Creative & Arts
Career insights: Become an Interior Designer
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Interior Designer explained
Looking for a dynamic and exciting career that allows you to be your creative best? Interior design might be just the professional route for you. If you have a knack for combining textiles, art pieces, and furniture to really bring a room together, you might be well suited to a career as an interior designer or interior decorator. Interior design is an ever-growing industry that combines a love of design and architecture to design liveable, functional, and beautiful spaces.
This career choice can offer an impressive salary and plentiful opportunities to progress up the career ladder. Interior design is an attractive option for people just starting out, as well as those who are looking to make a change.
What is an interior designer?
An interior designer is an expert in design, art and fashion trends, who then sells their advice to clients[i]. They can advise clients on how to paint, style, and decorate all rooms in their home and office space. In addition to this, they may also source and install design elements into the home, contracting workers directly and overseeing the entire renovation or restoration project.
What does an interior designer do?
Every interior design project is different, and has different elements and needs. For most residential jobs, an interior designer is in charge of costing and acquiring materials, meeting strict deadlines, consulting with clients, liaising with suppliers, and obtaining licenses and permits. In a commercial environment, they must also be qualified and knowledgeable about all necessary health and safety concerns.
On a day to day basis, a typical interior designer might spend time answering emails and client phone calls, meeting with potential clients for upcoming projects, promoting their services on social media, visiting antiques vendors or wholesalers, and scheduling workers for installations or construction.
Areas in Interior Design
Interior design is a multi-faceted and varied field, with a variety of different niches.
Residential interior design - Residential interior design involves redecorating and redesigning someone’s personal family home or rental property. In addition to making a space look and feels its best, residential interior design can also involve transforming a space to make it more functional or accessible for an individual’s needs.
Restoration and preservation - Historic and heritage properties around the world are in need of expert interior designers. In this field of interior design, the focus is less on modern trends and design, and more on restoring a property to its original glory, or carefully preserving its heritage character.
Commercial design - Commercial properties need to look great, but they also need to be functional above all else. As an interior designer with a focus on commercial properties, you will plan and design elegant solutions for all kinds of commercial properties.
What skills does an interior designer need?
As an interior designer, the number one skill you need is creativity. A great interior designer knows the rules, and uses their creativity to know when to follow them, and when to break them. You will also need critical thinking, and an ability to problem solve when issues arise.
A knowledge of the history of art and design is also key, as is a good sense of spatial awareness. Strong maths skills are a must, as is computer savvy, particularly with modelling programs. You’ll also need a desire to provide excellent customer service to your clients.
What's the difference between a designer and a decorator?
While many people erroneously use these two terms interchangeably, they are different professions[ii]. Interior designers work closely with architects to create functional and attractive interior spaces. Decorators then finish the space with beautiful and interesting objects and art that the client loves. Many interior designers also specialise in decorating, while most interior decorators specialise only in décor, and not in architectural design.
There is no set list of qualifications that an interior designer needs to have; that said, they do need to be able to work closely with architects, permit planners, and council officials. If you do want to become an interior designer without relevant education, you will need a significant CV of experience to impress. Here are some of the most common qualifications that interior designers hold.
Interior design degrees
There are many different interior design degrees available at a university level in the UK. The following is a list of topics covered by the BA in Interior Design from Anglia Ruskin[iii]. This degree is recognised by the Chartered Society of Designers:
- Building Technology in Interior Design
- Design Contextual Studies
- Digital Media 1
- Interior Design Studio 1 and 2
- Spatial Drawing
- Debates and Practices
As you get ready to choose your college courses, the following will be useful for a future educational path in interior design:
- Building Technology in Interior Design
- Level 3 diploma in interior design
- Level 3 diploma in art and design
- A level in art and design
How to start your Interior Design career?
The right time to start your interior design career? Now! There are small steps that you can start to take today that will get you well on your way to your dream career. Start by saving this list to your desktop or the notes app on your phone, and start working your way through each of the steps. Remember – these are not in firm order. You can be working on multiple list items simultaneously, and you don’t have to accomplish them in order.
