Hiring an Architect vs. an Interior Designer

design tips

by Deana Duffek

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Hiring an Architect vs. an Interior Designer

When you are planning a large scale renovation, there are many choices available when choosing an expert to assist you. There are many people in a wide variety of careers when you need an expert to work with when gearing up for a remodel, a new build or just a little sprucing up. Professional architects and designers/interior architects both offer specific and well-informed insight into your projects. However, deciding on which professional to go with can be a challenge, especially when you have plenty of ideas running through your head and you’re unsure what design direction to go — or how to even get started.


Hiring an architect for your home design project is a great choice when you are planning on having very complex work done to your home or business. An architect’s primary career focus is planning physical layouts and spatial design from the ground up. They draw accurate plans with measurements and also solve many structural issues that may come up when you are making plans on changing critical structural aspects of a space. Many architects also have experience with 3D modeling software and thus you can preview the proposed end result of the work to be done. Being able to get an idea of what the work will look like in the end is invaluable! Their designs and input can incorporate both functionality and aesthetics to your plans, so they are a great choice to go with when you are looking to perform renovations such as a new build or a large scale commercial project. One thing to consider if you do decide to hire an architect is that you will often need to hire an Interior Designer as well. Architects “typically” will not provide material and finish specifications in the same way a trained designer would and for the most part, they do not finalize all aspects of the design from beginning to end with regard to fixture selection, furniture and the final interior details.

Hiring an interior architect/designer for your home renovation project is the perfect choice for people who are looking to remodel, redesign or add on to an existing space. Sometimes you just want to reinvigorate an area but still want to maintain or amplify the natural beauty of the physical area you are focusing on. An advantage of an interior architect or interior designer is their ability to effectively utilize all the available space in an effective way that works with your overall design aesthetic. An interior architect or designer can also help boost the functionality of your space as well as amplify aesthetic of that space, while also ensuring that your ideas balance with one another to build upon your existing footprint. They are professionally trained in spatial planning for almost any type of space, so they can greatly assist you in making your ideas come to life in an organized and coherent manner. I often get asked, so what is the difference between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator — AND what is the difference between an Interior Architect and an Interior Designer? Decorators typically do not have a four-year education in the related field of architecture or design, or if they do it might be focused on textiles or merchandising as opposed to architectural drawing and spatial-design.  High-quality decorators, (even self-taught) are very astute in selecting fabrics, furniture, and finishes and are a great help when trying to spruce up an existing room. The NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) website may explain it the best:

“Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”

Interior Architects/  Designers that have gone through a FIDER accredited Bachelors program, and who have passed their NCIDQ exams or equivalent are more intricately involved with planning, building and are also trained to complete accurate architectural drawings, millwork drawings and 3D renderings. They also have a comprehensive knowledge of the Principles and Elements of Design, Color Theory, Lighting Design, FF&E (furniture, fixtures & equipment) and more. For example,  a decorator may pick a wall covering material based on color or texture, whereas, an Interior Architect or Designer is thinking not just about the color and texture, but about codes, durability, flammability, off-gassing, acoustics, building requirements, etc. Decorators do not make structural changes to interiors, Interior Architects or Designers do. Interior Architects/ Designers have the ability to complete accurate measurements and working drawings and work side-by-side with engineers and builders whereas decorators typically do not have the training to alter drawings and refine as-builds for construction. The primary difference between an Interior Architect vs. and Interior Designer is based on their education and what they actually design. Were they trained in drawing plans to scale, rendering, architectural process vs. designing by using furniture, fixtures, and accessories to create the desired look or feel.

Another consideration is what I like to call a hybrid option of working with a Design-Build firm. Often Design-Build teams will be able to provide all of your architectural drawings, work with you on selecting interior design specifications and build the final project– everything from concept to completion. Most design-build teams have a one-stop shop that includes the Interior Architect/ Designer, an Engineer or Architect, a General Contractor and a team of tradesmen and women readily available (often at a fraction of the cost). They will also handle all of your construction oversight, city planning, HOA approvals and everything else that may be needed to ensure your project runs seamlessly — on time and on budget. Pending on the size of the company a lot of design-build firms can take on everything from a small home remodel to a room addition or a   new build. Check your local HOUZZ.com preferred vendors to find who may be the best fit for you.

Planning and executing a design project can be a difficult undertaking to handle all by yourself, so going with any of these options will greatly help you achieve success. Everyone’s design goals are unique to themselves, so there is no wrong choice when it comes to choosing which professional to lend you a helping hand. I would recommend making sure you have a trained professional that is capable of working with you through all aspects of design from beginning to end on your project. The world of Architecture and Design is a balance of art and science. It truly is about problem-solving. Trained Architects and Interior Architects/ Designers are amazing people to have on your team, so be sure to go with the expert that lines up with your specific goals in order to achieve the best results possible.

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