Discover Online Classes in Interior Design

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Do you have a knack for spotting the latest design trends long before anyone else? Does the thought finding the perfect antique armoire or couch—or even completely reimagining a room—light you up? If that’s the case, becoming an interior designer could be the perfect job for you.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about working in interior design—including exactly what interior design jobs involve, the education you’ll need to break into the industry, and some of the various roles that you could take as you build your career.

What Is an Interior Designer?

An interior designer creates a plan to make an indoor space beautiful and functional and then executes that plan by carefully selecting furniture, finishes, and items. While it may look easy (and that’s the goal of some of the world’s best designers), interior design is about blending art and science. 

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Interior design is as much about creating a visually interesting space as it is a functional one.

The aim is to create an aesthetically pleasing environment for the people who live and work in that space while still being practical for its intended use. 

Most interior designer jobs can be split into two different buckets: commercial and residential. Some designers prefer to have a huge budget to work with and will design large projects like retail stores, restaurants, or even airports and offices. Others like to stick to more personal rooms, working directly with clients to create beautiful spaces within their homes. 

Whether it’s planning an eclectic open plan concept for a living area or sprucing up a brand new office downtown, interior designers work to create functional yet eye-catching rooms that meet their clients’ specific needs. That can involve plenty of different aspects, from choosing the right colors to fit the vibe of the room to researching and purchasing furnishings that are both comfortable and practical for the environments that they’re in. 

Ultimately, it’s the interior designer’s job to make sure that the plans that were put down on paper are perfectly executed in real life.

What Does an Interior Designer Do?

Before you can start thinking about how to be an interior designer, let’s take a look at some of the roles and responsibilities that you’ll commonly see in an interior designer job description. You might have a basic understanding of what an interior designer is, but there’s much more to the job than planning and creating a pretty room.

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Interior designers often work on commercial projects like restaurants or office spaces.

Freelance interior designers will be fully responsible for pitching for new work, and this can take up a significant amount of their time. 

Even if you’re working in-house for a design firm, you’ll spend hours pouring over blueprints and working with contractors, architects, painters, plumbers, electricians, and other professionals to ensure that your designs are realistic and possible. 

But of course, there’s the fun part too—and the work that drove you to this career in the first place! You’ll sit down with the clients to hear their ideas for the space, as well as note any specific requirements that they might have. Once all of those meetings have taken place, you’ll get to design the rooms on paper or digitally, ready to present to the client ahead of the work starting. 

How to Become an Interior Designer

Wondering how to create a career designing beautiful and functional spaces? Here’s what you need to know.

Education Requirements

For most designers, the first step into the industry is to gain their interior design degree. Not only will this give you the important credentials needed to apply for jobs, but you’ll also learn the practical skills that will help you in your day-to-day work. 

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Understanding how to plan out a room’s design and sticking to a clear budget are some of the skills that you’ll learn in a design degree program.

Learning design basics and how to use tools like AutoCAD is essential for putting together digital plans that impress your future clients. Any good design degree program will have classes focused on these subjects and help you start your journey to becoming an interior designer.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design is a great place to start if you’re looking for bachelor’s degree programs in interior design. Once you have your degree, you’ll need around two years of practical experience before you can qualify for national exams and certifications with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).

Experience Over Education

You’ll often find that the minimum requirements in most interior design job descriptions are an interior design degree and, depending on the state that you’re working in, an NCIDQ certificate. Finding your feet in this world can be tough without a formal education background, but it’s not impossible. 

Some universities and colleges offer self-paced courses in interior design that can give you a taste for this type of work before you make a big commitment to a design degree. You can also complete the NCIDQ exam with only an associate’s degree (in any field), but you’ll need four to five years of experience before being eligible for this.

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Working on a small personal project is a great way to dip your toes into interior design work.

Internships and smaller jobs are often the best way to get your hands dirty (or not, since that’s actually the decorator’s job) and gain some real life experience as an interior designer. Start with people you know locally, like friends or small businesses, and help them plan out their spaces. Developing your portfolio is crucial for getting more clients in the future and will be essential when pitching as a freelance interior designer or when interviewing for an in-house design role.

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How Much Does an Interior Designer Make?

The typical interior designer salary is going to vary immensely depending on the type of work you do. After all, a commercial project where you’re designing multiple retail spaces in a new mall is going to be a much bigger paycheck than a small family home. 

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Source: unsplash
Working on commercial interior design projects will usually make more money than residential work.

There’s also the endless earning potential that comes with freelance interior design work. Consultants to the rich and famous can earn interior designer rates well into the hundreds of dollars per hour, whereas commercial designers at notable design firms can easily see six figure salaries. Generally speaking though, the average interior designer salary is around $51,000 per year.

Jobs for Interior Designers

Design Firms

Working in a design firm can be fast-paced and the perfect environment to start your career. You’ll learn so much from other designers who have decades of experience on a wide range of projects before being let loose with your own clients and designs. 

There are several different roles within design firms that can help you to climb the corporate ladder. For most entry level designers, you’ll typically start as an interior decorator, working to complete a space at the end of a project. Or, as a junior designer, you’ll collaborate with senior members of the team. From there, you can progress up the business ladder to senior designer, project manager, or creative and design director positions.

Types of Design Firms

Interior design firms may be wide-ranging in terms of the clients that they bring in or they could be more specialized. Some firms focus only on commercial or residential design, ensuring that their client portfolio is highly relevant when they pitch new projects. Certain industries like healthcare usually require specialist knowledge, and these businesses will only hire design firms that have a strong history in designing for those unique needs. 

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Source: unsplash
Some design firms specialize in corporate spaces, like coworking spaces or conference venues.

Kitchen and bathroom interior designers also often work at specialist companies rather than big design firms that work on whole-building projects. Since these rooms need more detailed and expert knowledge (working with multiple electrical appliances and pipework is more complicated than ordering a few comfy chairs), designers will typically work only on one or both of these rooms for both commercial or residential design firms.

Other businesses may now provide specialist expertise in sustainable or eco-friendly design, with a team of designers and architects who are knowledgeable in the latest building materials and designers to support low impact structures. Designers interested in adding a unique qualification to their resume can become certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) with the U.S. Green Building Council.

Freelance

Much like working in a big firm, freelance interior design work can be as general or specialized as you’d like it to be. Most freelance interior designers will have spent several years building their career at a corporate firm first and likely focus on at least residential or commercial buildings, if not a smaller subset within one of these categories.

Standard interior designer rates for freelancers can be anywhere from about $25-50 per hour, depending on your level of experience and your portfolio. If you’ve worked with notable companies or high-profile clients, those rates can easily go up to $90-125.

Design Spaces (and Your Career)

If you’re still trying to decide if a career as an interior designer is for you, start small with a personal project of your own. Plan the redecoration and redesign of a space in your home or work with a friend to spruce up their place. 

As you do so, take a look at some design tools online to help you put your ideas onto paper before you can roll up your sleeves and get to work. That will help you get a better sense of whether or not you enjoy the process—before you design a new career for yourself. 

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