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I do not often comment on things architectural on this blog, but I saw this post by Radley Balko, Via Instapundit, who takes to task the licensing of interior designers and other, less visible, professions. I can not say if it is necessary to license florists (which does, on the face of it, seem silly), but when it comes to interior designers, I have a dog in this hunt in two ways. First, I am a licensed architect, and the issue of licensing interior designers has been debated since at least the mid 80’s when I got out of school. Second, my wife is an intern-interior designer who is sitting for her licensing exam in two weeks.
For me, the issue of licensing comes down to this: is it necessary to protect the life and safety of the public? I am not licensed by the state to carry the title “architect” because I can draw well-proportioned building or make a snappy floor plan (both of which I can do). I am licensed because I am qualified to apply the standards necessary to protect the life and safety of the public, and I assume a legal responsibility to uphold and execute those standards. Every time a design professional stamps a set of drawings, that is what we are doing – taking public responsibility that the design complies with those standards.
And those standards are voluminous. In Louisiana, a commercial building design must comply with: The International Building Code 2006, NFPA 101 (The Life Safety Code), the National Electric Code, The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), The State Plumbing Code, The State Sanitary Code (if food preparation facilities are involved), and the State Energy Code. If a health care facility is involved, a whole new set of Codes and Guidelines are involved, both Federal and State. And there are separate Codes dealing with elevators, sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, military facilities, and jails just to name a few.
Some of the Codes we work with.
And interior designers? Initially, I agreed with Radley. They don’t deal with all that Code stuff, so what’s the point except to make yourself feel important? But that has changed over the years. Our practice is almost exclusively in commercial design (we do very little residential design), and we rely more and more on interior designers to help us select finish materials for projects such as schools, hospitals and dormitories. Those materials have restrictions in the Codes (flame spreads, smoke developed ratings, texture requirements, space planning and layout standards, etc.). Therefore, the persons making these design decisions needs more than a casual acquaintance with their properties, with the Codes, and with commercial construction practices.
So I am now, grudgingly, in favor of licensing interior designers.
But do not make the mistake Radley, and most everybody else, makes - interior designers and interior decorators are not the same thing. Interior decorators decorate what others have designed. They mostly deal with furnishings and finishes in existing spaces, usually without respect to the Codes, and are not extensively trained in materials, methods, and construction practices. Interior designers also deal with furnishings and finishes, but they are (or should be) extensively trained in materials, techniques and Codes, and able to design spaces to meet Code (space planning is often a part of an interior designer’s scope of work)
Anyone can call themselves an “interior decorator”. And since they do not usually deal with issues of Life Safety, that is as it should be; and no license required. Interior designers, however, often do work with design problems that require an understanding Life Safety when making design decisions, and as such should be held to a standard, as I am, with respect to maintaining the life and safety of the public.