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Architect, Interior Design and Decorating: Real Talk

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

I was recently out for coffee with a new friend I made through a networking event.... hmmm topic for another post I think 😏 ok back to my original thought.  So I made a new friend. Yippee, something I always enjoy.

It was at an event hosted by a vendor, something that many designers attend, however typically not many Architects come out.  So to my surprise my new friend is an Architect, very successful and owns her own practice, while also being a mom to 3 littles... so WOW... awesome!  We chatted at this event and had a mutual connection which is fairly typical in a relatively small market that we are in.  We clicked right away and she invited me to get together at her location for a coffee.  I thought great, and you know usually those type of invites end right there, but I followed up and we planned a time that worked for us.

It is funny how in life you meet certain people and you just mesh well, I am excited to get to know her more and it seems like we have a lot of similar thoughts about the industry and perceptions as a whole.  It is something that I have talked about before but it made me think, this needs to be discussed more. I don't think people really value or understand the difference in our roles.

Lets start with the definition of each:


1- a person who designs buidings and advises in their construction

2- a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking

Interior Designer:

the art or practice of planning and supervising the design and execution of architectural interiors and there furnishings


one that decorates

one that designs or executes interiors and their furnishings

Notice the placement of that... Interior Design, right in the middle of the 2.  That is because that is exactly where it belongs. 

I will start by saying Interior Designers are not Architects. Just like Nurses are not Doctors and Legal Assistants are not Lawyers.

Lets start with the BIG item between Architect and Interior Design.  EDUCATION.  Yes there is schooling required for interior design, as well as exams that if you want to be recognized as a professional in the field you will need to take. BUT you can get away without the exams and still work as an "Interior Designer" even if you technically should not be calling yourself that.... more on that in a minute.  BUT FIRST.

Architects, they do there Bachelors degree in Architecture about 4 years, typically followed by there Masters in Architecture another 1-2 years. Then post school they apprentice with an architect, typically around 5 years to FINALLY be able to write there exams where they can actually call themselves an Architect.  SO lets put that together shall we

4 + 2 + 5 = 11 YEARS!!! 

From what I have seen in this industry they are the least valued profession I have ever seen.  Lawyers and Doctors make easily 3 times many architects and yet the level of education is on par.  They are building structures that provide a safe space for humans.  Think about that for a you ever go grocery shopping and think, geeze I really hope this place won't fall in on me. You want to know why that building in all likelyhood* will not fall down on top of you.  It is because an Architect designed it, not only did they design it they constructed it following structural and code regulations and then stamped it with there name, meaning if for some reason it did fall on someone, they would also be liable, and liability like that extends to all parts of there financial life, not just there business insurance.  Although hopefully it would be enough.  But it is important to know the importance of the risk that they take every time they do drawings and stamp them.  Engineers, same deal. 

You might be wondering why I am talking about this, I am NOT an Architect, why do I care?   I care because there are people in our business who over sell there abilities, they write a test, get a BCIN and claim they can do what Architects can do.  No they CAN NOT.  End of story.  I don't want my surgery at a hospital performed by a nurse no matter how amazing and knowledgeable they are.  They are honestly one of the most important parts of any hospital to function, but a nurse is not a surgeon and I think we can all see how we would never want to put our life in the hands of someone who hasn't spent the time to train accordingly. 

People will undermine, undercut and nickle and dim Architects fees because of people who spent a few months studying for a BCIN stamp and may have an background in Interior Design, Drafting or Construction.  But it is very relevant for people to understand that paying for an Architect is worth every dam penny, because you are paying for the knowledge and experience that comes with that and ultimately the safety of the occupants in your building.

I am a professional Interior Designer and I love what I do, I am not an Architect, but I have my place and typically work with Architects on the Interiors of buildings. What is wonderful about our education is we do have architectural knowledge of interiors through education and experience and we are able to assist them with creating really beautiful interiors for building that they design.  Or we work independently on buildings that are being renovated, and bring in Architects if we start touching exteriors or major structural components of buildings. 

The profession of Interior Design is the middle point between decorating and Architecture. We bridge the gap.  A long time ago, decorating was on one end and architecture on the other.  Interiors became more involved then just colour and furniture, there became this need for architectural changes and manipulations to existing spaces as needs changed for users.  This is how Interior Design became the bridge.  It blends the interior architectural knowledge with the decorating history to form its own niche, firmly in the middle.  There is education involved, a 3 year diploma or 4 year degree, then you go to work.  For consistency lets add that up

4 + .... well nothing.

