Interior Design State Regulation: The Undermining Power of Perceptions

By Moody, Dana M.; Petty, Gregory et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Interior Design State Regulation: The Undermining Power of Perceptions


Moody, Dana M., Petty, Gregory, Giglio, Wes, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Qualified interior designers meet the accepted criteria for legally protected professionals, including a direct impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Although the field of interior design has made initial strides toward nationwide legal recognition as a profession, perceptions of the field remain anchored to inaccurate depictions of Interior Designers as synonymous with Interior Decorators. These perceptions are confounding attempts to legislate and license the profession. This paper seeks to define and understand perceptions about interior design in order to develop a strategy for recognition and positive change.

"It is not reality that matters but rather the perception of that reality" (Glynn, Herbst, O'Keefe, Shapiro, & Lindeman, 2004, p. 211). As qualified interior design professionals fight to have interior design recognized as a legal profession, they find perceptions of interior design to be the greatest obstacle (Moody, 2012); therefore, this paper explores the evolution of interior design and the role that perceptions play in the efforts to have it become a licensed profession.

Evolution of Interior Design

It is difficult to put a date on the birth of interior design (Coleman, 2002). In past centuries, architects designed building interiors and often worked with decorative arts specialists to provide final touches (Nielson & Taylor, 2002). The turn of the 20th-century realized the birth of interior decorators. Massey (2008) noted that interior decoration was one of the few professions led by women, particularly highly affluent women who catered primarily to the rich and famous (see also Turpin, 2007; White, 2009) and acted as arbiters of taste within high society. They were considered "in the know" and their personal taste was highly sought (Slotkis, 2006) as they focused on the embellishment of surfaces and the placement of furniture and accessories within a space (Jones & Allen, 2009)-that is, on aesthetics, beauty, and artful arrangements.

The use of the term interior designer did not occur until after World War II (Kilmer & Kilmer, 1992). The transition from interior decorators to interior designers was rooted in the post-World War II housing market. As architects focused on the postwar building boom, doors opened in the remodeling sector for interior decorators to expand their services from that of enhancing the aesthetics of a room to more complex and specialized skills involving client needs (Whitney, 2009). Interior designers began to concern themselves more with issues that affected their client's health, safety, and welfare (Friedrichs, 2002), while decorators continued to focus on the surface embellishments of the environment (Jones & Allen, 2009).

Some historians believe that the official arrival of the interior design profession can be traced to 1965 when the first interior design firm, Gensler, opened in San Francisco, California, with a focus on designing functional corporate interiors. Interior design was subsequently established as a separate profession from architecture and from interior decoration (Friedrichs, 2002; Moody, 2012). The practice of interior design has evolved into a complex and specialized discipline that utilizes a systematic process focusing on humans, their behaviors, and how their physical, social, and psychological needs are met by the interior environment (Guerin & Martin, 2004). Qualified interior designers go far beyond aesthetics to improve quality of life, increase productivity, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public within the built environment (Binggeli, 2007; Jensen, 2001). They attain the required skills through what has become known as the 3 Es: Education, Experience, and Examination (Moody, 2012).

The title interior designer is not protected by law and is often used interchangeably with interior decorator, a respected occupation within itself, but one that requires no formal education and has no impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the public (Friedrichs, 2002). …

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