I get asked this question probably more than any other when people are trying to decide who to hire to decorate their living or work space. It really depends on your objectives, but I tell people to go with the person they feel will best capture what they envision for their space. However, since I’m not trying to get you to hire me, I can talk about the differences here without talking myself out of a job.
An interior decorator does just that: decorates an interior. They buy furniture and fixtures, window treatments, rugs and that sort of thing. They can style a room like nobody’s business. A good interior decorator has done an apprentice or internship under the supervision of someone with more experience. They typically understand blueprints, building codes, inspection standards, and accessibility requirements. However, their sole purpose is to decorate a space through furnishings and accents.
On the other hand, interior designers (like me) tend to have more education. We have bachelor’s degrees in things like art, design, or architecture. We have to pass a nation exam so we can be licensed in the state we operate in. It’s very straightforward—if you don’t pass the test, you can’t call yourself an interior designer. I can walk into an empty space and change it—I can make adjustments to blueprints and reconfigure spaces. I can work with architects before the building is even built to go over the plans to make spaces functional and beautiful. In other words, I have a lot more that I can do than just decorate what is already there. I can decorate a room, of course, but I can also design spaces as well.
I can explain it best by giving an example. An interior designer will look at floor coverings and choose something based on what you like and what will work in the space. However, when I’m choosing flooring, I look at what the room is going to be used for, the acoustics of choosing such flooring, the durability of the options available, and fire codes. A lot more goes into my decisions.
Only you know what you really need. An interior decorator may have a lot of experience but if you want to knock down a wall or add whole rooms, you are much better off with an interior designer. If you’re renovating your space, I’m going to be a much better fit for your project. If all you want is someone to make your house look aesthetically pleasing, you can get an interior decorator for probably less money that I would charge you. Assess your needs and interview some candidates. Check their references, too. See who you feel comfortable with and who you think understands what you want and need. I am confident you can find the right person for the job.