One Interior Designer Fights Back


As both a new member to Archinect and a successful student in a respected graduate interior design program, I've been a little dismayed at all the vitriol directed at interior designers in this forum. Thread after thread, I keep coming across comments like "interior designers are stealing our money" and "time was, architects designed their own interiors." Well, time was, sofas were carved out of stone and Frank Lloyd Wright designed rolling task chairs with 3 legs. We live in an age of specialization, in everything from architecture and design to professional sports. Do you sit around on Sundays with a beer in your hand and bemoan the existence of the "third down back" in football or the "set-up man" in baseball? Chances are, probably not (I know I don't). Times change, people, and believe it or not, some of us interior-types don't aspire to be fly-by-night curtain pickers with a degree from Trading Spaces University.

Channels like HGTV and the like have created a monster, a veritable tsunami of late-twentysomethings (sorry to generalize here, but usually women) who come home at night from their ungratifying sales jobs, kick off their shoes, settle into the couch for a night of "Design on a Dime" reruns, and decide that maybe a career switch is in order. The problem is, when they get to school and are thrust into demanding classes covering everything from basic design principles to HVAC, they scratch their heads and wonder when they'll learn which type of dinette set goes best with a mid-century ranch floorplan. These people are not designers; they're decorators, and I agree with the majority of you who believe that they should be given a one-way ticket out of the Western Hemisphere. Anyone with something approaching the correct number of chromosomes can become an interior decorator. Becoming an interior designer requires intense education, examinations, and accreditation (sounds a lot like becoming an architect, no?).

Truth be told, there isn't much difference between me and the decorator types. The only difference is, instead of peeling myself away from my desk jockey gig and tuning in to "Extreme Makeover," I went out and rented "My Architect" and "First Person Singular." I read books about the people in the grainy black and white portraits in the Design Within Reach catalog. I actually paid attention in my undergraduate architecture history classes. Believe me, I thought long and hard about the choice between architecture and interior design, eventually settling on interior design because I felt that I'd rather apply my creativity to the intimate interior spaces in which my clients will live, work, and play. I chose interior design because people like Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, and Marcel Breuer are my heroes, people known far more for what they put into a room than for the buildings they designed around them.

Interior designers are necessary. We're not a necessary "evil," mind you. We're necessary. We're necessary because those of us who are more than simple decorators are more educated and more trained and more skilled about the nature and development of interior spaces than architects. Period.

As an interior designer who has the utmost respect for the art and discipline of architecture, I resent the fact that my reverence for your profession goes largely unreciprocated.

Fire at will.

Sep 10, 06 1:25 am

fair enough...most of the vitriol generated in this forum towards interior designers is when:
-They start DICTATING to the architects what to do on the facades and overall masterplan
- They dont respect the architects' efforts and/or engage in a DIALOGUE with the architects

sadly enough, most interior designers do fall in this mould i just described without realizing the contribution they should ACTUALLY make...

Sep 10, 06 3:48 am  · 

Interior designers are specialized in focus, and often architects want to be generalists and think that they can design everything from landscape to interiors to lighting to signage.

In the end, I think the conflict comes from design control which can be seen as a negative struggle for authorship, everyone wanting control over their own work. The problem I think is lack of communication, all designers wanting their own thing, and failing to work together... In the end, shouldn't interiors, landscape, architecture, etc. all operate with the same understandings and concepts at their root? Maybe even the same aesthetic idea? In the end the building is basically like an integrated "machine"... In order for the design to be done well, everything should work together, right?

There are plenty of architects and interior designers alike who care more about their own egos than the success of the integrated building as a whole... Alot of it comes down to authorship and also fees?

Personally, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for alot of the interior architects, landscape architects, and other design consultants that I've met... but I wish design professions had a better way of working as a cohesive unit rather than dividing up labour... Dividing a project into separate esign units doesn't lend it self to coordinated and tight results... Why can't we forget contractual duties and just let ideas bleed into one another?

Sep 10, 06 4:48 am  · 

the vitriol you are worried about it not directed at interior designers but stupid people who happen to be interior designers...there is a lot of complaining about other profesionals here, including architects and cetera...perhaps you are being over-sensitive?

Sep 10, 06 8:10 am  · 

The problem I have been facing with interior designers is that after coming in late to the project (or being the second designer added to the mix) they tend to want control of the project and dictate to us changes that had already been discussed with the client in detail. We wind up wasting a lot of time revisiting old ideas only to have the client second guess themselves. Worse is when that they then go back to the idea because they have “paid for this expert.”

Other problems are when the designer is being paid a commission of the sale of the furniture and or appliances. At times they will violate code requirements in order to get in that extra workstation. Try being in the argument that the Interior designer said that I can have 25 workstations, why are you telling me I can only have 20? Then the designer claims ”but we haven’t had these ADA issues before? “

Sep 10, 06 8:24 am  · 

I've always loved interiors and almost took that route.

I see far more interiors I love than architecture I love...far, far more. Your profession seems to be much more in tune with reality, too, from the quality publication(s) to the fees. Commissions for furniture are a great example of smart business.

