Have you ever wondered what the difference is between interior design and interior decorating?  Using our home library as an example, I will illustrate the difference between these two essential concepts: interior design requires conceptualizing and outlining changes that require construction, whereas interior decorating refers to changes in color, furnishings, window treatments and accessories.  The photo above was taken the year we had our home on the Duniway School Holiday Home Tour.  This is an example interior decoration strictly for a seasonal affect. The silver mercury glass and chargers, glimmering bare-branch tree dripping with icicles, the tablecloth, fur throw and pillows were all brought in to create a winter wonderland look for the holiday tour.  I would not have been able to create this decorated effect if we had not already done massive interior design on the space when we bought the house.

So let me back up to a “BEFORE” photo of this room.  When we first bought the house in 2005, the library looked like this:  dated center light fixture, acoustical tile ceiling, previous owner’s furnishings.  I was not very keen on keeping the wood paneling, but I figured if we added built-in bookcases, heftier window and door trim, and put recessed lighting into the ceiling and soffits which replaced the acoustical tile and shed ceiling, the paneling would not dominate the room.

Here’s how the room looked AFTER my interior design changes.  The painting on the bookcase wall hides the window which is visible in the “BEFORE” photo, but you can see the two windows on the left that are the same.  The dramatic difference is brought about by the interior design changes (lighting, soffits, built-ins, new wood trim).  The interior decorating is the furnishings part–rugs, upholstery, tables, lamps, art, and accessories.

Some projects require mostly interior design (kitchens, bathrooms), some require primarily interior decorating, but most of the time they require some of each. If a design firm does both interior design AND interior decorating, they are known as “full service interior design.”  Emery & Associates is a full service interior design company.

Now please take another look at the winter wonderland version of the library. Can you see the Chesterfield sofa peeking out between the pillows?  The wood table is draped with a silver tablecloth, and set for a special midnight meal.  Magic!  Give Emery & Associates a call if you want us to work our magic on your home.




  • Jim says:

    I never understood the relationship between design and decoration before! Thanks for this.

  • Dinah Adkins says:

    Thanks, Kathia. This was very educational. I had never thought to discern the different meanings of these terms. This is a very well-written piece and I love your photos. I wish I’d had recessed lighting installed in my LR before I moved in, but alas, I cannot now put up with the debris. The bookcases you had installed are a terrific addition, and your art! The room has gone from a pallid TV room to a real library!

  • Donna Pizzi says:

    Wow, Kathia! What a wonderful, informative explanation about the difference between interior decorating and interior design. I’ve been writing about this for a couple of decades, but I’ve never read it so beautifully described and differentiated. Brava! Your transformation of the library is astounding, every time I see it, I’m amazed. Photographing it and all of your work is our pleasure! Can’t wait to do the same for some of your upcoming projects. Your work is always so elegant and serene. Like you!

  • Honestly, I had never thought before about the difference between the two terms. This is a wonderful explanation which I know I will reference in the future. So, in case you had a new year resolution to educate someone, you can check that one off. As always, loved the photographs for an aesthetics break. I am intrigued by how the winter decor photo projects both warmth and chill. I suppose that balances out to beautiful coziness. Happy 2018!

  • I knew the differences in the terms but your before and after here really demonstrate them. The before is very “den-y” and the after is very much a library. The lighting and ceiling changes are striking. I would like to go through my house with both the designer and decorator eyes!

Write a Comment

houzz interior design ideas