Designer vs. Decorator, the age old debate continues to rage on and I get it, I've been there. What I just can't wrap my head around is the amount of hate and discontent that seeps out when this topic is mentioned. Even the word "Decorator" can invoke a startling magnitude of rage among some people, and to be honest, it breaks my heart. We are not battling for the same clients, there isn't any real competition here, were talking about apples and oranges people.
When I was going through college studying Interior Architecture, I absolutely cringed every time someone referred to me as a decorator. I was busting my hump, working ten times harder than my roommates who were studying subjects like communications, and marketing. I couldn't blow off studying the night before a final, because I had to finish drafting a working set of blueprints to go along with my to scale model of a home I had designed, which was due at 7am the next morning. I remember one late night, working on a set of project boards that were critical to my commercial design grade, and almost slicing off the tip of my thumb with my utility knife. When it wouldn't stop bleeding, I called the hospital and asked "how bad does a cut need to be to get stitches?" They thought I didn't have insurance, but I was just really pressed for time and couldn't stop to go the hospital. Luckily I had the sense of mind to drive myself there with my hand wrapped in a towel, and get my two stitches. My professor gave me one extra day to finish the project and told me I shouldn't have procrastinated. My point is, I gave my blood sweat and tears literally to design school, and I was going to take every credential and accolade that I could get my hands on, to justify to myself and the world that my degree was just as difficult, if not more than my classmates studying more conventional college subjects.
Then I got into the real world and I grew up a bit, and I realized that I didn't really want to practice interior architecture. I am a self proclaimed textile junkie, and I get my biggest fix working on residential "decorating" projects. It's a completely different type of work, with it's own challenges and hurdles to overcome. Trust me, it's no less difficult, it's just different. It is like comparing apples and oranges, they're both fruit, they are both delicious, they're just different. Over the years I have worked on my share of construction projects, and commercial designs, but it simply doesn't make me happy. And I really, really, like being happy. In fact, once I let go of the stigmas attached to a title, and began only working on projects that were interesting to me, and fun to work on, my business started to skyrocket.
Here's an analogy of what I'm trying to express. Let's say you feel a horrible pain in your chest that radiates down your left arm, and you can't breathe, and your life begins to flash before your eyes. Do you call your regular doctor, or go to the local urgent care clinic in your town? No way, you drive straight to the nearest hospital (OK you have someone else drive you, or call an ambulance but you get the picture). Now what happens if you have a cold that you can't seem to shake, or you cut your finger on a rusty nail, and you need to get an updated tetanus shot? Urgent care can take care of it and do a beautiful job fixing you right up. It doesn't mean that they are any less important to our community, or provide any less of a service to those patients that need their care. It's just a different level of care. Now if you were dumb enough to call your doctor when you are in the middle of a cardiac arrest, I hope they're astute enough to call the ambulance for you. I know this is quite the exaggerated example, but I feel the point really needs to be driven home.
If you need your interior structure redesigned, you call a designer. If you want a fresh new look for your room like window treatments or furniture, you can call a decorator. I'm not saying a designer can't decorate, of course that comes with the job. But trust me, it wouldn't take long before you would be up to your eyeballs in throw pillows and it wouldn't be challenging enough for you. It's a job better suited to a decorator. If a decorator get's to a house and finds that a wall needs to be ripped out, or the roof line changed, he or she would call an Interior Architect, or a licensed contractor to do the job. There is enough work in this world for all of us.
In today's economy, both decorators and designers are struggling, and I can understand where this might bring up some unusually strong emotions. There is a misconception that decorators might be stealing jobs away from designers and tarnishing the reputation of designers everywhere. They worry that it's a detriment to homeowners and possibly even dangerous. But that has not been my experience at all.
If a home owner is foolish enough to hire an unqualified person to work on a project that's out of their scope of expertise, we still have some checks and balances in place that will protect the homeowner. If construction needs to be done, a licensed contractor must do the work, proper permits will be pulled, and the appropriate inspections will be carried out. If not, that foolish homeowner will be very unhappy, and find it difficult to sell their home at a later date. Trust me, bad decorators don't last long in this industry that is built almost entirely on ones reputation and word of mouth marketing.
Let me give a piece of useful advice from an experienced "Designer", working in a "Decorators" world. If you remain true to your passions, what ever they may be. And only choose to work with your ideal clients and on those projects that you feel deep in your heart are the best fit for yourself and your client, there will never be any competition.
I don't take projects at commercial spaces anymore unless it's strictly cosmetic changes they're looking for. If I have a client that wants their whole house remodeled, including the kitchen, I have a certified kitchen designer take over that part of the project and collaborate with them so the entire project is aesthetically cohesive. In turn, they throw me work when a client needs window treatments and furniture in a new kitchen they just designed. I have an incredible contractor that I can call to take over any construction that needs to be done, not because I can't draw up the plans or manage the project, but I really don't want to any more. I would rather spend my time working with the homeowner on the space plan and the furnishings, and spend the rest of my time playing with my kids.
I make plenty of money, I work on my own schedule, I take tons of time off, and I love my life. Isn't that what it's really about? My clients can sense that I love what I do and they want to be a part of that. Everyone is taken care of, the job turns out beautifully, and I get more referrals than I can handle. It's win win for everyone. All of the bickering is what gives designers a bad reputation. Clients can sense when there's a chip on your shoulder, they've told me so after they let you go, and hired me. So whether you're an apple or an orange, it really doesn't matter. You look more beautiful sitting together in a fruit bowl on someones table, than sitting alone on a shelf somewhere, not being purchased, and turning brown.