Sep 10, 06 8:43 am  · 

Becoming an interior designer requires intense education, examinations, and accreditation (sounds a lot like becoming an architect, no?).

that is nearly laughable, no in fact it really is laughable. in new jersey the interior design lobby actually tried to get the state to allow interior designers more ability to do "architecture" and further erode our profession, fortunately for us, our lame AIA took a stand and managed to put this down, but i am sure it will rise again.

dsc has this nailed. i am sure this has been said here before, in fact i seem to recall this almost word for word. the architect would deal with the husband and the interior designer would deal with the wife and almost certainly when the interior designer came on board, as dsc has noted, it's at the end of the project or near the end and almost inevitably the interior designer manages to convince the wife to change x,y or z and the wife wants it done and the husband wants to please the wife, because he really could care less about anything but making the wife happy. who looses? the architect.

now this a scenario i am citing, and perhaps not the norm, but this example and dsc's example point out the real issue, where does your role impinge on my responsibilty? furniture, carpet and the things that fill space are much more transitory than the space and change due to client changes, family growth, etc...i have read and heard that architects design the house, and interior designers make it home. this is absurd and should stop.

Sep 10, 06 9:11 am  · 
 ·  1

ok, i take it back. there is some bad vibes directed to interior designers here. ;-)

why the worries over turf?

i have been doing a lot of interiors lately, as do many architects when they first start up shop...and i don't mind if anyone wants to try their hand at my job...competition is a good thing.

me, i love petra blaisse and would seriously love to have the chance to work with anyone of that caliber. problem you guys seem to have is with miscommunication, politics, and unfortunately the misfortune of working with less than stellar designers. but i don't think there is anything inherently wrong with the profession...

mind you i do not believe in separation of functions the way thebristolkid describes either. design works best for me when everyone collaborates...from the start if possible.

Sep 10, 06 10:04 am  · 

hey all,

here is my thought..

trying to set up barriers between what each profession does is simply impossible.. there is overlap between the two (and many others!).

becuase of this, and in an ideak world, we would simply work in perfect harmony. It is all about collaboration and not about trying to define roles. If you are capable of doing what is needed.. do it.. if you need some help.. ask.

ideal worlds are so fun to think about! ha

Sep 10, 06 10:24 am  · 

I have been reading the discussions on archinect for a long time, and waiting for a particular thread to push my buttons enough to force me to post an opinion. I think that this thread wins.

I am appalled at the ignorance of some of you (i assume) architects. sameolddocer, dsc, betadine: have you never had a positive, enriching experience with a co-worker that may have the title interior designer?

In this vast field of architecture there are inevitably specializations, including interiors. Our fields overlap, particularly in firms that have an interior designer on staff- sometimes interior designers work on the exterior side of things, sometimes architects work on interiors. Our fields are not mutually exclusive, the idea is that everyone on a project team works together to do the best possible work. If you have had an experience anything less than this- i am truly sorry.

As an interior designer who has worked a very large architecture firm, and am now about to start a graduate program, I have been thinking a lot about these very issues. I love interiors for the very reasons that have been stated above. I think that these problems that architects have are due to several reasons including: working with interior designers as consultants rather than teammates, the educational system of architects and interior designers, and the culture within architecture firms.

Part of what makes an interior so beautiful is the quality if light and space and how these interact with the program and space plan of a building. that is why we all need to work together, as designers.

Sep 10, 06 11:11 am  · 

to answer your first question, no i have not. i will say this though, the remainder of what you have written is dead on, but i think you miss our point in not realizing that this is exactly what we are saying. i think that your skills need to be brought on during the design process and not after. my point about interior designers wanting more of the architects responsibility is also dead on. when interior designers struggle with a 5 year BARCH, three years of IDP, and nine exams call me and i'll be the first to congradulate you on accomplishment, but until then don't compare the two...

Sep 10, 06 11:23 am  · 

Betadinesutures, how's the view from that ivory tower? The arrogance that you have displayed is exactly the kind of elitist attitude that precipitated this post in the first place. Just what do you think my interior design education consists of? A few night classes a week for 9 months, then they print me out a degree? My masters program is a full-time, year-round, 3-year program. Had I chosen a different program, it would've been FIVE years. For a masters.

Congratulations on your 8-year/9-exam shit-eating journey to architectdom. I'm sure every second of that 5-year bachelors degree was spent in classes related to architecture. I'd be willing to wager that at least a year and a half of that was devoted to such architecturally-vital classes such as "General English Composition" and "Introduction to American History."

Now listen, I'm just screwing around with you here. I don't honestly believe that your education and subsequent internship was easy. I sincerely applaud you and any other architect for having the discipline and focus to enroll yourself in such a demanding program at the age of 18. I wish I'd had that sense of direction at that age. But how does it feel to have your education ridiculed?

Sep 10, 06 12:12 pm  · 

thebristolkid, take a chill pill

Sep 10, 06 12:17 pm  · 

Apparently those conversations in the freshman dorm room about whose major is more relevant to society don’t change as we become working professionals. Ideally architects, contractors, and interior designers would communicate professionally with each other to preserve the integrity of the project, not engage in ego-driven, adolescent arguments over the validity of their profession.

And to that silly comment about gender being specific to either architecture or interior design: One thing architecture and interior design have in common is an ability to challenge traditional gender roles by creating new circulation patterns, in both public and private space. Fluidity of space can bring the traditional arenas together so that maybe the husband and wife can communicate more effectively. Perhaps the wife may want more dialogue with the architect and the husband can ask the interior designer to spec that slick privacy glass into his WC.

