Do you enjoy making a space look appealing? Do you have a knack for working with paints, patterns, and textiles? Do your friends and family members always seem to be asking you to help them decorate a particular room in their house? If so, then a career as an interior decorator may be just the perfect path for you to travel. In your capacity as an interior decorator you will not only decorate a client’s home, you will also have to advise your clients on specific aesthetic changes that they can make to their home. You may work with your clients regarding window treatments, furnishings, paint colors, flooring, and surface materials. As an interior decorator it will not be necessary for you to become certified; should you decide to seek certification you will need to complete courses in order to advance to an interior designer. In order to become a certified interior designer it will be necessary for you to take courses related to business and sales, advertising, color design and lighting, accounting, and space planning. While some interior decorators choose to be self-employed, others choose to work for decorating agencies or home furnishing stores. Regardless of which venue you choose to work in, it will be important that you keep up with current trends and that you reach out to clients to offer your services. Research any of the interior design schools listed below.
As you prepare yourself to begin working as an interior decorator it is important to understand that while you do not have to have formal training or certification, some level of training will surely help your chances of success. It is common for aspiring interior decorators to do their own research regarding topics of interior decorating, as well as to complete classes related to this through an online learning format or through a local community college. You may even want to check into vocational education schools to see what courses they offer for individuals interested in interior decorating. As you begin practicing your talents in this area you will want to be sure you keep a portfolio that documents your abilities. This will be a great tool for you to have on hand when you try to land future decorating jobs. Take a few minutes, peruse any of the school sites listed on our website, and request that they send you an information packet relative to your intended field of study. This will allow you to make an informed decision about your educational endeavors. It is common for interior decorators to advance into a career as an interior designer. Other popular professional choices related to this degree program are to become a higher level interior decorator or interior designer.
To some, the idea of making a living as an interior designer seems like a dream job. Those among us with an artistic eye, a love of people, and also a love of beauty, might do well in this field because interior design is the career which marries all three in a perfect trifecta.
But, with many vying for a successful place in this industry, the path to success is a difficult one. The field is very competitive and requires a lot of hard work, dedication and talent!
Not your typical 9-5 job, interior design success ultimately takes three things: contacts, reputation, and talent. All three make for a great platform for success. Having one of these three ingredients is not enough to be successful. It is good if you can begin preparing for a successful career with these three elements in mind.
How To Begin: The Three Ingredients Necessary
So, how to begin? Let’s say you start your journey out with the best of the three ingredients mentioned above—contacts (well, contacts plus a smidgeon of inherent creativity). “Starting out” with contacts means that you happen to be one of the lucky ones born into a social sphere where you Know people, and by people, we mean people with money to spend on interior design.
If you know people who have oodles to spend on the interior of their homes, second homes, businesses, et cetera, then you are well ahead of the game when it comes to networking. If you have this first ingredient, then the other two pieces of the puzzle—talent and reputation—can be developed with little fear of failure. Developing your creative designing ability will be all you really need to do to carve a niche out for yourself in the business. More on that later. Now, let’s say you don’t have contacts; meaning, you feel you don’t really have many rich friends looking to throw $50,000 your way for a bathroom redesign. Well, all is not lost, you probably have more contacts than you know of that can help you get a start in this business. But, if this is you, then you most likely are looking into this career because of one thing—Talent. To you we say congratulations! Creative talent and drive can be the best ingredients for success. The ability to mesmerize and wow clients, and anyone who surveys your work, is what can land you some of the biggest contracts in the long run. Your work will build your reputation for you. But, to get to the point, if you are beginning soley with talent, then you are not off to a bad start. So, we have Contacts, Talent, and then Reputation. We’ve already seen how the first two can make for a positive start in the field, but how might a person begin with a reputation? Well, carrying a well-known family name can help in this business. If you are directly related to someone who has a big name in the industry, then, chances are, their reputation will flatter yours a bit. Think of Julia Robert’s niece Emma Roberts. She got her big start when starring in the movie Nancy Drew, which was all well and good, but one would be hard-pressed to deny that her Aunt Julia’s name didn’t give her own a bit more of a glow in Hollywood. The same can work in the world of design.
A Day in the Life of a Designer
So what does an interior designer do? You may think it is all about paintings, couches, and cushions brought together in room, but really, the field is much more all-encompassing than that. Don’t mistake an interior decorator with an interior designer. Anyone can be an interior decorator. There are no requirements for that job title. You don’t need a degree or a state license or certification.
An interior designer, on the other hand, usually needs both a bachelor’s in interior design and, in some states, a license. An interior designer is someone who produces attractive, fitting designs for a space. Such designs might require extensive construction work which is only then followed by the pretty décor added in. Thus, the job is more difficult than it sounds.
In your career as an interior designer you may be called upon to develop designs for all sorts of spaces: bathrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, entire buildings or even multiple buildings, creating a cohesive look throughout the space contracted. It takes a thorough understanding of space, color, art, structures, city codes, etc. to perform your job competently (ie. what if you want to add a design element that ends up failing city inspection because you built without a permit or violated city guidelines—your client will be looking at a whole lot of wasted money, and you would be left with a less than glowing review with which to attract new clients). Because of the amount of money that is entrusted to an interior designer, mistakes are not acceptable.
