Becoming an Interior Designer

A Guide to Careers in Design
By Christine M. Piotrowski

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2009 Christine M. Piotrowski
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-470-11423-0

Chapter One

An Introduction to the Interior Design Profession

We spend over 90 percent of our day in interior spaces. Despite this, most people take interiors for granted, barely noticing the furniture, colors, textures, and other elements-let alone the form of the space-of which they are made. Sometimes, of course, the design of the interior does catch our attention. Maybe it's the pulsing excitement of a casino, the rich paneling of an expensive restaurant, or the soothing background of a religious facility.

As you are reading this book, you obviously have an interest in interiors and interior design. It might be because you have always enjoyed rearranging the furniture in your home. Maybe you like to draw imaginative floor plans for houses. It could be that a relative or friend is a contractor and you have been involved in the actual construction of a building in some way. Perhaps you saw a program on television and it inspired you to learn more about the profession.

The interior design profession is a lot more than what you see portrayed on various television programs. The profession of interior design has been defined by educators and professionals. This widely accepted definition is provided to help you understand what the profession is all about:

Interior design is a multi-faceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built interior environment. These solutions are functional, enhance the quality of life and culture of the occupants, and are aesthetically attractive. Designs are created in response to and coordinated with the building shell, and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability. The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology, including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process, whereby the needs and resources of the client are satisfied to produce an interior space that fulfills the project goals.

Professional interior designers are not interior decorators and interior decorators are not professional interior designers, although the public generally does not see any difference. "Interior design is not the same as decoration. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning a space with fashionable or beautiful things. Decoration, although a valuable and important element of an interior, is not solely concerned with human interaction or human behavior. Interior design is all about human behavior and human interaction."

Although a professional interior designer might provide interior decoration services, an interior decorator does not have the education and experience to perform the many other services of a professional interior designer. A decorator is primarily concerned with the aesthetic embellishment of the interior and rarely has the expertise, for example, to produce the necessary drawings for the construction of nonload-bearing walls and certain mechanical systems that are routinely produced by a professional interior designer.

What Do Interior Designers Do?

Interior design professionals provide the owners of homes and many kinds of businesses with functionally successful and aesthetically attractive interior spaces. An interior designer might specialize in working with private residences or with commercial interiors such as hotels, hospitals, retail stores, offices, and dozens of other private and public facilities. In many ways, the interior design profession benefits society by focusing on how space-and interior environment-should look and function.

The professional interior designer uses his or her educational preparation and training to consider how the design affects the health, safety, and welfare of occupants. Many projects today include careful consideration of sustainable design in the selection of furniture and materials used in the interior. Planning the arrangement of partition walls, selection of furniture, and specifying aesthetic embellishments for the space are all tasks the designer uses to bring the interior to life. A set of functional and aesthetic requirements expressed by the client becomes reality.

In planning a residence or any type of commercial interior, the professional interior designer engages in many tasks using a wide variety of skills and knowledge gained through education and practice. The professional interior designer must consider building and life safety codes, address environmental issues, and understand the basic construction and mechanical systems of buildings. He or she must effectively communicate design concepts through precisely scaled drawings and other documents used in the industry. Another critical responsibility concerns how to manage all the tasks that must be accomplished to complete a project as large as a 1,000-room casino hotel or as small as someone's home. The interior designer must also have the business skills to complete projects within budget for the client while making a profit for the design firm. And, of course, the interior designer selects colors, materials, and products so that what is supposed to actually occur in the spaces can.

This book helps you see clearly what the profession is about and what the real work of interior designers is like in the 21st century. It includes comments from professional interior designers in many specialties, sizes of companies, and areas of the country. These responses are presented to help you get an idea of what working professionals think about the profession. I posed the question "What do interior designers do?" to many of the designers whose work or other comments are in this book. "Problem solving" is a common response, but many other tasks and responsibilities are also mentioned.

What Do Interior Designers Do?