Sep 10, 06 12:33 pm  · 


i wonder what ron arad thinks? me i think the pissing contest is funny, but also embarassing.

all i can say is there is always someone better than you are. there is no top at the top, and it don't say much good about you (or our profession) when you piss on someone that you think is below you. or above you for that matter. damn.

i mean sheesh, rem never did no 9 exams or 3 years of idp, nor did zaha or herzog and demeuron...and i am guessing they have done more to define the profession than one betadinesutures....;-) it is what you do that matters, not the degrees, nor the tests you have passed...anyone can become an architect, it ain't that hard, but becoming a good architect is not so easy. same goes for being human...

Sep 10, 06 12:34 pm  · 

Excellent points, all. I never meant to engage in any sort of pissing match about which is better. I come not to trash architecture, but to praise it and interior design on equal levels.

llll, your point about adolescent, ego-driven arguments about the validity of one's profession I think is slightly off. I think it's totally understandable to fight for the validity of one's profession. It becomes adolescent and ego-driven when one fights for the superiority of one's profession. At no time did I ever try to make that point.

Jump's point is dead-on. If you can roll out of bed and design a fabulous building or interior, it doesn't matter how many years of school you did or did not go through to get there. If you're good, you're good. And "good" deserves respect, no matter what the title on your business card reads.

Sep 10, 06 1:25 pm  · 

i would think that since bristolkid brought up the education and testing as though it was some area of commonality, should be commented on. the idea that 9 exams and 3 years of internship has no relation to whether or not that makes a good architect, what it does respond to is this idea that somehow because they can do a number of things that should give them more architect responsibilities. i don't like the idea of having what i do and the time i put into this profession eroded even further.

as for my grammar, history and general spelling - oh well, i constantly try to work on those things and clearly i need help. yes, most of my education was spent on the architecture side of things, and to my detriment in many ways, structurally and construction detailing i am completely naive and have to wrok very hard to catch up.

i will say this in my defense however; much of how a profession is defined, at least for each individual, is by the experiences we have with those in that particular area, hence comments about contractors are nothing new, about structural engineers, mep engineers, the client, the developer and yes the interior designer. i have worked with some, and while some went to reputable programs and are recognized by their organizations, some of those i have worked with were receptionists one day and interior designers the next. hence my view of your profession. of course i am sure you have run into those in my profession that equally ridiculous, like the ones i worked for in the past and to that i say you are right, they suck the life out the profession and no one here will defend them.

i will say this we are part of the reason this problem exists. i finally picked up Zumthor's book Thinking Architecture and just in the little i have read i am starting to rethink what it means to be an architect. having read most Eyes Of The Skin, i am beginning to see what has been lost in our profession is the tactility, smell, color, and sense of architecture. much of this has been cast aside for the expedient and grandiose gestures by those stars we lampoon and admire. i truly believe that architects need to get back to those things we have set aside in order to bring about a more meaningful spatial experience.

one more thing, i wish you lurkers would and hope you will contribute more instead of waiting for a time to pounce, just because a particular notion does not suit you. many times i have witnessed those that come here for one comment and then have nothing else to offer. it's a waste. i want the debate, and i encourage your passion, and i also hope you can educate me more as i again truly believe that we can work together for the benefit of all and not the detriment.

Sep 10, 06 1:30 pm  · 

I think that most of us that have been working for a while at some point in time have been exposed to a really bad interior designer (either in-house or outside consultant) that was more interested in their own agenda (pushing the furniture & finishes that they personally like or get $$$ for specifying, or the latest & greatest AKA untested products/materials) rather than bettering the project as a whole. Hence the vitriol.

Just like there's some awful architects out there, there's some really bad int. designers too.

Architects (particularly good ones that are thoughtful) see a project as a whole and not an assemblage of pieces. Really bad landscape design or interior design/finishes can ruin an otherwise great project. That's why good architects insist on being involved in all design aspects & decisions.

Another sore spot that architects have for interior designers is there's an awful magazine out there called "Architectural Digest" or "Architectural Disgust" as I refer to it. There is hardly anything in that magazine that can be called "architecture" - it's all really bad, waaaay over-the-top interior design crap. I think a bunch of architects need to band together and sue the editiors to force them to change the name of the magazine - it's poisoning the public perception of architects and architecture.

Sep 10, 06 1:48 pm  · 

bristolkid, I agree with you, however, I have yet to meet a designer of any sort that rolls out of bed a genius. That's one thing beautiful about a good desginer, they must cultivate their skill through years of education, travel as much as they can, read as much theory as they can get their hands on... That's what separates us from HGTV decorators.

Sep 10, 06 2:02 pm  · 

You state "Interior designers are necessary. We're not a necessary "evil," mind you. We're necessary. We're necessary because those of us who are more than simple decorators are more educated and more trained and more skilled about the nature and development of interior spaces than architects."

I believe this statement shows a lack of understanding of what architecture is and what an architect does and how she/he goes about creating it. We do not design or decorate the exterior of buildings with no conception of space. The conception of Architecture is intrinsically tied to the nature of space and yes interior space is part and parcel of this definition. This by no means precludes an Interior designer or Interior Architect from creating, adding to or having an affect on the Architecture. It also doesn't stop one from altering or changing the architecture. I believe the disagreements and ill feelings begin when this is done for a new project without any understanding of the intent.

Sep 10, 06 2:13 pm  · 

Fair enough, llll.

