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  • Agnieszka Chromicz

When to hire an INTERIOR DESIGNER?

In the last few years of my practice as an Interior Designer, I frequently received requests for work, which to a potential client sound like something an Interior Designer should do, but is not always in my wheelhouse. These frequent misunderstandings made me wonder if a clarification what Interior Designers does is in order.

Here is a definition from the Council of Interior Designers: an Interior Designer is an individual who has acquired the expertise, knowledge and skills through a combination of education, experience and examination to create interior environments that meet the requirements of and present solutions to their clients. Sounds great, but this definition is not very specific.

When I get in inquiry for a project, new potential clients typically ask questions like the following:

1. "Can you help me with the materials selection?

2. Can you source new window treatments?

3. Can you suggest what furniture would fit best in my current home?

While all these requests sound like something a Designer should feel perfectly comfortable doing, they are more in the scope of what an Interior Decorator does.

So what is the main difference between these two professions and who should you call for help?


Interior Decorators are not required to have formal training because their scope of work primarily focuses on aesthetics. An Interior Decorator comes on board the project after the structural and architectural changes have been made in the space and he/ she can focus on the decorative aspects of the job. Decorator's expertise can help clients visually transform spaces by deciding on a new style, changing a color palette or by adding accessories or new furniture.

Interior decorating degrees are available at various levels, and some certification programs take very little time. If you are interested in pursuing this as a career, you should look for programs that have been accredited by Certified Interior Decorators International (CID) and/or the Interior Design Society (IDS).


  1. Analyze project needs.

  2. Help client decide on a new direction for their space, whether that means getting new furniture, re-upholstering existing or adding decorative items (such a area rungs, coffee table) or freestanding lighting .

  3. Assist client with selecting a new color palette for the project.

  4. Create new materials, furniture, fabric selection and color palette board.

  5. Contact upholstery workroom and obtain fabric samples.

  6. Work with various trades on obtaining quotes.

  7. Develop decorative plans showing locations of furniture and other freestanding items.

  8. Oversee installation of the decorative items and furniture.

  9. Manage budget and schedule.


To become an Interior Designer you either have to earn an Interior Design or an Architectural degree from an accredited institution or a program and then you have to spend several years working for a registered Interior Designer or an Architect. While apprenticing you learn how to read the blueprints and how to coordinate the architectural drawings with the consultant drawings (such as lighting, mechanical, electrical and structural). That is an important job, since you don't want to design a lighting plan where the ceiling lights are in the same location as the sprinklers. To practice an an Interior Designer, you need to become certified with NCIDQ, which is the only examination recognized by both Canada and the United States.


The list of their services is fairly extensive, but the biggest difference is that they provide services related to the renovations (which can include removal of the interior walls). They can also create an entire set of Design Development and Construction drawings, which serve as an contractual agreement of the scope of work with the GC as well as provide specifications for all the materials. Here is an abbreviated list of many other tasks an Interior Design should be trained to do:

  1. Provide an analysis of your project needs.

  2. Prepare preliminary cost estimate and schedule for the project.

  3. Carry out site inspection.

  4. Prepare conceptual, schematic and design drawings.

  5. Create renderings for your project.

  6. Prepare space planning layouts of the space.

  7. Research materials for the project and prepare a presentation to the client.

  8. Create millwork drawings for furniture or millwork, which is either built-in or freestanding.

  9. Contact manufacturers to obtain pricing information on materials.

  10. Follow up on invoices and delivery.

  11. Research, study and apply building codes and regulations to your project.

  12. Apply for permits with the Building Department.

  13. Review documents with the building department and other other regulatory agencies (as required).

  14. Review drawings with the client at intermediate completion points.

  15. Hire consultants such as: architects, mechanical, structural, HVAC engineers.

  16. Coordinate Interior Design drawings with the architectural, engineering, mechanical, electrical, lighting and plumbing plans.

  17. Evaluate for accessibility compliance and advise how to bring it up to date.

  18. Monitor conformance of work with the design drawings and schedule.

  19. Conduct Construction Administration (tasks such as - review samples provided by the GC, review shop drawings supplied by the millworker).

  20. Visit the site and take notes of work progress and distribute them to the client.

  21. Conduct Project Management- your Interior Designer can be the contact person and follow up on deliveries and coordinate between various trades.

  22. Conduct punch list (deficiency list) with contractor and client.

Who you should hire depends on your project's needs. If you need to make structural changes such as removing an interior wall, or if you want to tear down your kitchen and install a new one, the project will most likely be more suited to an Interior Designer. It is in their set of skills to hire and consult with architects, structural engineers and hire General Contractors.

However, if your project doesn't require any tear down or construction of walls or design of custom millwork or if you are not adding any new building materials, then most likely you will be better off woking with an Interior Decorator. They are skilled with helping you chose new wall coverings, decide on the upholstery for existing furniture, they will also help you source new window treatments, find appropriate freestanding lighting and accessories.

The bottom line is that, choosing the right professional for the job depends largely on the set of skills he/ she possesses and not their title. There are Decorators who are capable of doing the Designer's job, and have many years of experience on site and dealing with the trades. There are just as many Designers who may not have an opportunity to work on projects where there is construction involved.

When you are ready to begin a project and start searching for professionals, be clear with yourself and with the designer/ decorator about your needs and expectations. It's always a good rule of thumb to ask for references, check out their website and decide for yourself if their style aligns with yours. Ask for referrals, they will give you a better sense of what it is like to work with the person and how they handled and resolved conflicts and if they stayed on schedule . Don't be too hung up on the professional's title and ask questions. Here are a few which could be helpful:

  1. How long have you been working in this profession?

  2. How long would it take to complete a project similar to mine?

  3. Will you provide an estimated cost for the project and schedule?

  4. Did you work on all the projects shown on your website and what was your involvement in them?

Here at ACA DESIGN STUDIO, the primary focus of work is Interior Design, but we occasionally take on projects which don't involve construction. If you have a project and are thinking of hiring an Interior Designer to help you your vision, please give us a call. We will be happy to discuss your project needs.

Contact us at or 416-4346-3005


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