You do have to know your stuff! So, where should you start?
In high school, you can get a head start by developing your creative ability. Don’t get hung up on the fact that you may have to eventually know a little bit about construction and city codes—that can wait! Learn as much as you can about art and art history. An interesting aspect of interior design is that trends seem to follow art. Meaning, the art that is popular during a certain period of time, tends to have a heavy affect on the interior design trends of the period. You can learn a whole lot of design ideas and gain a true, tasteful understanding of how to use color in a space by studying art. Also in high school, take advantage of your school’s shop classes. In shop, you can learn how things fit together at a basic level. This can be an invaluable platform for you to build upon when you get out into the field and have to understand building structures and how rooms and spaces all fit together. So, take advantage of the free education you get in high school to get a head start on everyone else! Next, start building a portfolio! Some interior design schools require a portfolio of various art pieces from their applicants. You don’t want to miss out on your dream art school because your portfolio was left till the last minute! Create beautiful pieces of art to show how creative you are. Start with drawing or painting in the style you feel drawn to most naturally and then maybe expand into other styles to give your portfolio variety. The sooner you start the better! Take a chance and try to decorate your own home space or at least create sketches of what you would do with your house if you could. If you have friends who would allow you to do redesigns of their bedrooms perhaps, definitely ask! You can then get a feel for what it is like to create a space that is pleasing to your customer and is something you also can be proud of—this is one aspect of interior design that can be especially difficult for the designer.
Think about it, your clients will be trusting you with, sometimes, a great deal of money, and for the end result to be a success, it has to please both them and you! Sometimes this is difficult if your client’s tastes differ greatly from your own.
During your senior year, save money or apply for scholarships and grants so that you can go to college. Unless you parents or other relatives are helping pay for you education, you will find that the more economically easy school is for you, the more likely you will be to finish up!
Interior design is a competitive field, and in some states, you could earn close to $100,000 if you work for the right people! That being said, you will need to be very good at your job and well-versed in all aspects of interior design in order to obtain a decent salary.
Unless you study under a mentor, perhaps you have an interior designer in your family, you will be hard-pressed to teach yourself everything you need to know to excel in this field.
In addition, in order to be a practice interior design in many states, a bachelor’s degree and license is required! So, to even work in your field legally you kind of need a degree!
What Will You Learn in Interior Design School?
First of all, you will probably start out with a whole lot of design study. You will learn all types of interior design styles, so you can comfortably create designs for a space according to any style that might be requested of you in the future. While you are studying design, you will also be learning to render. Rendering is basically just putting on paper that which you imagine in your mind.
As a designer, when you walk into a space, your mind will go into a million different directions regarding what could be done with it. You might see a grand staircase, welcoming guests to explore all regions of a large, beautiful home. You might see paintings hung in just the right spot, armchairs gracing certain corners, mirrors hung to reflect the lights of a beautiful chandelier, or fireplaces warming the ambiance of a space with sconces hung on either side. However, as much as you understand the beauty that you could and should create in the space your client is showing you, you have to know how to show the client this image, before they start spending loads of cash. You need to be able to share your vision, so that they in turn can give feedback, share personal preferences, or simply jump for joy at all of your ideas and give you the go ahead to to start renovations. Depending on your school’s design program, you may start out with rendering by hand. In this case, you will literally draw, very neatly and beautifully, the design plans you have for a space. If, for example, you are designing a beautiful bathroom, you will need to show where you plan to place cabinets, towel racks, light fixtures, mirrors, tub, and other bathroom furniture. Your drawings need to be clear enough to share with your client a very clear idea about what the end result will look like. The best way to have happy customers, and, ultimately, to get good customer reviews, is to include customers in every step of the design process, which means getting their nod of approval on core aspects of your designs as you go along. Learning to render can help communication be clear, preventing your clients from being surprised or unhappy after your work is complete.
CAD (Computer Aided Design)
After you understand the basics of rendering by hand, you will start using CAD (computer aided design) programs to help you easily create design plans to show clients your vision. Possibly the most popular CAD product used by interior designers is called AutoCad. This program is fairly easy to learn and basically allows you to recreate the dimensions of a room, and then maneuver furniture pieces around in it until you are satisfied with the look. Showing your clients potential designs by way of programs like this is also great because they are able to see 3D renditions of their space rather than the traditional 2D look which provides a different feel.
Design Elements to Think About
What will you learn about design in school? Well, as already mentioned, you will learn about design styles, but you will also get your fair share of color theory, space functionality aka, how to best incorporate functionality into your designs, as well as study on light.