Here's my point, we're all united against Betadine's former-receptionists-of-America. Not all interior designers are hacks. I certainly don't aspire to be one. Moreover, the types of interior designers roaming this forum are unlikely to be hacks. And dammit, we have feelings! [/sensitivity]

I'm glad to see that this thread quickly elevated from the pissing match it could've devolved into. Good discussion.

Sep 10, 06 2:16 pm  · 

I guess I am concerned about the interior designer who wants to be an architect.

We had an intern who was completing her masters in interior architecture at a school in Chicago. The internship was part of her degree work as was a thesis. I agreed to be her co-thesis advisor and went down a number of time s tot he school for pinups and working with her other faculty. After graduation she demanded that she be paid more than the other MARCH interns on staff.

I politely reminded her that Architecture, and being an architect, is much more than the design or feel of the space. That is about 5% of what architecture is.

While she could create a nice space on paper, she had no idea how the building would be framed, how to heat or cool the space or how to detail a section. I told her no and that I could not pay her even as equal with the people in an IDP track. The gulf in education was just too much to overcome. In her program there were no HVAC courses, no structure, no professional practice, no concept of zoning, bulk, site design. I was willing to keep her on, she could have made it. She wanted it all now. She decided to leave.

My point is if the design of the space is 5% of the project shouldn’t the designer’s fee (even an architectural designer*) be limited to 5% of the Architectural fee?

* Architectural designer is those who only are interested in the design of the plans and elevations of the project. Creates a pretty picture and walks away. Leaving the program, budget and code search, for others.

Sep 10, 06 2:46 pm  · 

wow, i see i struck a nerve even with the somewhat negative commentary coming from others, and with my capitulation that interior designers when serving as team members and not advisaries can benefit the work of the architect.

somehow you take my experiences and turn it into all-interior designers-are-former-receptionists, i comment i never made and completely distorts what i wrote.

you are turning this into less of a discussion about your necessity and how two very different professions can work together and more into a waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....whining session.

Sep 10, 06 2:57 pm  · 

i've had great experiences with i.d.s and not-so-great experiences.

the time i, as an architect, am most likely to get my hackles up is when the interior designer is brought in late (as was mentioned above) and 'designs' spaces that i think are already designed! anyone should be able to see that this would be taken as an affront. but usually this situation is brought on by the inexperience of the client and not through any fault of the i.d.

there was a flare-up here in ky a few years ago when i.d.s fought to be recognized at an equal level as architects via registration. while a version of official recognition was set up, it had to be clarified that it was not the same thing. until i.d. education and practice includes the same level of responsibility for knowledge of life safety, construction tecnology, structure, and accessibility, it is not something for which the same kind of registration is appropriate.

interior designers are not always necessary. but if it is determined that they should be made part of the design team, it should absolutely be at the beginning, so that they are privy to the discussions relating to the bigger picture goals of the project and their interventions are relevant instead of being detractions or superfluities.

Sep 10, 06 3:01 pm  · 

architect is the god.

anybody disputes that will be punished.

"hey bitch i am gonna hit you with a brick"

spell again. g..o...d..
laugh or cry. architects are the top dogs in building design business. and that includes interiors too.
not all the architects are good designers as not all the interior designers are good. my mother thinks decorators are closly related to architects she is old fashion.

good decarators are royal.

Sep 10, 06 3:15 pm  · 

Ah...nothin' like a good ol' fashion, knuckledragging, reactionary post

Sep 10, 06 3:26 pm  · 

can't we all just get along??

basically, its lame ego that is the problem. if everyone could get over it, learn to work together and everything will be better off...

i think, although working together is a necessity, an equal necessity is to have leadership, and i think in many cases it should be the design architect that fits this role... the reason: they have a broad general view of the building that is beyond the scope of the interior designer's work. that being said, I think the design lead should have the people skills to integrate the team, and I really don't see why an interior designer shouldn't have anything to say about landscape, or lighting, or architecture, and why the architect shouldn't have say about interiors... Why does everybody fight over territory? It's more about ego than about the work...

Sep 10, 06 3:33 pm  · 

I've certainly contributed my fair share of anti-interior designer posts here, so I'll add a bit of why architects feel this way. At one point or another, we end up working with an interior designer that thinks that they can do our job better than we can, and quite frankly it's offensive. If they stayed in their little area and knew that YES, it's really necessary to have that column there, then we would all get along a lot better.

I also have a real problem with 'Interior Architecture' grads. They tend to think they know something about architecture, and from those I've met, they just don't, at least not comparable with people who have really been through architecture school. If you want to bridge the gap, go to architecture school and minor in interior design, don't think that 'Interior Architecture' programs will teach you both.

Sep 10, 06 3:46 pm  · 

Many interior design programs are transitioning to the "interior architecture" moniker to avoid being lumped in with interior decorators.

I agree with bRink's assertion that the architect should provide the design leadership on a project.

Sep 10, 06 3:57 pm  · 
vado retro

i have a problem with those architecture grads who think they know something about architecture.

Sep 10, 06 3:59 pm  · 
Ms Beary

I like interior designers. Until they don't have a clue, which happens. Then I complain. That's it. No biggie. It's a forum. I would love for the interior designers to join us here, and instead of creating threads like this, comment on some threads that interest them. For instance I have had serious problems with an interior designer lately and have posted some of my frustrations, did you see those? Have any comments?

And so on... I agree with trace's comments about enjoying more interiors than architecture these days. I have considered switching since the things I find I am good at about design are the things both interior designers and architects do: function, shape, color, texture, light, composition, relevance, etc. and the things I don't care for are all those OTHER things architects do. I really just don't think interior designers have to deal with as much stuff, and therefore are more "designerly" than architects, where architects are problem solvers and coordinators. THAT is what we want back.

