand your technical knowledge, like training and earning certification in CAD software. We have a course in AutoCAD that will teach you the fundamentals and prepare you to become a certified user.
Best of all, you'll get your training online and at your own pace, which means you can fit studying into your schedule and not vice-versa. Why not get started today?