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How To Become An Interior Decorator (Step By Step)

Interior decorating is a fun career that constantly challenges and pushes you to develop new skills on par with new trends. Before you choose interior decorator as a career path, you should make sure that you understand what the job entails. You will also want to make sure you fit any job requirements to ensure you don’t waste time preparing for a career you’re not fit for. To help you decide whether interior decorating is right for you, we’ve provided this complete guide on how to become an interior decorator and if you should.

What is an Interior Decorator?

An interior decorator is someone who furnishes a space according to a client’s specifications and personal style. They’re not involved with the layout or building of space but instead focus on accenting and embellishing a pre-existing residence or commercial property.

Additionally, interior decorators will pull from the space’s pre-existing aesthetics and stitch together a cohesive aesthetic. Patterns, color schemes, textures, and more will be considered when an interior decorator works with a space. The end goal of an interior decorator’s work is to curate a space that fuses functionality and style.

Step-by-Step Guide to Become an Interior Decorator

If you’re wondering how to become an interior decorator, nothing is as helpful as a step-by-step guide on how to do so. We’ve gathered everything you need to know and funneled it into steps that make it easy to navigate the career path.

1. Research the Profession Thoroughly

Before deciding this is the career path for you, be sure to research it thoroughly. As detailed in this post, interior decorating and interior designing are two different things. Ask yourself if you know the difference and which is the path for you. Also, make sure you understand that there are different pathways to start.

Questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is an interior designer? What is an interior decorator?
  • Am I okay with not being a part of the design process as an interior decorator?
  • Do I want to go to school for this? Earn a certificate?
  • How will I develop a portfolio?
  • Who do I know that I can network with?
  • Who do I know that will let me decorate their space?
  • Are there any firms near me looking for interior decorators?
  • Will this career choice fund the lifestyle I want?

While some of these questions are not specific to the interior decorating career path, they are important to research and understand before moving forward with any career.

2. Meet Minimum Requirements

Though there are not any educational requirements to become an interior decorator, there are a few things you’ll want to be sure of.

Computer Proficiency – Working on computers for mock-ups and client interactions is essential. In addition, you’ll need to know how to use design software, and you will want a decent understanding of social media best practices which will help you continue to grow your business. While you don’t necessarily need to know these things before becoming an interior decorator, you will need to learn them quickly.

3. Decide on Education

There is no educational requirement for becoming an interior decorator, though the experience will only help, never hurt. You have three choices if you would like to become an interior decorator.

  • No Education – This is the default option if you choose not to receive formal education from an institution, whether degree or certification. You will most likely have a more difficult time landing clients or a firm without an education. However, it is not impossible.
  • Certification – A certificate provides a quick glance at the interior decorating career space without being too strenuous. It is a step up from no education and will provide social proof of your decorating capabilities.
  • A College Degree – The most time-consuming option, but the one that will provide the most experience, equating to a better resume and portfolio

4. Build Your Portfolio & Resume

If you’re earning a certificate or an undergraduate degree, you will be building your portfolio and resume by default. However, if you’re not attending school, you will need to focus your time and energy on developing your portfolio/resume alone.

Whether it be via friends and family’s homes or online simulations, focus on creating high-quality pieces that shine. Make sure they represent you as a designer while staying true to the client’s interests and needs at heart. This step does not need to be labor-intensive or expensive. However, make sure to continue practicing so that you can present your highest quality pieces in the portfolio. Here is a list of interior decorating software, perfect for portfolio building.

5. Locate a Mentor

Obtaining a mentor to help guide your beginning days as a new interior decorator can make all of the difference. If you’ve attended a college to obtain a degree in interior decorating or a related field, you may find that you have access to a mentor via that experience. Whether it be a guest speaker, professor, or alumni program, you may have a bit of an easier time locating someone to mentor you.

Otherwise, it would help if you took time to research online for local decorators who either advertise that they’re looking for apprentices, or you might choose to cold contact. While a mentorship may not come to fruition, there are still benefits to reaching out to local decorators. You’ll work towards getting your name out there and better understanding the competition and current market.

6. Develop Relationships in and Outside of the Industry

Interior decorating is a competitive career. The best thing you can do is continue fostering relationships with everyone you come into contact with. Carry around business cards and market yourself as an interior decorator every chance you have to help cement yourself in the industry.

Another great tool is to introduce yourself to local businesses you may be working with in the future. Establishing these relationships early on may score you a client referral, or at the very least, keep a solid personal network active. For example, reach out to local tile, fabric, and lumber distributors. Also, reach out to galleries, contractors, and furniture stores.

7. Establish an Online Presence

In today’s digital world, an online presence is vital. Think of it as an around the clock advertisement without the big budgets or constant customer service work. A gorgeous Instagram layout or thorough Facebook page will captivate users, and the exposure will help your personal business and brand to continue growing, even when you’re sleeping. Make sure to keep it up-to-date and to use the best of the best as it’s an open reflection of your abilities.

