Do you have an eye for filling a space with beauty and functionality? Do you like to work with color, texture and different design styles? If you are considering taking courses or pursuing a degree in interior design, or just want an overview of interior design you can spend 15 minutes reading through this introduction. With the additional resources, you can spend 2+ hours digging deeper into this topic.
Table of Contents
Section ONE: Basics of Interior Design
While many enjoy trying their hand at interior design in their own homes, the actual field and work of professional interior design are filled with nuance, talent, discipline and artistry. Indeed, an interior designer is often a creative and artistic individual; however, the work also involves a significant amount of science, balance, and cohesion.
Today, there are eight commonly referenced elements and principles of interior design. Those are color, line, texture, shape, point, space, form and unity (harmony). The individual truly skilled in interior design has learned how to balance and perfect these elements, while also achieving a specific look or vision based on the specific needs and desires of their client. Interior designers must also be fully aware of existing building codes, inspection regulations, and universal accessibility standards related to the place in which they are employed or working.
Those wishing to pursue a career in interior design must first understand the designation between ‘interior decorator’ and ‘interior designer.’ While many are (or claim to be) a decorator, a career as a designer usually involves the completion of a bachelor’s degree with a focus on interior design. Interior designers learn to be flexible ‘people’ persons, with the ability to adapt and envision, while also holding to the elements of good or right design. Much of interior design education today also involves a focus on a design’s impact on productivity and well-being, directed towards designing a place specific to the lives being lived by the people or families within the walls.
What do you think?
What part of interior design is the most interesting to you?
Additional Resources for Basics of Interior Design
- Elements and Principles of Interior Design Slideshow
- Interior design is about more than wallpaper and bean bags TED Talk
Section TWO: History of Interior Design
Like all fields of work, the practice of interior design has a deep and rich history. The beginnings of interior design are often traced back to the Ancient Egyptians, who enhanced their basic dwellings with skins, textiles, murals, and sculptures. These design choices were often only found in the homes (and tombs) of the wealthier and more powerful families. From this point and on through the centuries, interior design followed the patterns of the Dark Ages, the Gothic period, the Renaissance age, and the Neoclassical period.
Over the next two centuries (1800’s – present-day), interior design saw more freedom, eclecticism, and innovation. Commonly referred to movements include the Art Deco, Art Noveau, Victorian, and industrial Bauhaus. It was not until the most recent 100 years that the concept and appreciation of interior design truly were available to the masses, no longer an aspect of life only for the wealthy.
The ‘profession’ of interior design is about 100 years old. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the term interior decorator was first used; the term interior designer was first coined in the 1930s by Interior Design and Decoration magazine. The largest professional organization, American Institute of Interior Designers, was established in 1931.
The importance of specific early designers cannot be overlooked. Many of these individuals, often titled as the ‘true’ founders of the profession, are lauded or revered for their work in this centuries-long movement. While the interior design community may not completely agree on the true fathers and mothers of interior design, all students of the profession will learn both the names and the importance of these eight individuals: Elsie de Wolfe, Jean-Michel Frank, Albert Hadley, Sister Parish, Dorothy Draper, David Hicks, and Billy Baldwin.
What do you think?
Which part of history do you think has been the most influential on interior design?
Additional Resources for History of Interior Design
- The Origins and History of Interior Design (including timeline)
- 7 Legendary Interior Designers Everyone Should Know
- A Brief History of Interior Design (100-Year Timeline)
Section THREE: Styles of Interior Design
Today, it can be difficult to define all of the ‘styles’ of interior design. Some lists include 20+ different styles, each with its own characteristics and attributes. What many interior designers (and individuals) prefer today is blending and mixing styles, continually working to achieve that sought-after balance of the different design elements.
Here, 9 popular interior design styles are discussed.
Modern/Contemporary: A broad term, this style usually involves clean and crisp lines and elemental simplicity. The color palette is minimal and the design often includes a mix of glass and metals. The use of accessories or designed ‘clutter’ is minimal. Contemporary design includes curved lines as well.
Traditional: Traditional design is rooted in European flavor. The style is often described as ‘classic,’ and includes rich furnishings, depth, ornate fabrics and details, rich color palettes, and a blend of textures, fabrics, and layers.
Rustic/Farmhouse: Rustic design leans into the ‘unfinished’ look of raw wood, stone, and brick. Accessories from the outdoors are often utilized, like reclaimed wood or exposed beams, and original architectural details like stone or brick walls or fireplaces are kept.
Minimalist: Minimalist design is similar to modern design, though it often simplifies even more. Nothing is colorful or flamboyant and functionality, clean lines, and streamlined neutrality are design goals.