Interior designers got it made. Enjoy the ride and bring some good stuff to the table.

Sep 10, 06 4:18 pm  · 

This is pretty depressing, really.

I dunno. I suppose I complain about architect's that think they can be graphic designers or web designers or even architects that think they can design, but can't.

To each his own, I suppose, but I agree with Strawbeary - them interior designers have it made. Most other design professions have it made, too, as they focus on the 'design'.

Who's profession is more important and who's better? I think it's largely irrelevant but I'd bet more people pay more attention to interior design (good and bad) than they do architecture.

Sep 10, 06 5:16 pm  · 

i know i've seen one for the architects so i thought i'd add this one;

1. "Shop in the Right Store and You May Not Even Need Me."
In many middle-range to upscale stores, such as Bloomingdale's or Ethan Allen, shoppers are encouraged to work with in-house design consultants. While they are paid by the retailer -- and are therefore shilling for the boss -- they are bona fide decorators. At Ethan Allen, most decorators have three to five years of high-end furniture sales experience and 80% have been to design school, the company says. "The big problems that people have in decorating their own homes are the placement of furniture, scale of furniture and combinations of colors," notes Peter Bolton, a Los Angeles designer. "Those in-store services can be very helpful, and they are free."

Aren't you at a disadvantage because you're dealing with a store employee? Well, it's true that your choices are limited. But then, as Bolton puts it: "You're always at the mercy of somebody's taste."

2. "My Title Doesn't Mean Very Much."
Interior decorator is a title that almost anybody can use. There is no governing organization, no licensing requirement (except in Puerto Rico), not even a test to prove that you know your Jacquard from your jack of all trades. Traditionally, decorators limit their services to buying and arranging furniture, fabric and accessories.

Interior designers are the ones who draw up plans and oversee contractors -- and flash impressive-looking licenses. A handful of states require interior designers to pass a six-part test and have two to eight years of education and job experience. Trade groups like the American Society of Interior Designers make a big fuss about this exam. But in many respects, it doesn't amount to much. Sure, the test includes a lot of technical information about such topics as electrical and fire codes. But only in a handful of states does failing the test prevent you from practicing interior design. What's more, because they only oversee the use of a title, most state boards have limited authority. If you call to find out whether any complaints have been lodged against someone, the boards that give out such information -- not all of them will -- generally can tell you only if the person has abused the use of his title, and nothing more.

How can you check out a designer's standing or ethical practices? You might call the ASID to see whether the candidate is still a member or not. But since less than half of all U.S. designers are members of the association, you probably won't find out a great deal -- so check your designer's references carefully.

3. "You Might as Well Use My Estimate as Wallpaper."
Once you've settled on a designer you like and feel you can afford, your first step will be to sit down and go over your budget, with an estimate of how much the job is going to cost. But the fact is, that estimate doesn't mean a whole lot. You're likely to pay 20% more -- at least.

What happens? When designers present their clients with a choice of items -- say, fabrics costing $30 a yard or $50 a yard -- they often don't bother to note that the more attractive option is considerably more expensive than what the budget called for. Some designers will also play to customers' insecurities, assuring them that the job will look unfinished without countless additions and unexpected alterations. "A lot of designers think that if a client says he'll pay $100,000, there's another $20,000 or so hidden away somewhere," notes Joel M. Ergas, a partner in Forbes-Ergas Design Associates in New York City. Caught up in the moment, with the project hurtling toward completion, you may find it difficult to put on the brakes or to switch designers.

You can do a few things to protect yourself. First, before hiring a designer, be sure to ask his references how closely he stuck to his budget. Then feel free at any time to have the designer account for how much has been spent on your job and how that amount compares with the budget. You can also tell the designer that before he spends a cent, you want to see a full proposal with pictures of everything you'll need to buy, and exact prices. Finally, don't just rely on the designer: Keep your own running total of costs. This is a business transaction, after all, not an art project.

4. "You'd Save a Bundle if You Knew How I Set My Fees."
Designers use a hodgepodge of methods to determine their fees. The traditional method of choice, called cost-plus, lets designers buy furniture, fabrics and accessories at a "trade" discount of 20% to 40%, then mark the item back up to around the retail cost, using the markup as a design fee. Another alternative is to charge clients a commission -- usually about 25% to 30% -- on items purchased. These days, however, designers increasingly bill either at an hourly rate or a flat fee; sometimes, they also charge cost-plus or a commission for items they buy for you.

The problem is, your designer's chosen method might not be the best deal for you. If all you want are curtains and carpets for your living room, an hourly rate makes sense. If you're building and decorating a house from scratch, you're better off with a flat fee. And if you just want your designer to purchase furniture, it may make the most sense to go with cost-plus -- as long as you keep an eye on how much "plus" is being tacked on. Sometimes the difference between what your designer pays and what he charges you is huge. Let's say a designer buys an Empire chest of drawers for $1,000, but it is really worth $2,500. "There is nothing wrong with marking it up to that price," maintains Jean Michel Quincey, a New York interior designer. "Why shouldn't he? Particularly if he's spent the weekend looking for it."

As a consumer, you may feel differently. In your initial interview with a prospective designer, make sure he tells you how he charges and whether he'll consider another option. When push comes to shove, most will.

