Become an Interior Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 05, 2020

Explore the requirements to become an interior architect. Learn about the job description and duties, and review the step-by-step process that can help you start a career as an interior architect.

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  • 0:04 Interior Architects
  • 0:54 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:38 Step 1: Education
  • 3:19 Step 2: Internship
  • 3:57 Step 3: ARE Exam
  • 4:23 Step 4: Certification

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Interior Architects

Interior architects prepare drawings of interior spaces and sometimes design the furniture that will be used in those spaces. They may work for architectural firms or other companies that designs hospitals, offices, homes, or schools. Some are self-employed. As in any field of architecture, they spend additional time meeting with clients and checking in on construction sites. Interior architects might encounter some long days when trying to meet deadlines.

Although the work of interior architects sometimes overlaps with that of interior designers, the fields are not the same. In all states, interior architects must be licensed as architects, while certification or licensure for interior designers is only required in some states.

Career Skills & Info

Degree Level Professional architecture degree from an accredited school, commonly a 5-year bachelor's degree or a master's degree, plus qualification as a designer
Degree Field Architecture
Licensure/Certification All states require architects to be licensed; certification is voluntary
Experience A 1- to 3-year internship is usually required prior to licensure; some employers prefer candidates with 5-10 years of experience
Key Skills Analytical, critical-thinking, communication, and organizational skills; the ability to visualize how spaces will look; knowledgeable about building and construction, engineering, technology, and public safety; able to use project management software programs
Career Outlook Architects in general can expect a 8%, or faster-than-average, growth in employment from 2018-2028
Salary (2018) $79,380 (median annual salary for all architects)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Education

To qualify for a state license, interior architects must earn a degree through a program that has been accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Bachelor's and master's degree programs in interior architecture are available. However, these programs are usually not accredited by NAAB, and therefore can't prepare students for licensure.

Accredited bachelor's degree programs in architecture lead to a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) and last five years. Design studios and lectures might include topics in architectural history, math, interior architecture, physics, and urban design.

Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) programs require one to two years of study and are usually designed for students who possess a bachelor's degree in a field other than architecture. Through design studios and lectures, graduate students learn about computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), construction methods, environmental systems, and urban determinants. Some schools offer combined B.Arch./M.Arch. programs. These usually last five to six years.

Success Tip:

Complete courses related to interior design. Students who plan to work as interior architects can often choose electives in building materials, flooring, lighting, and paint styles, among other topics related to this specialty. Although similar, the aesthetics associated with interior design are a bit more nuanced than those related to exterior composition, which is why it's important for students to take these courses.

Step 2: Internship

Aspiring interior architects must complete the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) Intern Development Program (IDP) before they can qualify for a license. This program requires a 5,600-hour paid internship.

Success Tip:

Prepare for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). The NCARB offers study guides and practice exams to individuals intending to take the ARE. These materials might help an individual pass the ARE on his or her first try.

Step 3: ARE Exam

The Architect Registration Examination (ARE) can only be taken after an individual has completed the internship requirement. It consists of seven areas, including site planning and design, building systems, and schematic design. Continuing education is required to renew an architect's license. Depending on the state, renewal might be annual or biennial.

Step 4: Certification

Interior architects can apply for a voluntary certification from the NCARB once they've qualified for and earned a state license. The certification must be renewed annually and may ease the transition of licensing across states.

Interior architects with 'green' construction or design experience can pursue one of the multiple Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications available through the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED credentials must be renewed every two years by completing 15 hours of continuing education.

Remember, interior architects need a B.Arch. or M.Arch. degree from a program that has been approved by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and a state license, which requires completion of a 5,600-hour paid internship. In May 2018, the median annual salary for an architect in general was $79,380.

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