What’s the difference between a decorator and an interior designer?

There’s so much good and bad information about working with an interior designer that I thought it might be helpful to start at the beginning.  An interior designer or interior design firm, is different than an interior decorator. 

The designer, having more education, has a broader knowledge base – with experience in building products, expanded knowledge of textiles, how light affects a space, space planning, etc.  A designer should also be able to assist a client with electronic drawings – both the plan view and possibly a rendering of the space. A decorator has less or no education and generally helps with paint color, furniture selections, maybe cabinetry and counters… mostly the “selection process.”  Some will be able to use off the shelf computer aided graphics software to provide a simple space plan or rendering.  Some painters call themselves decorators.  Because of the lack of education and oversight, it can be a little more difficult to know the capabilities of an “interior decorator.”

So if you’ve decided to work with an interior designer – what should you look for?

First know that interior designers generally specialize in one of five design disciplines:  residential, commercial (contract), hospitality, institution (education) and healthcare.  Even though someone is an accredited designer – it does not mean they are suited to working on your funeral home.  Just like you wouldn’t go to a cardiologist for a broken ankle, you probably wouldn’t hire a residential designer to design the local library.  Or a commercial designer to design your funeral home.

So what type of interior designer should design funeral homes?  One that has multi-discipline experience.  After 15+ years experience with the funeral industry, it’s pretty clear that many (not all but many) funeral homes need to “look” residential but have commercial grade product that’s durable – yet able to hold up to hotel-like / banquet-like conditions (hospitality.)  The funeral home also needs to be a place of warmth and healing and have a prep room that’s both functional and code compliant (healthcare.)  A designer’s work experience is critical here.

How do interior designer’s charge for their work?  Well, there are several methods designers use for compensation.  Here’s a few of the more commonly used cost models…

Hourly / Product at Cost – depending on your location, an interior designer can charge by the hour.  I’ve seen rates run between $60 or $75 on the low end, and as much as $250+ per hour in some areas.  Many times this arrangement will require a retainer of $1000 to $3000 depending on the designer.  Any merchandise then can be purchased at the designer’s cost so there may be some savings to the client – but not always.  Just depends on if the designer has set up trade accounts with retailers.  If they have, the discount may be 10-25% or so.

Hourly / Product Cost Plus – again depending on your location, the going hourly rate may vary drastically.  This type of cost model allows the designer to generate revenue for their time, but also includes profit on the merchandise they place.

Flat Fee – If a designer can accurately estimate their number of work hours for a project, they may decide to offer their services as a flat fee cost.  Because FFH design has worked with so many funeral homes in so many parts of the country, we’re fairly adept at knowing how many hours it will take us to complete a project.  We operate on a flat fee basis.

Hope this helps a little bit – to understand the difference between a decorator and an interior designer.  Also hope it helps with an overview of how designer’s charge for their services.

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design