5. "My Bills Are Laden with Hidden Costs."
Though most designers will send you invoices for what they're purchasing, it's easy to hide all sorts of costs by being vague. "Draperies for living room; materials and labor, $3,000," doesn't tell you a whole lot, does it?

The way to cover yourself is to demand details -- lots of details. You should always ask that material costs -- fabric, trim, lining, padding -- be accounted for separately from labor costs. Never let the designer buy anything without sending you a detailed invoice, as well as a picture or sample of the product, the quantity you're getting and the price. Stipulate in writing that the only fees the designer can receive are those you've agreed upon. True, not every designer will agree to these demands, but it's worth asking.

It's a bit more of a long shot, but you could also ask to have copies of all bills from outside contractors sent directly to you. "That way, the designer can't add anything on without going through monumental contortions," says Eleanor Windman, who runs the Rent-a-Decorator service in New York.

6. "It's Not In My Interest to Hunt for Bargains."
Designers may know where the best deals are, but that doesn't mean they'll lead you to them. For one, they don't tend to see that as their job. But in many cases, there may be more to a designer's reluctance to bargain-hunt than that. After all, if he's working on a commission basis, he stands to make more when you spend more.

The same is true when it comes to finding outside suppliers, from upholsterers to painters. Designers usually work with their own team of handpicked "resources," and the designers often collect commissions or fees for the referrals. Sarah Jenkins, an interior designer and co-residential chair for design specialties for ASID, says members of that group are supposed to tell their clients about all compensation they get from outside suppliers. But even if you know beforehand, you may find these outsiders are high-priced. You may be able to assemble your own qualified team for much less.

What can you do? If your designer gets a percentage of everything he buys, consider insisting on a sliding scale. That is, the more the designer spends, the more his percentage cut is reduced. If you're dealing with antiques, you can always have them appraised independently before buying. This helps make sure that neither you nor your designer is being taken for a ride.

As for outside labor estimates, ask the designer for one or two less expensive possibilities. They may not guarantee top-of-the-line workmanship, but that might not matter if, for example, you're decorating a child's room that'll have to be redone in a few years anyway.

7. "You Don't Need Me to Get Big Discounts from Showrooms."
Any designer who picks out new furniture or fabrics for you will probably make the purchases at "trade only" showrooms, where goods are priced up to 50% below retail. Although these showrooms were traditionally the exclusive domain of design professionals, that is not necessarily the case today.

According to Barbara Schlattman, a Houston, Tex., interior designer, many design centers have programs where ordinary shoppers can come to the showroom to be paired up with a designer. The designer will then help you pick out items, often at a discount below the list price. But call ahead to see if the design center near you has a similar program. "Potential buyers might get there and find out they need an interior designer's license card just to get in the front door," says Schlattman.

8. "I Prefer Big Projects, but I'll Take Whatever I Can Get."
It used to be that if you wanted help in decorating your digs, you had few options but to commission a person to buy your furniture, arrange it, organize it and charge full freight for the service. Not anymore. Now, more and more decorators and designers are willing to do some work for some of their normal fee.

Use-What-You-Have Interiors in Manhattan, for example, offers a service in which a decorator comes to your home, checks out the furniture that you already own, and shows you how to make the existing stuff look better. Other decorators are willing to limit their services to consulting on colors and fabrics, recommending tradespeople or even just doing your shopping.

9. "You Have Little or No Recourse If I Screw Up."
Think the worst thing a designer could do is lose your custom-made lamp or crack your favorite ashtray? Those are certainly possibilities. But a designer can do much greater damage than that. "A designer may suggest knocking out a wall that can cause the whole side of a building to collapse," warns Bo Henderson, an interior designer in North Carolina. (He knows first-hand, since he was once called in to resolve just such as problem.)

Unlike home-remodeling contractors, who can be bonded -- that is, they hold insurance policies that guarantee that the work will be finished or damages paid if the job isn't completed -- most designers aren't insured for that sort of problem. Some have what's known as errors-and-omissions insurance to cover problems such as giving bad advice or failing to comply with building codes. But it's a hard sell, because most don't think it's as important as they should, says Marisa McCarthy, manager of ASID Service Corp., a for-profit group that offers insurance to designers.

When problems crop up, clients and designers usually have to work them out themselves. To safeguard against an ugly scene, particularly on larger jobs, you can include a clause in your contract that unresolvable disagreements should go to arbitration. If worst comes to worst, the American Arbitration Association (212-484-4000) can provide arbitrators who specialize in the construction industry.

10. "My Work in Architectural Digest Is a Mirage."
Showplace homes in glossy magazines are great showcases for designers. It stands to reason that they will work hardest to get the best pieces for those deep-pocketed, high-profile clients who can get them spreads in "wish books" such as Architectural Digest or even in the "home" section of regional newspapers. While it's a good idea to peruse your favorite shelter magazines for ideas, remember that there are only so many great pieces of vintage Stickley to go around.

Additionally, the photographs you see in the publications have probably been enhanced in one way or another. "Frequently, the photographer moves a chair or adds a few details because the camera lens can only see so much of the room," says Schlattman, who has had her designs profiled in a number of magazines. "But it's usually not a major to-do."

The same holds for a designer's portfolio photographs. A little fancy lighting here, a few artfully placed flowers there, and you can produce a room that's a whole lot nicer on the page than in reality.

