design vs. decorating vs. styling (oh my!)

The more I have dug into the world of interiors I’ve discovered that there is a whole lot more to this design business that I realized.  Like, to do interior design in commercial settings in most states requires a bare minimum of an Associate’s Degree in the subject and a combined 7 years of education and experience before you take a test.  Then you have to be licensed.

The reason for this is that you need to be very knowledgeable about building codes and how to work with architects and construction managers.  This is a far cry from arranging a pretty vignette.

The truth is there are actually 3 categories for making interiors look great and function well.

Interior Design + Interior Decorating +Interior Styling

Each of these has its own distinct meaning but there are a lot of overlaps between the three.  This post is my effort to try to make sense of all of this.  By no means am I an expert, but I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two as I’ve ventured into this field.

To show you what I mean by each of these being distinct but with overlaps let’s take a look at the photo below and analyze the elements.  This is a photo of my living room/entryway that I recently took:

my blue living space

If I hired an Interior Designer to work on this room she would have worked on more of the foundational elements such as installing the french doors and the molding, picking out the flooring and creating a floor plan to create a space that is highly functional above all.  Then she would move on to deciding on a color scheme and style of all of the furnishings and paint to create a cohesive environment.  In the end she may add some decorative items to the space but for the most part her job is to deal with interior projects that have a more permanent effect on the space.

An Interior Decorator is a bit different.  She would mainly focus on picking out the furnishings, paint color, drapes, and decorative items for the primary purpose of highlighting the aesthetics of the space  The organization that does testing for Interior Designers describes the difference between the two:

Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.

Then we come to the Interior Stylist who works very much like an Interior Decorator but in a much more specific way.  She would work with a space that may already have some of the elements in place, such as the paint and maybe a few pieces of furniture.  She would add in another piece of furniture, and take out one that didn’t work well, then incorporate a number of decorative pieces.  The main goal is to arrange all of this by editing and fine-tuning everything in such a way that it would be easily photographed – beautiful enough to put in a magazine or in my case, on my blog!

To explain this a bit more, I dug up a teaser from the first episode of HGTV’s Secrets of A Stylist with Emily Henderson:

Now why am I explaining all of this?

Well, its because I’m trying to define for myself exactly which path I truly desire to take… and for me it’s developing as an Interior Stylist.


Because its decorating in HD, so to speak.  Working with clients to create a space that is truly theirs using a variety of elements that show off their style sounds like a blast.  Getting to share it with you here on my blog sounds even better.  My aim is to work both locally and globally finding ways to style spaces no matter where my clients reside and investing in high quality photography, whether it is me taking the photos or I hire it out.

I truly want this blog to be a place where we can celebrate the ‘graceful havens’ we each reside in and relish in their glory!

On a side note, I just finished up the Blogging Your Way course with Holly Becker of Decor8 and I have to say it was a blast 🙂  This course was entitled “Blogging with Intention & Style” so it was the perfect motivator to truly dive into starting this blog in the way that I feel good about.  She has a few courses coming up in 2014 – so stay tuned because I will let you know when they run.

Finally its my turn to ask for your input –

Who would you hire to work on your home – a Designer, a Decorator, or a Stylist?

Leave your response below and let’s get the discussion started!


10 thoughts on “design vs. decorating vs. styling (oh my!)

  1. Wow, I never knew the difference between Interior Design and Interior Decorating… and had never even heard of Interior Styling! Thanks for the info, Jessica : )

    To answer your question, if I had my own home I’d go with an interior designer, someone who could really knock down some walls and help put in some cool architectural accents, like arched doorfways and windows. But seeing as how we live in a rented apartment, the only person who could help us would be an interior stylist. Housing is somewhat scarce in Ukraine (thanks to the legacy of the USSR housing scheme) so if you manage to rent an apartment, it’s not unusual for the landlord to have moved in with family to get some extra income from your rent… meaning they usually leave some of their things behind (furniture, books, dishware, paintings, etc) that you have to learn to work with or work around. And we couldn’t even dream of changing the wallpaper, no matter how many decades old it is :p

    Looking forward to your interior styling journey!!

    • Thanks for your input Katherine! It definitely makes sense to hire an interior designer if you want to renovate a home that is yours to do as you please, but if you are renting a stylist can really help you make your space feel more YOU.

      There is a lot you can do either way 🙂

  2. This a a great post! Often it seems the terms interior design, decorating, and interior styling are used interchangeably so it is nice to have a clear definition of each. Thanks for sharing…

    Visiting from BYW

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