"You should be an interior designer.” How many times have you heard that when someone walks into your home and sees the beautifully decorated rooms? Or how many times have you watched the professionals on home and garden programs, or flipped through a magazine, and thought, “I could do that!”
With the proliferation of TV shows, magazine, books and online sources these days, it seems like almost anyone can call themselves an interior designer or decorator. However, what many people may not realize is that in order to be considered an interior designer in most states, you need to hold a license, or at least be registered with the appropriate regulatory agencies.
Reasons for Regulation
If you’re not familiar with the interior design profession, you might be thinking, “Why do designers need to be licensed? Aren’t they just choosing furniture and decorating rooms?” And while yes, those tasks are certainly part of the equation, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Professional interior designers do more than just paint and hang curtains, especially when they are hired for a major remodeling job. Designers need to have a fundamental understanding of the principles of architecture, as well as building codes, plumbing, electrical work and other regulations, in order to manage projects. Without that knowledge, the outcome could be dangerous -- even disastrous. Requiring those who carry the designation “interior designer” to meet certain requirements helps to protect consumers, and ensure that buildings meet the minimum safety standards set by the government.
Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding the practice of interior design – and about half don’t have any laws at all. However, of those that do have laws, most place strict restrictions on who can use the term interior designer and some actually limit the practice of interior design to those who meet the state licensing requirements.
To determine your state’s requirements, contact the licensing authority, or the American Society of Interior Designers, a professional organization that maintains a comprehensive listing of state requirements.
Qualifying for licensure in interior design is much like earning a license in other fields. You can only qualify for the designation after meeting strict education, experience and testing prerequisites.
Of the states that do regulate the profession, most require at least two years of education in interior design; some states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada and Virginia, actually require four years. Some states specify a minimum number of years of combined education and experience, but all states require at least six years of experience.
In addition to completing an education at one of the accredited interior design colleges, most states require licensed interior designers to pass an examination covering the fundamentals of the profession. The most commonly required exam is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam, a multi-day exam that’s limited to those who hold a degree and have a minimum number of years of experience.
While the NCIDQ is generally required by state licensing boards, there are other certifications that designers can seek within their areas of specialization. For example, those who work in the kitchen and bath design field, and meet the education, experience and training requirements, can seek the National Kitchen and Bath Association certification, while those who work exclusively in residential interior design can seek certification through the Council for Qualification of Residential Interior Designers.
A growing field of design is “green,” or environmentally friendly design, and experienced designers can seek certification in that area as well. The National Association of Green Designers sponsors a certification for those who specialize in eco-friendly design, the Certified Green Designer designation, which indicates the designers’ commitment to environmentally friendly design and use of sustainable materials.
Of course, completing all of the licensing requirements for your state doesn’t always mean you are licensed for as long as you practice. Most states require continuing education or professional development courses to keep the license current.
In the end, states enact certification and licensing requirements to protect both consumers and designers. Earning the right to call yourself an interior designer is a major achievement, and one that all designers and students should take seriously.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
Yvette Conolly is an award-winning licensed interior designer. The owner of a successful residential design firm, she serves as an advisor to aspiring designers. Her work has been featured in several magazines.