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About Interior Design
history, organizations, and definition


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Interior design as a profession is a twentieth-century phenomenon, but its roots originate with the first person to have attempted to make his or her environment more comfortable or aesthetically pleasing. Decorating the home was an acceptable activity for middle-class women of the nineteenth century and it was this activity in conjunction with architectural interest in the design of the interior that ultimately led to the development of the profession. Books on household decorating advice were avidly read including Charles Locke Eastlake’s (1872) and Clarence Cook’s The House Beautiful (1878) but it was time for a change. In the United States, it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth-century that the first firms were established with the specific purpose of creating aesthetically pleasing interiors. Architects by this time were educated at the university level, but those who decorated the interiors of their buildings were often artists and crafts-persons such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Candace Wheeler who fell into decorating activities as part of a larger commission.

The twentieth century brought about many changes in the profession of interior design. At the start of the century, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman were the arbiters of taste. They were followed closely by Elsie de Wolfe, who claimed to be the first professional interior decorator. Dorothy Draper has been called the first commercial designer because she branched out from residential projects to hotels, restaurants and other commercial endeavors. These and many other women have not only impacted the profession of interior design through their larger-than-life personalities, but they have left a legacy that continues today.


Flamboyant personalities aside, the profession has grown from high style decorating to efforts that impact the health, safety and welfare of the public. Today, twenty states require some form of licensing for interior designers, over 160 universities are accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), and there are tens of thousands of interior designers practicing residential or commercial design that are members of either the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) in the United States. The activities of the interior designer have expanded from selecting furniture and wallpaper for the home to developing full scale interior architectural drawings for projects in excess of 1,000,000 square feet in size and requiring an in-depth knowledge of sustainable materials, and building and safety codes such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Licensing is an important issue to consider in your educational goals and career choices. In order to become a professional member of ASID or IIDA, one must pass the NCIDQ exam. Currently a student with a 2 year degree and 4 years experience in the industry (after education) may sit for the exam. Passing the exam and being a member of either of these design organizations will qualify a student to be a licensed interior designer in the District of Columbia only. To be licensed in Virginia or Maryland the student must have a 4 year degree in interior design. However, many graduates of two-year programs work under a licensed designer or design firm in a successful and satisfying career. Many designers who have not taken the NCDIQ Exam are involved with ASID or IIDA as Allied or Associate members, whose benefits parallel those of full membership. For more information, contact the national headquarters of either organization. See the NCIDQ website for the several tracks to attain accreditation.

of Interior Design

All professional organizations use the same definition of interior design, but a synopsis is shown below.

"The professional interior designer is qualified by education, experience, and examination to enhance the function and quality of interior spaces for the purpose of improving the quality of life, increasing productivity, and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public."

Activities in which a professional interior designer typically will engage include:
  • analyzing client's needs, goals, and life safety requirements
  • integrating findings with knowledge of interior design
  • formulating preliminary design concepts that are aesthetic, appropriate, and functional, and in accordance with codes and standards
  • developing and presenting final design recommendations through appropriate presentation media
  • preparing working drawings and specifications for non-load bearing interior construction, reflected ceiling plans, lighting, interior detailing, materials, finishes, space planning, furnishings, fixtures, and equipment in compliance with universal accessibility guidelines and all applicable codes
  • collaborating with professional services of other licensed practitioners in the technical areas of mechanical, electrical and load-bearing design as required for regulatory approval
  • preparing and administering bids and contract documents as the client's agent
  • reviewing and evaluating design solutions during implementation and upon completion.