Industrial: Industrial design is often raw or unfinished. Furnishings are sparse, as the space is intended to be open. While the color palette is often neutral, pops of color are commonly utilized in artwork.
Mid-century Modern: This design style is a reinvigoration of the 1950s-60s. While often retro, it is also minimalist, with an emphasis on natural shapes and forms, easy to use design, and simple fabrics and accessories.
Scandinavian: Scandinavian design is simple and understated, while still being extremely functional and artistic. White (and natural light) is an essential piece of the color palette. Pops of color are essential, usually via accessories, artwork, or a statement piece of furniture.
Bohemian: This design style is adventurous and carefree. Intentionally messy, it utilizes layers, textures, colors, rich patterns and vibrant colors (often rich reds, purples, oranges).
Nautical/Coastal: Meant to reflect the spirit of a beach house, this design utilizes white, sand, and blue accents. Exposed wood, jute, and linen upholstery are common design elements.
What do you think?
Which design style do you prefer?
Additional Resources for Styles of Interior Design
- 22 Interior Design Styles for Your Home (full list)
- Interior Design Types: How to Find Your Perfect Style
Section FOUR: Design Concept
Developing a sound design concept is one of the first steps in creating good design. This step in the design process follows the first step of clarification of goals and objectives, which occurs between designer and client. Concept development should solve any acknowledged or specified design problems that came up during goal generation.
Is the space cluttered? Is it poorly functional? It is dark and the client desires light? These are the types of questions or problems a design concept should strive to answer. Both the what and the why of new design must be addressed.
Concept development is often broken down into two stages, ideation and a concept statement. The ideation stage involves brainstorming solutions. This occurs verbally, via sketch, via computer, and the written word. This work may take place with the client and/or be done singularly by the designer. After brainstorming, poor or unworkable ideas (perhaps based on budget, space allowances, etc.) are filtered out, while the workable ones are redefined and clarified until a cohesive concept emerges.
After ideation comes a concept statement, usually including schematics. The concept statement is often a document that expressive the principal ideas and approach behind the proposed design. The accompanying schematics are visualization tools, graphics and sketches which show orientation, color palettes, space allocations, spatial relationships, etc. Typically, more than one design concept is created. The client is then presented with the options for review, approval, feedback, or a potential “return to the drawing board.”
What do you think?
How does design concept affect the interior design process?
Additional Resources for Design Concept
- Top Interior Designers Talk Techniques for Transforming Spaces TED Talk
- How to Develop a Design Concept YouTube Video
Section FIVE: Color
Many designers claim that color is one of the most essential, and difficult, design elements to get right. The sheer volume of colors and shades creates a vast array of choices, and good design must adhere to the importance of balance and proportion among all of those choices. Color is also essential in setting a space’s energy or mood? Is the space intended for entertainment or rest? What type of energy will it imbue? Does it need to serve dual purposes? Choosing color is a significant part of creating a space that functions in the desired way.
Common components of the color discussion include ‘warm vs. cool’ schemes, complementary schemes, analogous schemes, and the ’60-30-10’ rule. These components all rely extensively on the use of the full color wheel, which may be utilized to determines colors that are opposites, that exist near each other on the wheel, or tones and shades that reside in the same space or wedge of the wheel. The 60-30-10 rule is a reference to the balance of colors and is often considered a designer’s best friend.
Color must also be considered with its interaction with materials. Textures and light play a large rule in the tones and shades which a room will lean towards. These interactions are often a significant piece of the warm vs. cool discussion, as they can affect both the tones of the room and the energy of the room. Josef Albers, in his highly regarded book Interaction of Color, states that colors are continuously fluxing and that they can only be understood in relationship to the other colors that surround them.
What do you think?
How does color impact your design concept and style?
Additional Resources for Color
Section SIX: Technology in Interior Design
Today, the impact of technology on interior design cannot be ignored. Technology plays a significant role in the design process, both via design tools for design creation and as a piece of the design concept(s). Many online platforms and tools, both free and at a cost, allow for design, presentation, communication, collaboration, and editing.
Design concept creation used to involve the use of tape measures, canvases, pencils and pens. Though these tools are not entirely devoid of purpose now, they have been largely replaced by professional computer design tools and apps like Augment, Estiluz, and Decolabs. These smart technology tools utilize 3D augmented reality, allowing one to move around, switch, or remove furniture, lights, accessories, etc., as well as delve into color customization(s). These technologies essentially allow for complete design visualization before decisions are made or money is spent. Houzz, another popular Pinterest-like, collaborative, design generating tool, also offers its user the chance to continue on to purchase the desired design products.
