How To Become an Interior Decorator: Skills, Education, Salaries and Outlook

Updated June 30, 2023

Interior decorators have an eye for color and can improve the aesthetics and functionality of interior spaces. These professionals play a vital role in the home construction and remodeling industry, where they use their creative skills to improve living and working spaces.

In this article, we discuss how you can become an interior decorator and provide information on both the skills and education required by the job as well as salaries and the job outlook in the field of interior design.

Key takeaways:

  • Formal education is optional for interior decorators, but it might help to earn a credential accredited by the Certified Interior Decorators International (CID) or the Interior Design Society (IDS).

  • A portfolio highlighting impressive client work is an important tool to help aspiring interior decorators gain employment.

  • Interior decorators have skills in computer-aided design (CAD), design skills, such as symmetry and color theory, and budget management.

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What is an interior decorator?

An interior decorator is a professional in the housing industry who helps improve the aesthetics of rooms and other interior spaces. Unlike interior designers, who need to be skilled in architecture, interior decorators focus solely on beautifying and enhancing the function of living and work spaces.

Related: Learn About Being an Interior Designer

What does an interior decorator do?

Interior decorators oversee efforts to make interior spaces functional, aesthetic and cohesive. They choose and arrange decor and may make decisions concerning interior lighting and furniture. Interior decorators understand clients' needs and work to execute their vision for a space, whether it's a personal room or a company space.

The list below covers the important duties of an interior decorator:

  • Meeting with clients to understand their needs and goals

  • Estimating costs of materials and labor

  • Creating project budgets

  • Creating project timelines

  • Creating sample designs

  • Selecting furniture, paint, and other materials

  • Managing purchases

  • Supervising the installation of furniture and other design elements

Related: How To Become an Interior Designer

Seven steps to become an interior decorator

The journey toward becoming an interior decorator involves gaining a formal education, on-the-job experience and professional certifications. Following these steps will help you become an interior decorator:

1. Understand the profession

Before starting out, you must understand the profession and what it entails. For example, you should understand the difference between interior design and interior decoration. Interior decoration is mostly concerned with improving a space to increase its aesthetic quality. An interior decorator can use furniture and other decor to beautify the space. Interior designers, on the other hand, design spaces from scratch, and concern themselves heavily with the architectural and structural elements in a room.

2. Complete your education

Unlike interior designers, interior decorators can work without a degree. However, earning a degree or professional certification in interior decoration increases your value in the eyes of employers and shows that you understand the tenets of interior decoration.

It is advisable to opt for interior decoration programs that offer accreditation from professional organizations. These include Certified Interior Decorators International and the Interior Design Society.

3. Gain experience

You cannot become a master interior decorator overnight. Rather, you must hone your skills through experience. Beginner interior decorators can use their homes for practice; beyond this, they can expand into the homes of friends and relatives. Doing these free jobs will provide opportunities to make and learn from mistakes while improving your expertise.

Apprenticing under an expert decorator is another option for gaining practical experience. Having the guidance and supervision of a seasoned professional is also an ideal way to improve your own skills.

4. Build a portfolio

Creating a portfolio of your best work is crucial to landing work as an interior decorator. Physical portfolios are traditional, but the convenience and professionalism of having a well-designed online portfolio to share with potential clients can't be overstated. If you don't have web development experience or the funds to pay a developer, you can use social media sites instead. Image-focused sites like Instagram are an excellent option for showcasing your work.

Paid experience isn't necessary when it comes to putting together a portfolio. Even casual or hobby work done for friends and family can be included in a portfolio if it's well-photographed.

5. Create a network

There are three categories of people you should network with: other interior decorators, local suppliers, and homeowners. Fellow interior decorators are obvious sources of tips and tricks for surviving in the industry. Cultivating relationships with suppliers will give you access to better deals on decor like furniture, fabrics and tiles. That can be important when creating sensible budgets for your clients.

Networking with homeowners is vital as they are your potential clients. Visit home decoration shows and fairs in order to connect with homeowners and sell your services. The bigger your network grows, the more opportunities you get. That's why networking is a crucial skill for interior decorators.

6. Develop skills and keep up with trends

There's more to becoming an interior decorator than getting certified. A good interior decorator should constantly work to improve their skills (for example, in drawing or computer-aided design), and they should also be knowledgeable about the trends in their industry. A solid skill-set makes you better able to visualize a client's goals, and having up-to-date knowledge of trends in interior decorating means you'll be able to present your clients with the best options for their space. Attending trade shows, reading industry magazines, and following industry leaders are all good ways of staying current.

7. Join professional organizations

Professional organizations are a good source of continuing career development training. The most prominent organizations for interior decorators are the Interior Design Society and Certified Decorators International, and it is advisable for new decorators to join one of these organizations. Both the IDS and CDI offer opportunities for building networks and gaining certification. Membership of these organizations also makes staying up-to-date with the latest industry developments easier.

Related: Interior Architecture vs. Interior Design: What's the Difference?

What skills do you need as an interior decorator?

The following skills are crucial to creating excellent interior decoration projects:

Computer-aided design (CAD)

While proficiency in computer-aided design is more of a necessity for interior designers, interior decorators can also benefit from using CAD to visualize projects for clients.

Exceptional sense of design

As an interior decorator, you must be able to view a space and plan ways to improve its appearance. For example, you need to know if a change of fabric can improve the feel of a room or whether an office space needs its furniture rearranged to achieve the client's aims. Your ability to understand how to improve an existing design to increase its appeal is important in interior decoration.

Interpersonal skills

Interior decorators must be effective communicators. You'll be spending a great deal of time working with your client to understand their needs and goals for a space, and understanding and patience are important tools. Interpersonal skills are also important when dealing with suppliers, interior designers and builders.

Financial and budgeting skills

Part of the job of an interior decorator is creating and sticking to a budget for their projects. For this reason, skills in cost estimation and budgeting are a must. Careful financial management is crucial in making sure a project doesn't go beyond what your client intended to spend.

What is the average salary for an interior decorator?

Interior decorators earn around $16.06 per hour in the United States. Using the typical 40-hour week in our calculations, we estimate a US-based interior decorator earns $33,404 per year on average. However, you should understand that individual incomes will vary according to experience, location, client, qualifications and marketing expertise.

Related: How Much Do Interior Designers Make?

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What Is the job outlook for interior decorators?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the definitive source for occupational information in the United States. Because the BLS lacks a separate entry for interior decorators, it isn't possible to cite official statistics relating to job growth. Instead we'll look at the job outlook for interior design, as the BLS description of the field strongly overlaps with the job description for interior decorating.

The BLS estimates the interior design sector will experience a 5% decline between 2019-2029. The trend is likely to affect interior decoration and other related professions. In fact, the art and design field is expected to decline by 4%, according to the BLS. Improving your skills will increase your prospects of securing interior decoration jobs. Your ability to network and sell yourself will matter as the industry becomes increasingly competitive.

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