- Gain a qualification through a university or college - Look into the design courses available at the universities or colleges near you, or consider taking an online interior design course to level up your existing skills.
- Speak to a local firm or independent interior designer and inquire about an apprenticeship - Many successful interior designers got their start with an apprenticeship. Approach a designer you admire with your portfolio, and ask about possibilities.
- Build up your portfolio - It is impossible to overstate the importance of your portfolio. Anyone can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? Do you have what it takes to truly transform a room into an experience, and do you have a wide range of ideas to show a potential employer or client? Your interior design portfolio should include sketches of your ideas, photos of rooms you have designed, and concept boards[iiii]. Make sure you highlight each one of the skills you possess, and be authentic to your design ethos.
- Start looking for valid work experience - Start scanning the jobs listings for anything in the design or décor field. Even if you start as a receptionist or temporary help in a firm, you can leverage this opportunity and advance within the organisation. This is a great entry for your budding design-focused CV, and can also help you to make important personal connections.
What are the working hours of an interior designer?
Some interior designers choose to go out on their own as freelancers, while others work for an agency or design firm. Still others choose to go ‘in house’ and work exclusively for one company that regularly launches new properties, such as a hotel chain or restaurant group.
If you work in a freelance capacity, your hours are very flexible. You can choose to take on as little or as much work as you wish, juggling many clients, or just focusing on one or two. However, if you are employed by a company, you will need to work the number of hours specified in your contract. This is usually 40 – 45 hours per week in a full time role, but can also include mandatory overtime hours when a project deadline is approaching.
How much does an interior designer earn?
According to Payscale.com, the average salary for an interior designer is £24,775 per year[iiii]. However, this is a very rough estimate, and can increase dramatically as you earn more experience over time. Your wage is also likely to be much higher if you are in a metropolitan area, an affluent suburb, or a bigger city.
- Junior designers can expect to make between £18K - £23K per year
- Experienced designers typically make between £25K to £40K per year
- Those with regular clients and a strong reputation will make more than £40K per year
- Interior design experts and those with a waiting list of clients hoping to work with them can earn more than £75K per year - the sky is truly the limit in this field.
What other career opportunities are available for interior designers?
Once you are a qualified interior designer and you have built up a reputation in the field, there are quite a few other related fields that you can pursue. Here are just a few of the other career opportunities available for interior designers:
- Instructor at a design school
- Furniture designer
- Teaching DIY home courses
- Interior design blogging or vlogging
- Curator at an art gallery or museum
- Set decoration for film and television#
- Stage design and set decoration for theatre
- Personal shopper at a department store
- Consulting for film and television
- Buying or merchandising for home décor retail and wholesalers
- Managing a home décor retail location
- Working at a home centre or design store
The time is right for a career in interior design
As new construction and investment in the UK shows no sign of slowing down, the time is right for a new career in interior design. Leverage your creativity, passion for beautiful spaces, and your love of working with clients.
Csd.org.uk. (2014). Chartered Society of Designers |. [online] Available at: https://www.csd.org.uk/ [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
National Design Academy. (2016). Develop your Interior Design Portfolio | NDA. [online] Available at: https://www.nda.ac.uk/blog/develop-interior-design-portfolio [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
NewSchool of Architecture & Design. (2018). The Difference Between an Interior Designer and Decorator. [online] Available at: https://newschoolarch.edu/academics/school-of-design/bachelor-of-interior-design/interior-designer-and-decorator/ [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
Payscale.com. (2019). Interior Designer. [online] Available at: https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Interior_Designer/Salary [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
Prospects.ac.uk. (2018). Interior design courses | Prospects.ac.uk. [online] Available at: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/job-sectors/creative-arts-and-design/interior-design-courses [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
Society of British and International Design. (2019). The Role Of An Interior Designer | What Does a Designer Do? | SBID. [online] Available at: https://www.sbid.org/accreditation/what-does-a-designer-do/ [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].