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The difference between an interior decorator, interior designer and architect

Interior designer Cameron Woo, who is also the President of the Interior Design Confederation Singapore (IDCS), wants to correct misperceptions of the interior design profession, which is largely misunderstood, technically challenging, and very much under-valued. 

When it comes to realising your dream home, you can either do it yourself, or engage a professional. Whichever the case, one thing is for certain: You are about to embark on one of the most stressful endeavours of your life that involves incredible effort, time and money, including the preservation of relationships.

Fantasy vs Reality

You may have watched reality television interior design and home makeover shows transforming spaces in 48 hours, like The Apartment, but the truth is that there is a whole crew on set helping to accomplish this massive task in the time given.

Even if you think interior design is something that you’d like to try out, bear in mind that creativity and talent only represent one third of the entire process, while skills and experience in costing, procurement, project management, quality assurance, logistics, contract administration, changes in scope of work and costs, certifications and submissions to various authorities to obtain approvals, fulfil the balance.

Who should you use?

There’s much confusion in the market place as to the differences between an interior decorator, an interior designer, an architect, and a contractor. An interior decorator embellishes a space cosmetically by way of colour, materials
and finishes, loose furniture, soft furnishings, artwork and accessories.

In contrast, an interior designer (otherwise known as an interior architect) is qualified and skilled to transform any space by way of alterations or additions involving structure and essential services such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire, lighting, sustainability and compliance issues with authorities in addition to what an interior decorator does.

Generally, the route to becoming a qualified professional interior designer means undertaking a degree or diploma in interior design.

An architect designs buildings. While there are some architects practising interior design, the essential difference is that architects create the destination and interior designers create the experience.

The interior spaces contained within the building often require the expertise of an interior designer due to his or her specialist knowledge of a myriad of materials and finishes and interior technologies.

Many times I have collaborated with other specialists in designing homes and property developments as part of a team comprising of an architect, an interior designer, a landscape architect, and a contractor, due to the complexity and expertise demanded of the project.

The contractor builds the project. The contractors whom I work with understand that building is their expertise and interior design is mine; hence, the interior design part is best left to me professionally and respectfully –
in no way do they claim to offer interior design services.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part feature. Click here for the next part, where Cameron will talk about the hidden dangers of engaging companies that offer interior design services for free. 

This article was originally published in the April issue of Home & Decor. 

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