A better approach is to ask for names of clients who've hired the designer and then go see their homes for yourself. That way, you can talk to the references in the flesh -- usually more effective than a phone call for getting honest answers or determining whether the person is someone whose opinion you trust in the first place. Make sure to ask what was done by the designer, and what existed before. You should also ask whether the designer stuck to his budget, and where problems -- if any -- surfaced.

Sep 10, 06 5:23 pm  · 

Strawbeary- that's exactly it. They're so 'designerly' that they think they should be doing the whole design, and I'm just there for technical support! THAT's when the problems happen.

Bristol- interesting. Would you say that Interior Architecture programs are exactly the same as Interior Design programs, just with a name change? Or do they actually skew more towards architecture at all? And do they do a good job of projecting whichever attitude they take towards the students?

Sep 10, 06 5:24 pm  · 

My state is one that requires that interior designers be registered. But my state also automatically allows all registered architects to register themselves as interior designers just by filling out a form. This is because the training and testing required to become a registered architect is considered by the state board to meet and exceed the training and testing requirements for interior designers.

Also, the 4-year undergrad "pre-architecture" curriculum that I completed is one that meets the education requirements of every state that registers interior designers, while it only qualifies one for advanced standing in an M.Arch program but does not alone qualify as the education component for architecture registration.

Because of these situations I have a hard time believing that interior designers are particularly well trained or that they are necessary at all to architects.

My experience with interior designers in architecture firms has been that most are so unaware of structural and spatial implications that they will move bearing walls in order to make floor patterns "even", unless they're locked out of all but the "interior designer" layers of project files, and that they have little understanding of project timelines and budgets - leading them to suggest major, time-consuming, expensive changes to clients at inappropriate points in the project's progress.

Recently I dealt with a residential client's interior designer who was consistently "too busy" to attend coordination meetings with us and the contractor, but who talked the client into a change with major structural implications at such a late point that work had to be demolished - all so that the microwave could appear magically from a secret, remote-controlled compartment... It is of course the client's choice to stop the work and order such an expensive, time-wasting change - but if the interior designer would have participated earlier in the process - as we urged - the backtracking and additional expense could have been avoided.

So, you can continue to insist that you are the exception to the rule, but I'll believe it when I see it. I have yet to meet an interior designer who is an exception to the stereotype - except those who are also trained and registered as architects.

Sep 10, 06 5:36 pm  · 
Ms Beary

I know an interior designer who took that test, she said it was optional and she only did it to put it on her resume.

rationalist - yeh, don't you wish your day consisted of walking around going:
"That's Hot."
"Love it, hate it."

Aluminate, I used to work with a VERY GOOD interior designer, they are out there. I also used to work with one who's "interiors" we paid to have redone they were so obnoxious.

Sep 10, 06 5:49 pm  · 

Rationalist - During my graduate school research process, I found no discernable difference between interior "design" and interior "architecture" programs. It is my assumption that the naming convention is purely cosmetic. In fact, my program is considering a name change.

Aluminate - I can't speak for the majority of interior designers out there, and I'm sorry if you've had exclusively negative experiences. All I can say is, my program is quite extensive, placing heavy emphasis on structure, building codes, construction documents, HVAC, lighting, CAD, and ethical/legal concerns. Now I don't know if that separates me from any other interior designers out there, but I know this: I'll be in school for 2 years before I ever place my first piece of furniture.

Sep 10, 06 6:01 pm  · 

In the firm that i worked at the interior designers bore the brunt of being the support staff while only a few people got to do good "design". I believe that this is true on both sides of the fence.
I also felt that the recent interior design grads knew as much and were just as prepared for the real world as the architectural grads were. The truth is that it can take years to get a decent grasp of the field regardless of whether you have a four or five year degree. Please don't think that just because you hold an architecture degree vs. an interior design degree that you are more important. And don't give me that IDP exam crap. I know countless architects who are not licensed and many interior designers that have NCIDQ next to their names.
As an interior designer my professional goals do not include holding someones hand as i select the paints and fabrics for their home, nor do i want to be treated as a peon by an architect on "their" project. I and my fellow interior designers are quite capable of leading projects on any scale. The interior design department and my ex-firm split its time between interiors and architecural projects. There were also several licensed architects working in the interior design department and to my knowledge, did not have more knowledge, skills, or responsabilities than the rest of us.
I do have some criticisms of the interior design field- I feel that the schools, FIDER, and NCIDQ do not focus enough on the issues that elevate the architectural field to an art form. life safety, ADA, codes are all very important, but it is the conceptual thinking skillls that make the technical stuff exciting. FIDER actually criticized my alma mater for being too "conceptual". That is ridiculous in my opinion.

Sep 10, 06 6:04 pm  · 

i would love to work with a designer that had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything related to materials and finishes, that would be valuable.

Sep 10, 06 6:04 pm  · 

And don't give me that IDP exam crap. I know countless architects who are not licensed and many interior designers that have NCIDQ next to their names.

correction; you know many non-architects that practice architecture illegally, many here, myself included always try and find ways of supplementing our income, but make no mistake i never represent myself as an architect. in fact i go out of my way to align with a licensed professional and make that clear to the client.

perhaps it would go along way if the interior designers would explain their goals? i for one keep thinking about it and i think well perhaps here, and then i think no i want to do that, then i think what about this and no i want that too. so what is it you'd want architects to know and how can you help me?

as for the any scale part, you can't be serious?

