What is Interior Design?

Interior design, often confused with interior decoration, involves the organization and coordination of all aspects of the interior of a space, from paints and finishes to cabinetry, lighting, ventilation and windows, plumbing and fixtures, and creation and placement of non-load-bearing walls.  Interior designers are often tasked with creating a functional, pleasant space for users that also complies with environmental, safety and accessibility requirements.

Certified interior designers are tested on the non-aesthetic aspects of their work and required to maintain their certification with continuing education, so they can be expected to follow all current requirements for the state in which they work. They also work a number of hours under the supervision of certified supervisors.

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New Interior Design Specialties

Interior designers may specialize in LEED certified buildings. The US Green Building Council offers guides for Interior Design and Construction teams to create healthy and environmentally responsible commercial interiors, retail spaces, and spaces that fall under the umbrella of “hospitality” such as hotels and other temporary lodging facilities.

Another quickly growing field of interior design involves Universal Design and Aging in Place. These principles take into consideration the needs of people of all ages and ability levels, to create spaces that can be used by all people throughout all stages of their lives. As the American populace ages, and more people take on the role of caregiver to parents, there will be greater demand for comfortable, attractive homes that can accommodate multiple generations without taking on an “institutional” feeling.

Training for Interior Design

Interior design is a uniquely multi-disciplinary field. This is reflected in the fact that, depending on the school, interior design programs may be located within the fine arts, architecture or construction departments. Students learn color theory, textiles and other surfaces such as countertops, flooring and ceiling materials. They learn to create and read blueprints and coordinate HVAC systems with spaces created to promote good airflow and a comfortable interior atmosphere year-round. Interior designers on major projects must also understand lighting installations, plumbing and fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms, and requirements therein for proper hygiene and access. They may work with contractors, and need to understand and meet local and federal regulations and manage budgets and timelines.

While many interior designers will be expected to keep up with contemporary trends, others will work in more traditional, and even historical, buildings and will need to develop a related knowledge base. Keep in mind that “interiors” aren’t just for buildings—there is a niche, but lucrative, market for those who specialize in designing the interiors of ships (private yachts and cruise ships) and even airplanes.

Interior design training can range from a professional certificate to a PhD, although most have a bachelor’s degree. Accordingly, interior designers’ responsibilities and job descriptions can run the gamut from working in a furniture showroom to designing a retail space to designing a hospital with all the considerations and accommodations that requires. Interior designers can work in the public or private sector, on their own or as part of a group.

Interior designers often work closely with architects and may even be trained in architecture. For this reason, state certification requirements often have an allowance for those certified as architects to be certified as interior designers as well, without going through the entire separate certification process. Aspiring interior designers have many programs to choose from to fit their particular interests and budget and should carefully research local practitioners for their work-study or internship hours.

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

In the United States, the job outlook for interior designers is positive, with expected slight growth—that’s 3,000 new jobs expected to be available in the next couple years.

Median annual pay is $51,000, but this varies widely, of course, depending on the market, the training and experience of the individual, and of course the nature of the work itself.

This is a competitive field. If you want to excel in your field, you will need to find a niche with high demand and learn how to work with the space you are given to meet the practical and aesthetic needs of your clients.

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