Become a Decorator: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a decorator. Learn about the various duties, and explore the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in interior decorating or design. View article »

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  • 0:04 Decorators
  • 0:55 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:23 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:47 Step 2: Experience
  • 2:11 Step 3: License

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Video Transcript


The job of an interior decorator, sometimes referred to as an interior designer, is to make a space aesthetically and visually pleasing. Part of a decorator's job is traveling to clients' homes or other sites, which may include evening or weekend hours. While interior decorators don't need to be licensed, some states require licensing for those that wish to utilize the title, 'interior designer,' according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Requirements include a passing score on a state-approved test, typically the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, after completing an approved training course. In comparison to interior decorators, interior designers can change and improve a structure by working with an architect to maximize the form and function of a space.

Career Skills & Info

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard
Degree Field Interior design
Licensure and Certification Some states require a license; specialty certifications are available and voluntary
Experience No experience necessary to enter the field; internship can lead to job opportunities; eligibility requirements for the NCIDQ include both work and education
Key Skills Creative, good interpersonal and problem-solving skills, proficient in the use of computer-assisted design (CAD) software
Job Outlook Between 2014 and 2024, interior designers can look for a 4%, or slower-than-average, growth in employment*
Salary (2015) $55,510 per year (Average salary for all interior designers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

According to the BLS, the minimum educational requirement for interior designers is usually a bachelor's degree. The coursework for an interior design program includes design history and theory, kitchen and bath design, lighting, drafting, and computer-assisted design (CAD). Students may also complete a final project or thesis along with an internship or work-study program.

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Step 2: Experience

Some interior designers gain experience working under the supervision of a licensed interior designer, while others strike out on their own as freelancers. In addition, many interior designers find opportunities at architectural firms. The Interior Design Experience Program is a formal internship designed for recent interior design graduates, which can also help them obtain some experience.

Step 3: License

Many states had laws regarding licensing for interior designers. A license is different from certification. A certification is an optional industry standard, whereas a license may be required by law. Most states award licenses to individuals who pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. To be eligible to take the exam, interior designers must have a combination of six years of education and experience, such as a four-year degree and two years of experience, an associate's degree and four years of experience, or six years of work experience.

Success Tips:

  • Create a portfolio. Schoolwork can be used for a portfolio. Also include any work from an internship or volunteer project. Employers often look at a candidate's portfolio to evaluate his or her design ability.
  • Take business courses to learn how to manage freelance jobs.
  • Build a network. Interior designers can use their network to find jobs. They may get references from clients and other designers.
  • Earn certifications. Certifications are offered through trade associations and professional organizations independently of the NCIDQ and are used to signify expertise in specialized areas of design. Certifications are usually earned through successful completion of academic and practical exams.

Remember, some states distinguish between interior decorators and interior designers, who usually need a bachelor's degree, experience, and a passing score on the NCIDQ exam. Interior designers earned an average salary of $55,510 a year, as of May 2015.

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