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I’m an Interior Decorator NOT an Interior Designer

By 02/28/2014February 4th, 201748 Comments

Pink Ruffle Pillow

Let’s just be clear, I believe a room can be totally transformed with exactly the right throw pillows.

In fact, a dated room that looks tired and sad, can also be completely brought to life with the right updated pillow. I do it with my clients all the time and there’s nothing more fun.

In fact, I get so many pillows custom made for my clients, my workroom calls me “The pillow lady”.

Someone once posted a comment that I was just a pillow fluffer. I took that as a total compliment. In fact, watching Downton Abby the other night, my favourite line I think of all time from Maggie Smith who plays Lady Grantham said:

I take everything as a compliment, it saves many an awkward moment”.

This means, I will not be the one who will move walls for you or re-design the footprint of your kitchen. Although, I have saved many bad kitchen designs from being executed with my advice given I’ve seen so many of them.

A renovation that gives you a brand new kitchen is really exciting until you turn around and look at your great room with all the tired, old furniture. That’s where the decorator comes in. To give the room a look and a feel with fabrics, to give it atmosphere with lots of lamps.

Both jobs are obviously, extremely important.

Just Rinse and Repeat and It'll Work

I just love this image. The black subway tile is so striking against the wood stained cabinets and I love the way the pillows repeat the colour of the wood as well. Without the pillows sitting on the bench, this image would not be nearly as fabulous as it is.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Notice that the countertops are white but that’s where the white in this kitchen ends. Except then it’s repeated in the seating vignette directly in front of the island.

So if you have a wood stained kitchen and pretty neutral countertop and you’re thinking white but then you’re wondering if it would work because it’s out of nowhere? Well, I’m posting this image to show that if you have the right layout and you repeat it in the accessories, chairs in the adjoining breakfast room, maybe it can be done.

Notice it works though, because there’s no busy, dark, earthy backsplash that would make introducing white out of the question.

I'm an Interior Decorator NOT an Interior Designer

So interior designers, I salute you! Without you, where would we be with our badly outdated kitchens and homes with crappy floor plans?

And decorators, without you, there would be far less well placed furniture, lamps and pillows in homes everywhere.

Stagers, where would our homes be without the transformation by you before they are sold for way more than we would have made without you!

We all have to do what we were born on this earth to do and do it well. The more of an expert you are in the area where you excel, the more money you will make.

When we first start in this business, we think we should know everything. But the faster you figure out what you’re really good at and then get really good it it, then you can start focusing on creating multiple streams of income which means your office, is anywhere your laptop is.

And that’s a good life.

Related posts:

Negotiating Lessons from Mad Men

 Advice from a Celebrity Decorator

The Real Reason your Lighting Sucks

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want and to make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert.  

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  • Kathy Purser says:

    When you are doing custom pillows these days, what size are you doing and what edges look current? This might make a good blog entry!

    • Maria Killam says:

      A simple knife edge is contemporary (without piping) but I also like a 1″ flange on them too. Colour blocking pillows are big and everyone likes them.

  • What a great post, Maria. Thanks. I was just (finally) catching up last night on the Personality Types webinar that I missed because I was out of town and so this whole idea of being clear on who you are and what you want is top of mind for me today. Very well said.

  • StagerLinda says:

    Love this post! It has taken years to find my niche. You can’t be all things to all clients. When you hone in on your special talents and execute them with excellence, the business follows. I’m still uncertain of the multiple streams of revenue. You remind me that it will happen! Thanks for your ‘sunlight’.

  • Great post, Maria – very well said. I attended a Sherwin-Williams event earlier this week and sat at a table next to an interior designer. Most of his conversation that evening was bad-mouthing other professionals who were “only” decorators, not designers like he was and about how much more he knew than everyone else. He obviously assumed that I, too, was a designer or else surely he wouldn’t have said the things he said.

    There’s no point in putting down what others do in an attempt to elevate ourselves. We all have value and should focus on bettering ourselves rather than looking at it all so competitively. There are so many houses (and people) in the world that need help 🙂

  • Nour says:

    Great post Maria !

  • Scarlett B says:

    Great post Maria! I have struggled with this a bit in the reverse – I went through a BID program but then worked as a ‘colour expert’ and in marketing, and now not in design at all (which I blogged about too!). I experienced scrutiny from former classmates and peers for not being a ‘purist’ in design. But everyone has to follow their own passions and desires. You have created a fabulous business for yourself. I’m glad you wear it proudly!!

  • Monique says:

    Maria, I started laughing when I started to read your post because I think that photo is amazing and was breaking it down the why this room worked so well then started reading your post! You said exactly what I was thinking, I really am a TCE! You said everything so simply and beautifully, well done!

  • andrealynn says:

    Right on, Maria, custom pillows are the best way to pull a room together. I often recommend my clients go all out on the finest fabrics for pillows. Expensive? Yes, for such small items, but where else in your space can you afford to use a high-style fabric? Not on the draperies requiring 27 yards!

    As for designers, my experience is that when it comes to moving walls, a structural engineer is usually brought on board the design team, so I’m not sure why we always hear from designers, “I can move walls. What do decorators know?” The bickering about titles is getting old. I’m with you Maria. Discover what you do best. Then find clients whose needs match your talents.