It takes on average 4 years to become an Interior Designer. 

So we are 7 years short of the education required to be an Architect.

NOW.... to get your NCIDQ you do need to work under an Architect or Registered Interior Designer for about 3-4 years.  BUT the catch is you don't have to write that exam in order to actually work as a designer*  However I think it is extremely valuable check out my previous post here:

However you can NEVER be an Architect without writing your exams. 

One of the key reasons for this is the Practicing act versus the Titles act.  As Interior Designers, we are subject (in Ontario) to a Titles act, this means that the use of the title Interior Designer is reserved for those who have successfully completed there NCIDQ ( people who have completed about 6-7 years of education and training followed by passing the NCIDQ exams)  If you have not completed that, you can still work in the industry but you can not legally (in Ontario) use the term Interior Designer, which is why you often see Designer. So essentially a Titles act does not prevent people from working as Designers, it just limits the titles they can use.

An Architect has to follow a practicing act, they are legally responsible for the decisions that they make and are required to follow. You can not practice as an Architect without completing all the requirements including the examinations.  Much like Doctors and Lawyers, there is a much higher standard and liability with what they do. Which is why it is imperative that the laws reflect this accordingly.

There is talk about changing the profession of Interior Design to follow a practicing act here in Ontario, much like that of Florida, where you would be required to be licenced in order to practice the profession.  I am on the fence regarding this because what I currently see in the world of Interior Designers is a group of Registered Interior Designers who have a vastly different level of professional abilities.  I personally know NCIDQ holders, so licenced designers who don't know how to use AutoCad.  I have never met an Architect who doesn't use AutoCad or Revit, it would be unheard of today.  I also know NCIDQ holders who only do fundamentally decorating work, they do very well at it, make a lot of money.  But they do not actually do much Interior Architectural work.  On the flip side I know Interior Designers, who probably missed there calling as Architects, because there technical skills and knowledge far surpass what is required in our field, and I am in aw of them.  Very knowledgeable and talented people.  However on paper anyone with that examination under there belt is "qualified" and I think there is a large grey area.  Even though the exam covers so much technical information, the world of Interior Design is very broad and I think that is what draws most people to it.  The possibilities of what you can do with a degree in Interior Design is endless, there are many many avenues you can pursue, but with that comes limitations in regulation because not all Interior Designers are qualified on the same level.

There is one more area that I want to cover, one that we didn't chat about in our coffee meet up, but one that deserves a little discussion.

Interior Decorating. 

Probably a big frustration for many professional Interior Designers who get mistaken for this often. 

First of all, Decorating is an amazing industry with lots of money to be made.  However lets break down the qualifications for a decorator.


No school, No training, No apprenticeship. 

Now can you go to school for it, yes, do you need to, NO.  If you have a good eye for color, furniture layouts, art and pulling this together, you can very well be the next Sarah Richardson from HGTV and make LOTS of money.  Just FYI, she has a Fine Arts degree, nothing in Interior Design, she is NOT an Interior Designer, although many people confuse her for that.  She is a extremely talented decorator and like I said you can make a  LOT of money if you are good at it.  It is one of those careers that if it pulls at you and you want to give it a go I would say do it!  It is a lot of fun, I personally rarely decorate in my current role as I work in commercial design, with a specialty on corporate offices.  But when I was doing my apprenticeship I worked for a Residential designer and it was a LOT of fun to go shopping and pull together rooms for peoples houses.  I got to work on million dollar homes and see how the other half lived, it was a hoot.  Not my personal calling in the Design world, but it was a great experience.  There is a lot of work and room for growth in the decorating world, it is very much needed and respected as a career choice, but it is not a career that involves education or training to be successful in. Something that can not be said for Interior Design or an Architect. I feel like the media has distorted the understanding of these roles and it makes people under value what they are paying for. 

The main take away is we area all different have different skill sets, education and experience in each of our fields.  They are not the same although they can cross over.

Understanding the value of education and training and how this effects the services you are purchasing are really important to understand. You are not simply building a building, or renovating a space, you are ensuring that building codes and standards are being met when you hire a professional. 

1 Comment

Great post! Really helps me understand the differences.

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