Sep 10, 06 6:12 pm  · 

"How can you help me?"

My goal is to be an architect's little helper. Would you like some coffee, Mr. Architect? Can I get you a chair, Mr. Architect? Can I please have permission to select a wall color to adorn your FAB-ulous office space?

Explain my goals? What are your goals, Betadine? Why should interior designers have to prove themselves to you?


Sep 10, 06 6:22 pm  · 
Please don't think that just because you hold an architecture degree vs. an interior design degree that you are more important. And don't give me that IDP exam crap. I know countless architects who are not licensed and many interior designers that have NCIDQ next to their names.

I’ll agree that the freshly minted graduate may or may not be more important. However, the Registered Architect is more important than the designer.

The RA is the one who is legally responsible for the life safety of the building. In many cases the RA is on the hook for 14 years or more. Please correct me if I am wrong but is there any way for a ID to be sued for “professional malpractice?”

Sep 10, 06 6:24 pm  · 

let me ask you something, do you plan on developing your ideas in the ether of space or in architectural space? will you be decorating some flowing plain or the living area i design? are you nuts? you're insulted? i am taken aback by your naivete. i think if you want to prove that you are different than most other inferior designers, then you need to get a grip, put down the tude and realize in the end YOU are helping me help the client realize their expectations. if you think anything else, then shut up and get me that swatch i've been asking for and clean the materials library.

Sep 10, 06 6:44 pm  · 

I think I just got Colonel Jessep to admit he ordered the Code Red.

Sep 10, 06 6:52 pm  · 

I haven't heard about any IDs being sued lately for a bad color scheme :)

Sep 10, 06 6:56 pm  · 

hey look, every other person on here has been saying the same thing and you seem irritated by my honesty, so you're goddamn right i order the code red, because you see son we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be designed by architects with licenses. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Interiror Designers and you curse the Architect. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that an Interior Designer's exclusion, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty... We use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a person who designs and exists under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up an BARCH and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

Sep 10, 06 7:01 pm  · 


You beat me to the "you want me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall" joke.

Well done.

Sep 10, 06 7:06 pm  · 

ok, this went from depressing to amusing...:-)

Well, still sad, but amusing nonetheless.

Sep 10, 06 8:38 pm  · 
vado retro
Sep 10, 06 9:01 pm  · 

i have seen your conversation in this thread disentegrate into careless, out of control babble that does not make for good "discussion". Please keep your sanity and please, do say thank you and please go on your way.

Sep 10, 06 9:44 pm  · 

I might be in a position to offer some perspective here, so if I may attempt to do so.....

I am a non-licensed female architect. I am an anomaly in my company which, although almost 50-50 male-female, is also divided by gender along professional lines: all the guys are architects and all the other women are interior designers. We also work primarily in a market sector that requires a lot more interiors work than a normal architecture firm deals with regularly. We are, as I like to say, not a "normal" architecture and interior design firm.

Everyone in charge at my company are architects, i.e. men. However, everyone who has an interest in learning about new products and meeting with reps are interior designers (and myself) i.e., all women.

Whenever I suggest a lunch 'n learn to discuss a new program or practice our illustrator skills, 9 times out of 10, the women are the ones that show up. The men sometimes respond but usually end up at a sports bar watching basketball, hockey, etc. (including one principal). Often times another one isn't even there because he is off on a golf trip, or something of that nature.

The women are predominantly the ones who select materials, and do renderings and space planning, and do a good job of it. The men end up being the ones who decide what stays and what goes in a design, since they sign the drawings and are the project managers. Much of the time this leaves the IDs feeling subordinate and like they have no one to talk to about some of the assinine things that the guys say or do (side bar: we're not going to even get into some of the stupid shit my coworkers say that could get us sued). What ends up happening is that they come and talk to me about stuff because they know that I don't mind speaking up to the guys (being an architect), and then I do, and I also mention that I am trying to provide a female perspective, and they get offended, and I usually getting myself in trouble. I don't mind.

I also work frequently with one interior designer who is younger than me, and I have to admit, while I am busy learning the ins and outs of being a PM, she is the one who deals with the drawings constantly, and she does a great job of keeping me appraised of any issues we might have.

Essentially this has resulted in a number of things happening on my end:
1) Me gaining a lot of respect for interior designers.
2) Me realizing that just because you run a place, that doesn't mean you know what you are doing or can be trusted professionally.
3) Me coming to a better understanding of my role as an architect and realizing that the only way I will truly become competent is if I leave this particular company and get more experience elsewhere.

I should also mention that with regards to interior education, I suspect that some programs are probably weak, but I went to the University of Cincinnati. At the #1 ranked Interior's program in the country, the interior designers often produced work that surpassed architects in imagination, and could frequently be found studying specifications or codes while we were taking a fluff theory class. Please don't start in about the rankings, I just brought that up for perspective.

That being said, i do think there is a distinction between the roles that interiors and architects should play in a project. It seems to me that the people of one distinction who have had a negative experience with people of another distinction have all dealt with someone who either didn't understand their responsibility, or did, and just didn't care/was a know-it-all.

You just can't go around generalizing. This is hard for me to say because I draw generalizations all the helps me to understand the world. But I know a lot of good interiors and architects (at other firms, lol) and I think those people deserve all the certifications or registrations that are available to them.

Sorry for the long post. Moral of the story, work with smart people and things should go more smoothly for you.

Sep 10, 06 10:04 pm  · 

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