8. Continue Gaining Experience

Regardless of what you’ve accomplished up to the point of becoming an interior decorator and in those beginning months afterward, always strive for more experience. Nothing quite proves your abilities like a long list of past, happy clients (even if some of them are loved ones). Gaining experience has a snowball effect. The more you have, the more you will continue to acquire, and it will result in a very beneficial loop. Also, don’t forget to continue updating your resume and platforms to reflect your latest works.

What’s The Difference Between An Interior Designer and An Interior Decorator?

While people may use the two words interchangeably, they are not actually the same. Interior designers and interior decorators each play a special role in putting together interiors, but they vary slightly.

Furthermore, an interior designer will take a more scientific approach to help clients design their space. As such, they are part of the process from the ground up, usually working with architects to produce a room or home that complements the client’s behavior and needs. (You can learn how to become an interior designer without a degree.)

At a glance, this means that interior decorators are only dealing with the decor in a space while interior designers may deal with the design (layout, flooring type, wall colors, fireplace location, ceiling heights, etc.) AND decor. Once an interior decorator is involved in the designing process too, their title is usually switched over to an interior designer rather than a decorator.

Do You Need A Degree To Be An Interior Decorator?

There is no educational requirement for becoming an interior decorator. Though, if you’re hoping to win over clients early on or want to join an agency, they may require that you have earned a degree.

If they do not require a degree for you to submit an application, they may still give preference to candidates who do possess degrees or certifications rather than those that don’t. A degree adds a level of security and experience that those starting from scratch won’t have.

On a personal level, you may find that an education will better prepare you for all types of clients and situations. While it may seem as though you’re ready to take on the world because you’ve helped friends and family decorate their homes, schooling provides a new set of perspectives that will make a more well-rounded candidate.

If you wish to attend a school and obtain an interior decorating degree, you’ll find accredited institutions across the country offering coursework. You might also consider certification from places like Interior Design Society that will cost less than an official degree but offer similar benefits. Just be sure when searching for an educational program that you’re choosing an interior decorating one rather than design as it may save time and energy if you’re not interested in the design portion.

Can You Become An Interior Decorator With No Experience?

Because interior decorating does not require a degree, it is possible to get started without experience. However, very few people will be willing to give money to someone with no proof of abilities or prior experience. With experience comes references, a portfolio, and a network to contact for different needs. Without it, the job may be much more difficult, and you and your initial clients may suffer as a result.

If possible, search for apprenticeship programs where you’re able to work under the wing of an experienced interior decorator who can show you the ropes and boost your portfolio and network. Another possibility for quick experience is to offer free services to your family and friends in which you work with them to design a space they love or even mockup a design online.

Both of these scenarios can help you to gain experience without a degree or professional education. While it is not necessary to have experience before practicing interior decorating, it will make winning over clients a much easier process.

How Much Do Interior Decorators Make?

Like many career paths, the salary of an interior decorator will depend on their experience and dedication to the career. Those who are inexperienced or work few hours will make much less than well-versed interior decorators who work full-time and have been for decades.

The average interior decorator’s salary is $34,771. In higher-income states with major cities, the average jumps exponentially. For example, an interior decorator in New York City, New York, has an average salary of $59,954. In Orlando, Florida, and Fort Worth, Texas, the salaries are $55,304 and $52,719, respectively. An average of $20,000-$25,000 increase.

While the exact amount will vary depending on a few factors, you can expect to make a decent salary as an interior decorator. Of course, the stronger your portfolio and the more clients you acquire, the higher your income.

How Long Does It Take To Become An Interior Decorator?

The amount of time it takes to become an interior decorator will depend on a few factors. If you’re planning to receive a formal education, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to years, depending on the program. Other time constraints include whether you’re planning to be self-employed or search for a firm. If choosing a firm, then it may take time for the interview process and to locate a well-qualified one in your area.

In the end, becoming an interior decorator can take as little as a month and as much as years, depending on the route you take.

Quickest Method: If you’re looking to get started immediately, you will want to forgo the formal education and try to locate your first client(s) immediately. Building a portfolio that shines will be the key to acquiring new business.

Medium-Length Method: Obtaining a certificate is a nice medium option that promises the shortest amount of time spent on education while establishing credibility with clients. Certificates are usually obtained via short programs and will give a brief overview of everything you need to know without spending years doing so.

Longest Method: Though it may take the longest amount of time, attending school and receiving a degree in interior decorating or design will pay off. You will build your resume and portfolio and develop more experience. All of these things will help you to build trust with clientele and get started as soon as you graduate. You may also reap the benefits of connections and a strong network upon graduation.