Interior design is an industry on the up, with more opportunities to learn, refine and ultimately make a career out of it than ever before.
But where should you study? What's the best place to score an internship? And what can you expect once you're ready to enter this multifaceted and rewarding profession?
Well that's where we come in, showing you just how to become an interior designer and decorator in today's market. First of all, though, you will need to be as passionate as we are about creating spaces of all shapes and sizes of the highest aesthetic and practical quality.
If that's you then join us in taking a look at the journey to becoming a top interior designer.
Interior Design Schools and Colleges
The first question is often ‘Do I need a degree to get an interior design job? In short, the answer is yes.
However, it doesn't necessarily have to be a degree in interior design. If you have completed related work in computer aided design (CAD) or technical drawing then you have a good chance of employment. Completing a degree will give you a head start though, particularly if it's at any of these four excellent institutions.
So what are the best interior design colleges to attend here in the U.S?
Based in Brooklyn, New York, the Pratt Institute runs interior design programs focussed on architectural principles like spatial design and surface remodelling. Modules of study include configuration, proportion and light sources, as well as specifics about textures and materials.
This is the ideal school if you're looking to immerse yourself in the core fundamentals of interior design. The culture of of our industry will surround you here as well, because New York is undoubtedly our spiritual home in the United States.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Welcome to the home of the country's top rated interior design courses, both graduate and undergraduate, where groundbreaking developments in technology come as part of the school's ethos.
Just take SCADpad, a micro-housing project developed at the school and celebrated globally as a groundbreaking collaborative initiative in 2015.
With two campuses in the state of Georgia, one in France and another in Hong Kong, SCAD is a legitimately international institution. In fact, more than 100 countries are represented in what must be one of the most diverse student bodies in the world.
Rhode Island School of Design
Interior Architecture is the course offered at RISD, a school founded more than 140 years ago. The difference with other interior design courses is that the focus is more about the "design of buildings from inside out."
This means the four year undergraduate program is a challenging and respected mix of conservation, architecture and design. Not just a focus on the art of interior design.
RISD graduates subsequently have an impressively varied and sought after skill set that employers from across the world look for. Geographically the school is well placed between Boston and New York.
New York School of Interior Design
Back to the Big Apple for our final interior design school, to a specialist institution where more than 90 precent of students gain employment within 6 months after graduation. And you just can't argue with that.
The New York School of Interior Design has a particular commitment to environmental and sustainable practices, which is good news considering the increasing focus of smart, energy efficient homes in the industry. No question NYSID offers one of the best market focussed interior design programs anywhere in the world.
These four institutions are right at the top of interior design, but there are a number of others in the U.S that also offer a fantastic base to start from.
As well as a degree, however, it's worth noting that some states require an interior design certification. In California, for example, you will have to take the California Council for Interior Design Certification exam (CCIDC) before you practice.
Interior Design Courses and Certifications
(There are lots Online!)
New York Institute of Art & Design
The New York Institute of Art and Design offers a fully accredited interior design qualification, which you can try for two weeks before committing. We like this course because it has two payment plans, making it affordable for aspiring interior designers on a budget.
After all, it would be sad to see financial barriers stopping top talent gaining a foothold in the industry, so this course is a welcome addition to the profession.
Interior Design Institute
Another affordable online interior design course has been rolled out by the Interior Design Institute. This 24 week diploma will see you complete 12 online assignments that relate directly to the course modules. That might sound a little dry but IDI prides itself of developing it's student's creative flair. So expect a fun, varied course.
Our favourite online course is run by Rhodec International, and by course we mean courses. You can start at anytime so why not have a look at the 'sampler' today. It's free and will give you a good idea of what to expect on future courses.
Then the full interior design qualifications vary from an introduction course to a professional diploma course. After that you can study for another year and complete a Bachelor's degree in interior design. All in the comfort of your home!
No matter what course you take, as we said before, some states will want you to gain certification as well. This currently stands at 28 states, including Illinois, Texas, New York and California.
So let's talk specifically about that California Council for Interior Design exam, and some of it's equivalents around the country. Many of which are written into law.
So how do you get certified as an interior designer?
In California that means taking the IDEX California examination, although this varies around the country. Most other states want you to pass the NCIDQ.
To be honest, the requirements for getting into the certification exam can get a bit complicated. With all sorts of combinations of years in education and relevant experience. So just remember this.
The more you have studied the less experience you will need. In most cases you will have to rack up at least 2 years employed in an interior design job. That's with a 4 year bachelor's degree. If you need some extra help check your eligibility here.
The exams are mostly multiple choice questions and cost around $400. During our research we couldn't find any exams that aren't available online. So if you're short on time or geographically limited then don't worry. Just sign up below.
You life as a certified interior designer is just around the corner!