> Residential interior designers support their clients in realizing their dreams and creating a home for their family and friends. We research, design, document, and specify the interior architectural finishes, millwork, plumbing, lighting, cabinetry, and interior design details and work closely with the project team (client, architect, and contractor) to implement them. Second, we bring together the complete vision for the project through the design, research, and implementation of the interior furnishings-from all the furniture to the artwork and accessories.

Annette Stelmack, Allied Member ASID

> Create environments that support the human condition in whatever activities it chooses, including living, sleeping, working, playing, eating, shopping, healing, or praying. These environments must be safe, accessible, sustainable, and, in many cases, beautiful. But, most importantly they must be functional for the person(s) inhabiting them.

Lisa Whited, IIDA, ASID, Maine Certified Designer

> Interior designers create interior environments that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and enhance the quality of life and culture of the users of the space. In doing so, they have an obligation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.


> We influence life patterns by creating healthy and safe environments.

Patricia McLaughlin, ASID, RID

> Interior designers solve problems. Our clients come to us with questions, wants, and needs and through design development we answer those questions and provide solutions for those wants and needs-all while protecting the health, welfare, and safety of the public through our knowledge of local and national building codes.

Kristin King, ASID

> Interior designers plan and design interior spaces. Interior designers understand how people move through, live and work in, and experience interior space. We consider the specific experiences and functions the space or project must support from the point of view of the user. Our unique understanding of psychological and human factors as well as formal design principles, materials, codes and regulations, and the means and methods of construction inform our diagnosis of user needs and the development of design concepts.

Beth Harmon-Vaughn, FIIDA, Associate, AIA, LEED-AP

> They use their creative skills and expertise to create spaces that improve people's environments and make life better. More pragmatically, interior designers gather and analyze information, produce drawings, manage consultant teams, and oversee construction projects.

David Hanson, IDC, RID, IIDA

> Good question. Interior design is sometimes described as problem solving, but our work is really focused on helping our clients prepare for a future they can imagine but not fully predict. We develop an image that transforms their vision to reality. The vision is from the client's thoughts and business goals.

We take our client's ideas, expressed in business terms, and give them form, make them reality. That reality is something they could have never imagined themselves and when it is right and becomes their vision, we have succeeded with the magic of design. To do so, designers have to understand their aspirations, not merely their needs.

Rita Carson Guest, FASID

> Interior designers are problem solvers who must be able to develop a design that fits the client's criteria and budgets. They must be able to take that design concept and make it reality by preparing the necessary drawings, renderings, details, construction documents, specifications, budgets along with the most important part, which is creativity and visualization. They also must be very strong in communication and, most important, in being listeners.

Lisa Slayman, ASID, IIDA

> Depending upon the project, interior designers investigate existing conditions; research work habits and management philosophies; incorporate work and life culture of space users or clients; explore potential solutions that meet functional and aesthetic goals; conform to code and legal constraints; prepare graphic and written materials that communicate the solutions to a wide variety of people-clients, lenders, committees, other design professionals, code officials, and the building industry; and continue building their knowledge.

Katherine Ankerson, IDEC, NCARB Certified

> An interior designer serves many roles. A designer is a mentor to clients and others in the profession. We serve as project managers coordinating many trades and making sure that not only we are doing our job correctly, but that others are as well. We inspire interiors as well as lives with our work. Sometimes we do the dirty work that no one else wants to do, but in the end the smile on a client's face and the satisfaction that comes from a completed project makes all the project's challenges worth the time and effort.

Shannon Ferguson, IIDA

> We are professionals that offer our clients creative solutions in order for the spaces in which they live, work, play, and heal to function better and be more aesthetically pleasing.

Robert Wright, FASID

> We do everything for a space: we think through how the space functions based on who is occupying that particular space, how they are going to live there, work there, and function, and design around those parameters. We coordinate colors, furnishings, fabrics, and everything that goes into the environment.

