What is Interior Design?

Interior design is the business of designing the aesthetics and function of a space. Interior designers are professionals who oversee this process.

Interior designers plan a space based on their client’s needs and preferences. They use computer-aided design programs and work with architects and contractors to supervise the project. The end stages of interior design include finishes, such as wall color, flooring, cabinetry, and furniture.

The History of Interior Design

Define interior design

While modern interior design took off in the early 1900s, the first evidence of interior design dates back to Ancient Egypt. Early Egyptians used animal hides, sculptures, urns, and textiles to decorate their mud homes.

The Romans and Greeks added to the Ancient Egyptian style by using domed roofs on public buildings. They also created ornate wooden furniture, wall paintings, and tapestries. Elaborate decor signified wealth and status.

During the Dark Ages, decor reverted to minimalism through the rise of the Christian Church. Throughout this period, homes with wood panels and simple furniture were standard.

In the 12th century, Gothic style spread through Europe with a focus on deep, dramatic color. But it wasn’t until the 15th century when French architects created homes with beautiful detail, including marble flooring and elaborate woodwork.

After the French Renaissance style came the Baroque period, leading to extravagant and formal decor. The Rocco style followed, which was similar but more feminine. Then, in the 18th century, NeoClassical styles took hold. Neoclassical design features traditional elements that are still common in homes today.

Following the period of NeoClassicism, styles throughout the United States and Europe spread and changed fast. There were ornate Victorian designs, simple Prairie and mid-century modern styles, a focus on craftsmanship through the Arts and Crafts movement, and more. 

While in the earlier centuries, the use of interior designers was reserved for royals and the wealthy, things changed in the 19th century. Middle-class Europeans and Americans had access to interior design, which is still prevalent today.

What is an Interior Designer: Qualifications and Skills

Interior designers work with residential and commercial clients to plan and design space. Rather than only decorating, an interior designer can help with remodeling, using CAD programs, ensuring the project complies with building codes, and working with architects, contractors, and suppliers.

A commercial-based interior designer will help businesses create a professional space, incorporating their logo and colors through the design. There are also “evidence-based interior designers” who plan spaces based on science. These designers are most common for business projects, like healthcare settings.

The qualifications to become an interior designer are not uniform throughout the United States. Instead, each state has different requirements, some strict and others lax.

One of the most common qualifications to become an interior designer is to complete the National Council for Interior Design Qualification Exam (NCIQS). To qualify for the exam, applicants must have an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree or certification, depending on their state. They must also have anywhere from 3,520 to 7,040 hours of experience.

Currently, 25 states don’t require licensure or registration to work as an interior designer. They may, however, limit whether a person can call themselves a “licensed interior designer” or “registered interior designer.”

If you plan on working with an interior designer, research regulations within your state before hiring someone.

The Interior Design Process

The Interior Design Process

While the interior design process can vary depending on the type and scope of project, there are five phases which include:

  • Programming/Strategic Planning
  • Schematic Design Phase
  • Design Development
  • Construction and Contract Documents
  • Construction Administration

Here’s what happens during each phase of the interior design process:

  • Programming – An interior designer will meet with her clients to look at the space and discuss ideas and goals. During this phase, the designer will take measurements and discuss the project’s scope.
  • Schematic Design Phase – The designer comes up with and presents a few ideas to the client. During this phase, the interior designer also researches building and zoning codes. In addition, clients get to look at samples of flooring, materials, and textiles.
  • Design Development – After a decision on the design, the interior designer and client will finalize material and layout choices.
  • Construction and Contract Documents – The interior designer will submit the final drawings with all specifications and then accept bids from contractors.
  • Construction Administration – Construction administration is the same as project management. At this point, an interior designer will oversee the construction of the space, making changes and adapting when necessary.

After these five phases of the design process, final details, such as furniture, will be brought in.

What is Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating

While some use the terms interior designer and interior decorator interchangeably, they are different. Interior designers understand and oversee all aspects of a space, like function, zoning codes, and project management. An interior decorator focuses on styling and the aesthetics of a space. Interior decorators don’t change the structural position of a room.

In many states, interior designers must have a college degree and certification. However, there are no schooling or certification requirements for interior decorators.