Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$40,670 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Interior designers plan and design the interiors of buildings. They work for interior design firms, architectural firms, retail stores, and the design departments of large industries or institutions. Some have their own businesses. Interior designers often specialize in homes, hospitals, hotels, or banks. Some specialize in restaurants, stage sets, or the interiors of ships or airplanes.
When they plan the interior of a new building or the structural remodeling of an old one, interior designers usually work with architects. The architects consult with the interior designers about traffic patterns and may ask them to plan the placement of stairways, windows, and doors, as well as cabinets and other built-in units.
Whether they are involved in the planning of the structure of a building or merely in the decorating of one or more rooms, interior designers give advice on color schemes, window treatments, and hardware and lighting fixtures. They also suggest finishes for walls, ceilings, floors, and cabinets. They choose accessories, such as plants or paintings, that will accent an interior.
Interior designers talk with their clients to establish how much work needs to be done. They also take into consideration the clients' habits, tastes, and budget requirements when they create their designs. They draw up floor plans or sketches, which are done more and more with computer-aided design, or CAD, than by hand. Interior designers present these plans and sketches to clients along with color charts, fabric swatches, photographs, and sometimes even original designs for furniture. They also submit an estimate of the total cost of the job. They may have to revise their plans several times before the client approves them.
Once the plans for designs are approved, the interior designers supervise the actual work of decorating. They order materials and contract for the services of workers. They may shop for those furnishings that will not be custom made. They make sure that draperies are hung properly and that the furniture is arranged conveniently.
Designers who work for department stores and office or home furnishings stores usually only consult with customers at the store, and they are expected to help sell the store's merchandise. They also make suggestions to the store's buyers about the wants and needs of customers.
Education and Training Requirements
To become an interior designer, several years of formal education after high school are needed. There are two-to three-year programs in professional schools of interior design, or a person can study interior design in a four-year program leading to a bachelor's degree at a college or university. Some students go on to get a master's degree or a doctoral degree.
A student must also go through an informal one-to three-year apprenticeship before becoming an interior designer. Trainees often act as receptionists, buyers, or clerks while they learn the practical side of the interior design business. Experienced designers assist and advise trainees in such tasks as matching patterns, arranging furniture, dealing with customers, and computer-aided design. After completing their training and taking an exam, interior designers may become licensed and members of the American Society of Interior Designers.
Getting the Job
The placement office of a college or school of interior design may be able to help students find a job as an interior design trainee. Professional associations or employment agencies may also have job information. A person can apply directly to interior design firms, department or furniture stores, architectural firms, or manufacturers of furniture. Some graduates find jobs through newspaper classifieds or Internet job banks. Those who cannot find trainee jobs right away often get job experience selling furniture or accessories until they can find the position they want.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement depends on talent and experience. Interior designers can become supervisors in a design studio or in a department of a large store, manufacturing firm, or design firm. Some interior designers advance by opening their own businesses. Others teach in schools of design or work for magazines that deal with home furnishings and interior design.
There will be an increase in the employment of interior designers through the year 2014. More businesses and individuals are using their services. However, beginning workers may find heavy competition for jobs. Some decide to focus on a niche market in order to be competitive, such as designing for the elderly or the environment-conscious, or focusing specifically on kitchens and baths. The best jobs will go to those with talent, education, and experience.
Interior designers work in studios or stores that range from small boutiques to larger, more luxurious settings. They are often out consulting with customers, manufacturers, and workers. Some must travel long distances and carry heavy portfolios and sample books. They may visit expensive homes, buildings under construction, and drafty warehouses. Interior designers often work long and irregular hours. They are usually under pressure to meet deadlines.
Interior designers need tact, patience, and flexibility in order to deal with all kinds of customers. They should have artistic and creative talent as well as good business sense and the ability to solve problems. In addition, they should have computer skills in order to present their designs electronically.
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings of interior designers vary widely. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 percent earn $71,220 or more per year, while the bottom 10 percent of interior designers receive less than $23,440 per year. The median annual salary is $40,670 per year.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Interior Designers
608 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002-6006
International Interior Design Association
13-500 Merchandise Mart
Chicago, IL 60654-1104
Experienced designers may work for a salary, a commission, or a combination of the two. A few designers with exceptional talent earn well over $100,000 per year. Benefits for salaried interior designers sometimes include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Self-employed designers or those who work on commission for small firms must provide their own benefits.