Interior Design Work Experience & Internships
As we have already seen, becoming an interior designer means getting some experience in the field before your career even starts. Yes, you made need it to qualify for a certification exam, but it's also important to start building up your portfolio as soon as possible.
That's why we think even unpaid internships have their worth, as long as you take high quality pictures of the work you do. Plus your practical skills will be honed for when that exhilarating first job comes in. Of course this does mean taking a hit to the wallet while you get some much needed experience. However, your unpaid interior design internship might introduce you to an invaluable contact, or offer you the insight you need to be a cut above the rest.
It may also get your foot in the door with an international company like HDR, where interior design is integral to their architecture and engineering projects around the world. HDR often advertise internship roles, just like Viacom.
Every year Viacom's New York office recruits young interior designers and helps them improve their knowledge of space planning, furniture selection and much more. In California, Gensler runs a similar program for those looking for interior design careers. The San Jose design firm looks for interns from around the world, so you can look forward to working with like minded people from very different backgrounds. Probably very different ideas about interior design as well.
An internship with these larger corporations means you are more likely to be paid, although you might not find the same kind of flair as you would with a smaller company.
With this in mind it might be worth contacting self-employed interior designers whose work you love. A huge amount of interior designers work for themselves, so getting some experience within that environment will set you up well for the future. Chances are they have faced some of the challenges you can expect in the coming years. So maybe you won't get paid but some of the advice you gain could end up saving you a lot of money in the future.
On a Time/Money Budget?
If interior design internships aren't a viable option for you at the moment then how about taking the time to decorate your own house? Or maybe a friend's? You can still take some amazing photographs and show prospective employers your skills. No doubt you will learn a thing or two this way as well.
In time you will need to gain work experience in a more professional capacity but it's important to show initiative and get your journey towards being an interior designer started as quickly as possible.
Upload your designs to websites like Houzz.com and get people noticing your style. This will help you to build relationships with relevant businesses and your peers within the industry. Because when push comes to shove interior design careers are only as good as the work you have physically done.
Interior Design Jobs & Careers
Congratulations, you have completed your education towards becoming an interior designer. All of that hard work means you're ready for your first big job. But how much should you be charging the client?
That's a tricky one, but we think you should be starting at about $70 an hour, which you can expect to jump to as much as $200 as time goes by.
On average interior designers with steady work can expect to earn around $30,000 to $50,000 a year. At first though try not to put too much pressure on the figures you're bringing in. Focus on building that portfolio and enjoying doing what you love for a living.
We have found that interior designers at the beginning of their careers tend to look for work with larger companies. This takes away the stress of being out there alone and also offers the chance to build up a better knowledge of the industry.
And that industry knowledge is sure to include sustainability. It's simply where interior design is going at the moment. But what companies are moving in the right direction?
Who To Work For?
Perkins & Will
Perkins & Will is a huge company that puts an awful lot of attention into sustainability. They claim to have a staff with more Leaders in Energy and Environment Design than any other company.
So landing a job with them is definitely not a bad thing. They have offices all over the U.S, including Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C and other major cities.
Up in Canada, Stantec are always looking for talented young interior designers to work on projects around the world.
The company's ethos is built on bringing a sense of community to their projects, so designers are encouraged to bring an atmosphere of inclusion and fun into projects that range from hotels to airports. Stantec has offices in every corner of the U.S so chances are you're not too far from one right now!
Our final company profile is HKS, an architecture firm based in Dallas, Texas. We like HKS because they want employees to shape the company. And in such a creative industry that has to be a positive thing. Their track record isn't too bad either. You may have noticed that little stadium they built for the Dallas Cowboys?
All three of these companies are looking to the future, and are big enough to offer opportunities to fledgling interior designers.
If you would prefer a smaller scale then why not try working for residential home developers and home furnishing stores. Many others have kickstarted their interior design careers this way. Or maybe you're looking to work in a much more specific job, like designing the interiors of yachts, schools or restaurants? There are companies that specialise in all of these.
Our advice would be this.
Even with a solid interior design job still keep an eye on developing some other clients, or at least keeping on top of an up-to-date portfolio.
After a few years you might just decide going solo is the right choice for you.
Becoming an interior decorator is a long and challenging journey but the rewards are huge. If you do decide to go it alone then make sure you have enough work to sustain you for the start. Then build from there, making sure your online presence is strong and you continue to work as hard as you did during your certification and work experience years.
We hope we have helped you on the road to becoming an interior designer. The idea was to really give you a better idea of the educational courses and certificates that would allow to start working towards your dream. Did we get enough down for you?
Then from there it's all about getting some interior design work experience, although sometimes that can start with remodelling your own home. If you have gone that route then please get in touch. We would love to see what you have done.
Especially because it will surely inspire others to do the same.
Thanks for reading and let us know about your experiences in the comments below.