How do you know which colors go best in a space? There are many questions regarding color that you will study and learn the answers to when acquiring all of the knowledge you need to do well in this industry. For example: if a space never gets any warm sunlight, is it a good idea to use cool colors within it? If two colors are opposite of each other on the color wheel, is it a good idea to use them in the same space, or would the clash be overwhelming? And then, will the color inside of a paint can always retain its same hue when placed upon a wall? Knowing the answers to these and many other color questions is what will set you apart from Joe Shmo on the street and allow you to call yourself an expert in a world of people who honestly tend to have very little understanding of all of this. Because you are the interior designer, you will get to paint the world of interiors according to how they should be painted!
Regarding Space Functionality
Creating functional designs is nearly as important as creating beautiful ones. A good designer should be able to make functional designs beautiful. You might compare interior designing to baking a cake. Functionality is the cake and décor is like the frosting. In your studies, you will learn to think about how a space is meant to be used and to then build upon that. A living room’s primary function is entertainment. A kitchen’s, creation. Any decent interior design program will teach you to consider how a space is intended to be used, and then to let all of your creative juices flow from that thought. Colors, furnishings and restructuring all should be designed to meet the needs of those who will be using the space and for how they will be using it. When you understand the intended functionality of a space, all of the rest of the puzzle will fall into place.
Projects in Design School
Once you have a thorough grounding in design styles, rendering, and theory, you will have to complete design projects. These will help prepare you for the real life, day-to-day projects you will do once you are a licensed designer. You will have the opportunity to create designs for a variety of spaces. You may have to design the interior of a hospital, spa, restaurant, or home. Playing with all of these design types will allow you to discover your passion in the field. Perhaps you want to go commercial and design for hotels or other large venues. You will never know until you get a taste of each design type. The one thing that all your design projects will have in common is space. And it is up to you, as the designer, to decide how to best use and decorate the spaces you are provided with in each project. You may have to design for tiny spaces, large spaces, awkward spaces, or outdoor spaces. And each space will have its own unique characteristics that you will need to take into account, as the designer, to best develop appropriate, pleasing, and fitting arrangements. It takes study to understand which colors work best when a room faces south, versus one that faces north. It also takes study to learn how you can pair design elements to make a small space look larger when, say, you are designing the furniture and décor placement in a tiny little bathroom or a New York loft. As you can see, there are many elements to excellent design, which, for the creative, are very fun to study, learn, and incorporate. Interior design is not a cakewalk, but for the creative, it is a blast.
You Have a Degree, What Next?
Getting your bachelors in interior design is kind of like getting your degree in legal studies. Although you really have learned a whole lot and are probably ready to practice, you do still have some more hoops to jump through in order to work freely.
First, Get Licensed
Many states will require some sort of certification to practice interior design. In California, there is a state specific exam you have to pass. Other states that require licensure will usually accept the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.
You may be thinking “Oh, how easy.” You get your degree, and then just take one more test, right? Well, the NCIDQ exam is a little bit tougher than that. In order to qualify for taking the exam, you have to have both your bachelor’s degree and at least two years of experience working in the field, or 3,520 hours of qualified work experience. Because interior design is such a hands-on career, licensing is only accessible for the most part to people who have put in some work “in the trenches.” The field is enjoyable because there is so much activity involved in the day to day, but this is also why the NCIDQ will not just allow anybody to take their exam and become licensed to practice if they do not have real life experience. Even in states that do not require licensing to practice interior design, if you are planning to work for a design firm, licensure will impress employers. Right now you might be thinking, how can I get my 3,520 years of experience if I am located in a state that requires licensure to work? Good question: most states will allow you to work under someone who is already licensed. Or, you can work under a professional in the field who is registered as an architect. Working in the field this way will get you the experience you need and will also help you begin networking and gaining a bit of a reputation.
All of your hard work is now certified and from a legal standpoint, you’re set. At this point though, you need to start building your reputation and certify yourself with projects you can sign off on as completely your own: you need to build a portfolio to show potential clients or employers your style, skill level, and incredible creativity.
Why do you have to do free work after all of the money you put into college and after all of the experience you got while preparing for the NCIDQ Exam? Well, most people are reluctant to hire a person if the person they are paying has nothing to show for their expertise except “a couple pieces of paper.”
So, you may need to take some pro bono projects from friends and family members, or perhaps even from organizations that cannot afford to hire designers at the professional level.
Offering your services for free will allow you to put your creativity to work and build a respectable portfolio.
Create Your Portfolio
When working on these pro bono projects, it’s important to take before and after pictures! The whole point of working for free is for the value those free projects will add to your professional portfolio. Invest in hiring a professional photographer when your projects are complete so that the fruits of your labor don’t fade away into nothing. Create both a virtual portfolio online and also create one in print. The printed portfolio will allow you to have something on hand when potential clients come your way out of the blue and can also help when you are going to interview at design firms (if you do plan to go through a design firm rather than freelancing your work). In this digital world, your online portfolio will be what most likely has the greatest potential for helping you acquire clients. So, create an amazing website, post all of the beautiful work you have accomplished, and market away! Someone once said that you are only as good as your last project; so constantly update your website with your latest projects, so people can see the best of you. This way, you will build a reputation and attract customers. Best of luck to you in your efforts! This field is rewarding, but, like anything great, it does take some work to get to the top.