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Interior decorators help determine the look and feel of a client’s home by selecting and placing decorative elements such as paint, textiles, and furniture. This client-facing role involves meeting directly with clients to get a sense of how they intend to use their space and how they want it to feel. Interior decorators work within their clients’ budgets to bring a room to life.
This role shares some similarities with, but also differs significantly from, the role of an interior designer. The primary difference is that interior decorators don’t make architectural changes and instead work to improve the existing room. Most interior decorators work as freelancers or consultants, although some work within larger organizations.
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Interior Decorator Duties and Responsibilities
Based on postings that we examined, most interior decorators share several core responsibilities:
Meet Directly with Clients
One of the most significant duties of an interior decorator is meeting directly with clients before, during, and after working on their space. In the initial meeting, the interior decorator gathers information related to the client's budget, timeline, and aesthetic and functional preferences. Throughout the decoration process, the client provides the interior decorator with feedback and direction.
Develop Decorative Plans
After meeting with clients, the interior decorator develops several decorative plans and presents them to the client. They may present several big-picture options and ideas to the client, who then selects the idea they want to pursue. During this process, the interior decorator also determines whether a plan is feasible based on a client's budget and timeline.
Select Decorative Elements
The interior decorator's primary duty is selecting a variety of decorative elements for a client's home, office, or other space (such as a retail store). Working within the client's budget, the interior decorator chooses wall paint colors and finishes, furniture pieces, and textiles such as rugs and upholstery. They may also select art to hang on walls or feature on shelves.
Install and Arrange Decorations
The interior decorator determines where to place the selected furniture and fixtures. In this aspect of the role, the interior decorator considers both aesthetic and practical considerations, with particular emphasis on unity and flow. After initially placing decorative elements, the interior decorator may fine-tune and rearrange the room on their own or with client input.
Manage Budgets and Schedules
Interior directors manage budgets and schedules throughout the decoration process. Budget management involves not only ensuring that decorations and furniture stay within the client's budget, but also ensuring profitability for the interior decorator. Managing schedules and deadlines is equally important, as interior decorators must maintain a steady workflow and meet client expectations to stay profitable.
In many cases, interior decorators also oversee and direct the activities of subcontractors. They may hire painters, floor refinishers, or carpenters to replace trim and molding in a client's space. They ensure these subcontractors complete their work according to schedule and without causing excessive inconvenience to the client. Interior decorators may also pay these subcontractors directly and bill the amount to the client.
Interior Decorator Skills and Qualifications
Interior decorators work closely with clients to choose decorative elements for rooms or entire houses. Most professionals possess the following skills:
- Design skills - interior decorators are well-versed in the principles and practices of design, and know how to balance color, flow, and unity to ensure that all decorative elements work cohesively
- Creativity - this role requires a high level of creativity, as interior decorators need to come up with creative ways to reinvent spaces, which can include selecting new furniture or updating finishes
- Client service - interior decorators need excellent client service skills and the ability to make changes to ideas and rooms to accommodate the client's wishes throughout the decoration process
- Financial management - interior decorators must keep their projects within the client's budget while also maintaining profitability for their own business
- Communication skills - effective communication is key in this role, as interior decorators work with clients and direct the activities of contractors
Interior Decorator Education and Training
While there are few formal educational requirements for interior decorators, some schools do offer an associate’s degree to prepare students for this role. Interior decorators who wish to find employment with a larger organization can improve their job prospects with this degree. Interior decorators who work on a freelance or consulting basis should have some education and experience with principles like composition, layout, and color design, since these elements strongly influence interior decoration.
Interior Decorator Salary and Outlook
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary estimates for interior decorators, both Glassdoor and PayScale provide estimates for this role. PayScale found that interior decorators earn an average annual salary of $41,000 per year, while Glassdoor’s collected salaries range from $30,000 to $41,000. Because many interior decorators work on a freelance or consulting basis, salaries can vary significantly.
The BLS estimates that employment for interior designers, who share several similarities with interior decorators, will grow at a slower-than-average rate of 4 percent through 2026.
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If you’d like to learn more about working as an interior decorator, we found a number of resources for further reading and information:
Certified Interior Decorators International
CID provides opportunities to connect with other decorators and a certification program to gain expertise in the principles of interior decoration
Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves
Emily Henderson and Angelin Borsics describe how elements of interior decorating work together, from the smallest elements to the largest
"The Principles of Interior Decoration"
each of the posts in this indepth series explores a different aspect of interior decoration with detailed explanations and examples
Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating
Lauren Liess explores ways to incorporate natural elements into interior décor, using fullcolor pictures for inspiration
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