Why Interior Design is More Than Just Decorating

I want to talk about something that happened to me recently. I had a gentleman call the showroom at my full-time job today and request an estimate for adding a bathroom to his basement. He asked if I would be the one coming out to measure and I said "Yes, my name is Stevie and I am one of the designers here".

His reply? "Oh, I don't need a designer-- it's just a basement bathroom".

Yes sir, you DO need a designer, because design is NOT decorating.

Interior designers wear many hats, and yes, for some clients and some projects, decorating is one of them. However, what this man failed to realize is that literally EVERYTHING that we come into contact in our everyday lives has been designed by SOMEONE. Whether its the products you use, the environment you are in, or the signage and way-finding that helps you navigate that environment, every man-made object is the product of someone putting a pencil to paper (or mouse to computer) and designing it.

Even an environment as simple as a basement bathroom requires someone to put pencil to paper and design it. Now that designer could be a contractor who can lay out a bathroom based on minimum standards from his/her years of experience installing them, it could be a contractor with less experience who may or may not follow national standards for bathroom design, it could even be you-the homeowner- who may not have any experience designing or installing bathrooms at all!

Or, it could be a designer who went through four years of college education, completed multiple internships and has dedicated their career to design, and design alone.

Professional Interior Designers follow National Kitchen and Bath Associate standards, which go beyond building code minimums to optimize the experience and functionality of the space. For example, the minimum standard for the interior width of a powder room is 30" according to the building code. However, is 30" a comfortable width for someone utilizing this powder room? No. The NKBA recommends a minimum width of 36".

Designers aren't just there to tell you what looks good and try to up-sell you on things you don't need. Interior designers think about spaces, not just in plan, but in 3-dimensions and at a high level of detail to make sure all components function the way they were designed to. Another example, a homeowner might see an 18" space between the side of their refrigerator and a wall and think they can go buy an 18" pantry cabinet to fit there. But a designer knows that each refrigerator model has minimum clearances to allow adequate air space/ventilation and for the doors to open their intended 110 degrees to allow the removal of adjustable shelves for cleaning. A designer will also tell you that you need to use a filler strip between the pantry and the wall to make sure that with the added depth of the door hardware, the pantry door will have the clearance to open at least 90 degrees (110 if your pantry has roll-out trays).

These are just a few examples limited to residential kitchen and bath applications, but I hope they help to explain what exactly interior designers do and why their skills are valuable. The debate between design and decorating is a huge topic in the interior design industry these days. In fact, a bill has recently been introduced in the Pennsylvania senate that would create professional recognition and regulation for the profession of interior design through licensing, similar to the licensing required for practicing architects and and engineers. If you are interested in learning more about this bill and the organization behind it (The Interior Design Legislative Coalition of  PA), I encourage you to visit idlcpa.org.

Sidenote: Who says basement bathrooms have to be boring? Check out this awesome, masculine bathroom design I spotted on Houzz!