Decorator or Designer

It’s not always clear to a consumer who is really qualified to help with design projects, or what sort of design assistance they may need. In the interior design category, it is typically an interior designer (not a decorator) that will put together a comprehensive plan with interior architecture, color, contrast etc. to make the addition of the final touches (fabric and paint) have a big impact. The next level are those who also specialize in kitchen and bath design with the requirement of mechanical knowledge and the vast array of product specifications that make the difference between swapping out tile or changing the lay-out.


Recently, a woman came into our showroom and she was very frustrated that her kitchen renovation did not to have the high impact she hoped for (based on the fact the investment wasn’t small). She thought the solution was just different color cabinets, new counters and appliances because the contractor she has always used directed her to the lumber yard for new cabinets.  Now she was on to her next project; the master bath. The same carpenter that did the kitchen recommended that she return to the lumber yard cabinet designer with her bath plan and receive a new lay-out.  This resulted in a new vanity idea, but not a new bath idea.  In a lot of 90’s homes they are big on space, and short on creative thinking.  Unhappy with the new vanity idea, she had asked another local “design-build” company for advice and they sent a decorator out to talk about tile color and cabinet lay-out and maybe moving the shower where the tub went.  As she explained the 3-4 conversations with others to me, I too became frustrated.  I don’t know why someone thinks that knowing the color wheel and having a business card allows them to provide advice where they have little expertise.


So what’s the difference between a decorator and a professional interior designer? The difference is wide and usually unknown to people when presented a card with an ambiguous title.  Watch out for the design/build title, it has become cliché and almost never means there are certified designers on staff.  I may be more frustrated than most because on the rare occasion we are hiring for an interior designer I receive (not kidding) hundreds of e-mails from folks with the following comments in their resume’s;


“I have had my own interior design business for years, and though I have no formal training, this has been a passion of mine and I am sure I could benefit your clients with my expertise”.

“My many years at (fill in the blank of some furniture store) have proven that I know what people want and can put things together with exceptional results.”
When you want a designer, think about what it is you need. For instance, our firm would not be a fit if you wanted a cosmetic change in your living room that involves a new color pallet, and a whole new look with window treatments, rugs and furniture- perhaps a new mantle and access to custom furniture and drapery at the design center.  That would be best performed by a firm specializing in that type of work.  If you need help measuring to see if a sofa fits in a room, then of course help from a decorator at the furniture store will be well suited.  When you want to change the way a single room or your entire house works for you, then it is time to hire someone who understands architecture, ergonomics and plan details- otherwise you could end up with a plan that either misses a few marks, or is downright unpleasant.


My suggestion is to first interview. A design consultation should provide you with a designer’s philosophy on process.  Most professionals won’t come out and solve the design problem on a visit; they know that mindful solutions require thoughtful and vetted principals.  When you contact references, ask what type of design help set the designer apart, and if there were creative solutions that helped.  A good design firm in my opinion will have a team approach with all the staff collaborating on your project, a list of credentials for the design team and some proven experience with awards and or being published.


I can’t possibly point out every pitfall that can be encountered in a project that needs a professional eye; however, a great example that supports the story came via e-mail today in a project where the team noticed in advance that the slope of a new tub design would have the tub filler spilling water on the tub drain lever. After product review, the designer determined that; a. the tub filler would cause a splash that put water on the floor during fill, and b. the gasket would eventually fail and cause a leak below the tub and leak into the kitchen.  

After the project designer pointed this out and made a new part suggestion, I received this:


Good Morning!


Thank you for finding the new tub spout. I think it looks like a great replacement.  


John and I are so impressed with how proactive you and the team are with issues like this.  It is such a difference from our last remodel experience.  We are so happy we found the Wiese Company!


Have a good weekend!



Happy renovation!


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