From private homes and yachts to commercial and government buildings, interior decorators and designers dress up the inside spaces of just about any place you can think of. They work with all kinds of furnishings, fabrics and building materials, and increasingly use computer-aided design software to design settings that give a new place its character and bring new life to existing residences, workplaces and public settings.

Both decorators and designers need to have a sense of color and balance or proportion, an ability to communicate through graphic presentations, and a positive attitude toward change so they can keep up with design trends while still being responsive to their clients' desires.

Interior decorators can--and often--do their work without formal credentials, but to call yourself an interior designer, you may have to have formal certification: More than 20 states require a state-issued license. Even in states that don't require a license, larger clients and most interior design or architectural firms are apt to insist on certification by the respected American Society of Interior Design. To get this certification, you'll need to pass an exam given by the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).

To qualify to take the exam, you must have a combination of six years of design education and full-time work experience in the field. And don't think you're going to be tested on the best color combinations for an active child's room or the definition of the word "toile." Interior designers need to know whether it's possible to knock down a wall without damaging the structure of building, what's required to meet building and fire safety codes and how to do space planning.

Because of the tough licensing requirements of the interior design field, interior decorators tend to work more often in residential settings while interior designers work in both commercial and residential arenas (though they're apt to specialize in one or the other).

Decorators and designers charge for their services in several ways. Some request a flat fee for design work. Others bill by the hour, at rates ranging up to $200. Still others add a service charge of approximately 20 percent to the cost of items they buy for clients, such as furniture, fabrics and floor coverings.

Someone wanting to start a business decorating interiors can enter the field without the formal education required for certification by pursuing one of these paths:

  • Taking a correspondence or distance learning program, like those found on WorldWideLearn. (Most of these programs don't meet the formal education requirements required for taking the NCIDQ examination or for most states' licensing.)
  • Buying a franchise though a company like Interiors by Decorating Den. Initial and ongoing training are both provided as part of the franchise package.

Marketing a decorating or design practice is not unlike marketing other local services businesses--the best ways to drum up business include networking in organizations where there are potential clients or sources of referrals, gaining recognition through publicity and speaking engagements, generating referrals from satisfied customers and having a web site.

If you're interested in learning more about this field, check out the many links available at these two sites:


Paul and Sarah Edwards are coaches and the authors of 16 books, including Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century. You can contact them at www.workingfromhome.com.