Perhaps one of the largest impacts of technology on interior design is its ability to put control into the hands of the consumer or client. Most technologies allow for seamless sharing of ideas and collaboration, while there is also a variety of platforms that encourage or assist a consumer in being their own decorator or designer (without the help of a professional). Commonly used free home and interior design tools include SketchUp, Floorplanner, SmartDraw, HomeByMe, Rooomstyler 3D Home Planner, and Planner 5D.
What do you think?
How have you seen technology in interior design?
Additional Resources for Technology in Interior Design
- The First Secret of Design…is Noticing TED Talk
- What Will the Interior Design Profession Look Like 10 Years in the Future?
Section SEVEN: Areas of Specialization
Many often think of interior designers and the work they do inside of personal homes. While this is a significant piece of the industry, and one which likely feels more approachable to the many who appreciate elements of good design, interior design is also a significant piece of the creation of commercial spaces.
Residential Design Specialization: Designers within this specialization work with homeowners, home improvement stores, or architects. They are often self-employed and work on a contractual basis or as freelancers. Their work involves home design or redesign, including layout and spatial considerations, color schemes, and style choice and achievement.
Commercial Design Specialization: Those who work within this specialization assist in the development and creation of offices spaces, restaurants, hotels, studios, shops, community centers, etc. They too are often self-employed. Creation of these spaces often includes a focus on aesthetics, acoustics, function, effective lighting, and empowerment for both employees and the clients being serviced. Much attention must be paid to the story that the client or owner of the space wants to tell.
Aside from these two common interior design specializations, other niches or professional paths include retail design, interior design consultancy, exhibit design, set design, lighting specialization, and space planning consultants. Sustainable design (both commercially and residentially) also continues to grow in popularity, praised for its focus on the reduction of environmental impact, waste minimization, and increased productivity.
What do you think?
Which area of specialization do you see yourself pursuing?
Additional Resources for Areas of Specialization
Section EIGHT: How Americans with Disabilities Act Affects Interior Design
It was briefly mentioned in section one that interior designers must be adept at creating concepts and designs that meet the standards and regulations of city and building codes. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of these sets of standards and regulations that must be considered, especially in the creation of commercial or public spaces.
The ADA was a landmark civil rights act that laid out specific specifications for building design and accessibility. Passed in 1990, the ADA code includes specific building design requirements that ensure public buildings like movie theatres, malls, libraries, and restaurants are accessible to people with disabilities. Buildings that existed before the ADA was passed were/are required to make any structural or communication changes that are ‘readily achievable’ to their existing spaces. This includes things like the addition of nonslip ramps or handrails, and these required determinations are made on a case by case basis. The ADA code does not apply to personal residences, though many designers embrace accessible design in residential spaces as well, as it typically leads to greater practicality and function.
Some interior design elements relate directly to accessibility for all persons. This includes things like open concept, single-story floor plans, wider doorways and hallways, and accessible countertops and storage (large islands, under counter storage, etc.). Smart technology is also a large piece of this puzzle, including options like app-controlled locks or window treatments and easy access panels or switches for things like fireplaces, lighting, or garage doors, or garbage disposals.
What do you think?
Have you thought about ADA’s influence on interior design? How does it impact your design concept?
Additional Resources for How Ada affects interior design
Section NINE: Notable Interior Designers
As discussed previously, many interior designers are loved and respected by the design community. Though the designers previously mentioned have since passed away, they have been joined by a variety of men and women who continue to challenge the ways society considers design today.
Eight of the most influential designers, both modern and past, are discussed below. This list is nowhere near inclusive.
Elsie de Wolfe: One of the first female interior designers, de Wolfe worked as an actress and designer in late 1800s and early 1900s. She was known for taking the typical heavy Victorian style of the times and replacing it with light, uncluttered rooms and spaces, and intimate effects and accessories.
Albert Hadley: An American male designer who only recently passed (2012), Albert studied and taught at Parsons and had his own studio. Many claim that it was difficult to typify him, instead lauding his ability to work within a variety of styles.
Sister Parish: Known for her work with the Kennedy family, the White House, and her partnership with Albert Hadley, Sister Parish is considered to have been the originator of American country style.
Billy Baldwin: Starting in the 1930s, Baldwin designed the homes and apartments of many famous people, including the White House, Billy Rose, Lambert Mellow, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. His work also included furniture; he was the original designer of the slipper chair.
David Nightingale Hicks: Hicks, an English designer, was known for his use of bold colors and mixing of antique and modern furnishings. He also frequently utilized contemporary art, working with many famous clientele in aristocracy, fashion, and media.