Laurie Smith, ASID

> Interior designers design and create interior spaces, whether residential, commercial, or hospitality. The role of the interior designer is to understand the client's vision and goals for the project and interpret them in the design.

Trisha Wilson, ASID

> Good designers provide problem resolution through good design.

Patricia Rowen, ASID, CAPS

> Every decision an interior designer makes, in one way or another, involves life safety and quality of life. Some of those decisions include specifying furniture, fabric, and carpeting that comply with fire codes, complying with other applicable building codes, designing ergonomic work spaces, planning spaces that provide proper means of egress, and providing solutions for the handicapped and other persons with special needs. Universal design and green design are buzz words right now but they have always been and will continue to always be a part of every project. In addition to all of this, we manage projects, with budget, time, and safety in mind.

Donna Vining, FASID, IIDA, RID, CAPS

> If they are good at what they do, they create environments that unfold really meaningful experiences for their guests.

Bruce Brigham, FASID, ISP, IES

> Interior designers take a client's programmatic needs for a space and combine them with creativity and technical expertise to arrive at a customized space unique to their client.

Maryanne Hewitt, IIDA

> Interior design is a service industry. A designer must enjoy working with and helping people. Some of the aspects of commercial interior design include research, psychology, art, color, graphics, design, ergonomics, efficiency, and workflow.


> They are problem solvers. They need to be able to translate someone else's idea into a new reality. They need to be able to pick up all the puzzle pieces and reconstruct them into another solution-different from what the box said.

Linda Isley, IIDA, CID

> In three words: plan, coordinate, and execute. An interior designer is responsible for distilling the client's thoughts, desires, and budget to create a design plan for the project. The designer then coordinates all the elements within the plan and finally is the moving force for the plan's execution.

Greta Guelich, ASID

> Interior designers shape the human experience by creating the spaces in which we interact and live.

Darcie Miller, NKBA, CMG, ASID Industry Partner

> The easy answer is we create environments that are not only lovely to look at, but are also functional. But actually we are also therapists, accountants, researchers, organizers, shoppers, and sometimes even movers to realize our concept. The interior designer often becomes a family's most trusted friend as major moves, new additions to the family, new hobbies, or any other family change that affects the interior are discussed with the designer-and often we are the first to know.

Susan Norman, IIDA

> Interior designers in the corporate world understand corporate culture, how people work, and what corporations need to attract and retain personnel. Interior designers study the workplace and create environmental solutions that are productive and fitting for the users.

Colleen McCafferty, IFMA, USGBC, LEED-CI

> In the course of my 25-plus-year career, I have worked on a variety of projects from small to very large residential projects, hospitals, and healthcare facilities-which are like little cities-numerous corporate offices, a funeral home, a fire/police station, and a yacht. The scope of work has always been varied within each project. Some include all aspects, from initial client contact and proposals, through schematics and budgeting; design development with space planning, furniture arrangement, selection, specifying, and scheduling; finish selection and scheduling; lighting, artwork, and accessory selection and placement; bid documentation and processing; installation; and working with all types of industry professionals, trades, and vendors. I have experienced the retail setting, design studio, architectural firm, and consulting as an independent designer. I have attended multiple trade shows and markets, traveled the world, and met many people in the process. The body of knowledge reflected in the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) Standards is very real in its expectations of what interior designers do.

Carol Morrow, Ph.D., ASID, IIDA, IDEC

> They solve problems (whether they are spatial, organizational, programmatic, or aesthetic) that affect people's health, safety, and welfare. Some are great technicians; some are great designers; some are great teachers; and a rare few are two or all of these. Some work in large offices; some are sole practitioners. Many work in the residential realm while a large number work in the commercial setting (that includes healthcare, hospitality, retail, or corporate work). Nevertheless all collaborate with other design professionals-including engineers and architects, building service/construction experts, and vendors/suppliers of all types.

David Stone, IIDA, LEED-AP


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