Joanna Gaines: Gaines had a meteoric rise to fame, creating a design empire in just a few years. She is often credited for the creation of “farmhouse chic” design, including elements like shiplap, clawfoot tubs, sliding barn doors, and wainscoting.
Nate Berkus: Berkus made his debut on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002. His style includes antique and vintage touches and he has partnered on lines with Target, Kravet, the Shade Store, and Framebridge.
Emily Henderson: Now a published author, Henderson also shares design how-to on her blog and Instagram. Her style is vintage-inspired and approachable, utilizing a high/low aesthetic.
What do you think?
Which interior designer has influence your design style?
Additional Resources for Notable Interior Designers
Section TEN: Interior Design in Media
In recent decades, social media has changed the face of nearly every industry. Decoration and design are no exception. Let’s answer the question of how social media is influencing interior design
Currently, the biggest platform revolutionizing the industry is Instagram. The image-centric app is affecting the way designers find clients, share ideas and showcase their evolution as a designer. It has also vastly changed the ways consumers interact with both design trends and designers.
Fast Company states “Instagram has altered the velocity and business of interior design” reporting that interior designer Christina Higham states “it’s democratized design…it’s made people feel that anyone can be a designer.” Social media has accelerated design trends. The quick proliferation and dissemination of content mean a quick saturation, quickly making space for the next new thing. There are pros and cons to this hyperactive design cycle, but it appears that the overexposure is difficult to contain. Continually, because social media is inherently built to maximize speed of usage and quick viewership, today’s students of design have to consider how to make their impact or statement very quickly, before their viewer (or potential client) scrolls on to the next thing.
It is difficult to say whether or not social media has ‘helped’ the interior design field. But, much like the smart technologies discussed above, social media is now an active participant in the interior design field, and designers must learn how to navigate it.
What do you think?
Where have you seen interior design in media?
Additional Resources for Interior Design in Media
- Instagram is Reshaping the $10B Business of Interior Design
- How Instagram is influencing interior design trends – for better and for worse
Section ELEVEN: Typical Interior Design Courses and Certifications
As with most degree programs, there is no absolute list of courses that every degree program offers. However, for the student interested in interior design education, it is appropriate to expect courses and training in some of these common areas discussed below. In a degree program, these courses are part of a greater whole (also comprised of general education requirements like math, science, social sciences, etc.). This list is not all-inclusive.
Drawing: Drawing courses educate students on how to turn an idea into reality. Various drawing techniques are taught, as well as the use of digital drawing tools.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD): CAD courses teach students how to best utilize CAD software. They may learn file management, template use, drawing aid utilization, text application, table creation, and layer usage.
Color Theory: Color theory courses review the impact of color on cultural, societal, and psychological choices and decisions. Various ideas and theories will be studied, including optical illusions, light and contrast, and the Bezold Effect.
The Business of Interior Design: Usually offered at the bachelor’s level, these courses enable students to handle the business side of being a designer. This includes project management, problem-solving, client interaction, presentation skills, and contract negotiation.
Design Theory: Often a bachelor’s level course, these classes get into the literature and history of past designers. Students will study how these early ideas informed current design, as well as how they can still be implemented and utilized today.
Interior Design Certificate: For those unable to complete a degree program, there are certificate programs. These can usually be completed in about a year. Common certificate programs include Fundamentals in Interior Design, Drafting, & Communication or Kitchen & Bath Design.
Additional Resources for Courses and Certifications in Interior Design
- 3 Steps to Getting Your Interior Design Certification
- 7 Great Free Online Courses for Interior Design
Section TWELVE: Types of Interior Design Degrees and Descriptions
Interior design degree programs are available at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels. While interior designers have all sorts of paths into the industry, some of which occasionally don’t require higher education (like certificate programs, formal education is becoming increasingly important. A degree program is also necessary before a professional can sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, which is the most widely recognized and respected interior designer certification.
Associates of the Arts, Applied Science, or Science, Interior Design: These programs are typically two years long. Students are equipped to be an assistant (usually an A.A.S degree) or a designer (usually via an A.A. degree). Those wanting to move into fields like architecture or industrial design (or pursue a master’s) often pursue the associates of science.
Bachelor of Science, Interior Design: A four-year program is naturally going to be more well-rounded. The program builds on the education of a two-year program, as well as addressing the business side of design. Graduates are usually eligible for the NCIDQ exam, master’s programs, and/or entry-level design firm positions.
– Specializations in a bachelor’s degree program may include residential design, restoration and preservation, and commercial design.
Though the NCIDQ is the most recognized certification, professionals can also look at pursuing designation from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or Certified Interior Designers (CID). It is most important that a professional consider and understand all state regulations before sitting for any certification exam.
Additional Resources for Interior Design Degrees
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