  • Your post is spot on (as usual!) I think there is room in this big old world for all of us – none is better than the other. Personally, I love working with decorators!
    I agree finding your niche no matter what it is – is so important! Congrats for finding yours and doing it so beautifully.

  • Well said Maria…I feel the same and I am so glad to be an Interior Decorator and not have to deal with beams, plumbing, electrical, construction and so on. We do what we are best doing!

  • cathy gibson says:

    Aother great post Maria! I actually smiled at the end it made me feel so good! Do what you love and leave the rest to someone else- Yay! What an inspiration you are!

  • Shelley Gardiner says:

    Thanks Maria, I always love reading your posts and I can’t help but comment on this one..
    My passion is breaking down walls and re-designing new and old floor plans. My all time favourite is restoring, however, I certainly equally enjoy decorating and colouring these new spaces..

  • Farha Syed says:

    Hi Maria

    As always your post is right on the mark.
    Thanks for making us all feel proud of our chosen professions and feel confident in our own skin so to speak.

    You’re awesome at making people’s day brighter. You made mine for sure.

  • bfish says:

    This is a very helpful post; I especially like the advice about accepting compliments and will remember that! Kudos to you and others for finding your niche and making a success of it. Snobbism over one’s credentials has little useful place in any profession, workspace or classroom, IMO.

    In a landscape design curriculum I studied, one of the instructors was a Harvard-degreed landscape architect. He imparted a ton of useful information but was a little bit big for his britches, especially when it came to all of his students’ [inadequate] grasp of site engineering. Well, bad me, I did get a laugh out of the fact that he (who coincidentally designed the site of my office building) must have missed something as the walkways flood badly when it rains hard.

    • megeranski says:

      Yep — Snob-ism is from feeling inadequate.

      No reason for Maria to feel anything but successful and proud.

      Prob no reason for ANY of us to feel anything but successful and proud, come to think of it! 🙂

  • Love this post! I love pillows too, and how they can change the look of a room so easily. The dark subway tile is so striking in your photo.

  • franki says:

    You are to be complimented!! franki

  • megeranski says:

    Another great post — Thanks!

    BTW, I just put this on my facebook

    “…watching Downton Abby the other night, my favourite line I think of all time from Maggie Smith who plays Lady Grantham said:

    “I take everything as a compliment, it saves many an awkward moment”.

    How brilliant is THAT!!

    p.s. I have a secret vice, that is, i LOVE to make pillows. 🙂 🙂 I have spent years learning the secrets of extraordinary pillows, construction techniques, etc., and just really like doing them!! LOL LOL how funny is THAT.

    I can’t stand pillows in the store now, alas. They creep me out. Good pillows are expensive for a REASON. 🙂

    Keep being delightful!

  • Maggie S says:

    Thanks for the information –I didn’t realize that there was a difference between a designer and a decorator.
    I referred to a third person as a Interior Decorator and I was told–“they are called Designers today” (in a snooty voice — imagine Lady Grantham). It is wonderful to know the difference.

    One of the perks of getting older is knowing what you want for your self –not trying to be what you “think” you should be.

    You have found what is perfect for you –and so you can shine!!!

  • Wow! So much ‘designer’ bashing! I understand the frustration with snobbish designers etc. but in their (and my!) defense, I must clarify that ‘designers’ have attended design colleges for 2-4 years and paid dearly for their courses plus they must attend (every 2 years) a certain number of CEU’s (continued education units) to be always up to date on advances in the design world. Again, sorry for those designers with ‘attitude’ problems – there are many others who love this career and dedicate so much time and acquired knowledge to the happiness of their clients!

  • Vanessa says:

    Thank you, Maria! I love the black subway tile in the kitchen. My house was built when the tuscan influence was popular. I can’t afford to replace the cabinets or floor tile. The cabinets have a bit more of a yellow undertone than the ones pictured. The floor tile is creamy beige with a yellow undertone. Could I get away with black subway tile and a white countertop?

    • Maria Killam says:

      It’s hard to say without seeing your space, if you repeat it like in the above photo then it should work. Maria

  • mrsben says:

    Maria excellent post and advice. As a hobby sewer, I am glad that you mentioned those in ‘the workroom’ as IMHO I feel the vision of the Interior Designer or Decorator in many instances could not be executed without their expertise. Secondly, I cannot help but wonder when/where/how the term ‘throw pillow’ began as they were once known as ‘accent cushions’. According to the majority of dictionary definitions; a pillow is something to rest your head upon whereas a cushion is that to lean, support or to sit your little tooch on. ☺ -Brenda-

  • Well said Maria! I have only been a certified interior decorator for about 4 years but have been sewing pillows, drapes and valances for friends and family for over 30 years, as well as rearranging their living rooms. Ii has become crystal clear after taking your webinar on design for you type plus another with Penelope Trunk, that you really have to focus on what your good at and what you love. Life is just so much better. And your right your business can be whereever your laptop is

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    So true. Do what you know; write what you know about. Focus and be fearless (my mantra).

  • Kathy says:

    Whatever you call it, whatever name or label you give it, a rose is still a rose…

  • mairi says:

    “What others think of you is not your concern; what you think of others is not their concern”…Anon.
    Lady Grantham could have said this too. If we all just followed this simple rule, these semantics would never come up. Good for you Maria for speaking your truth!

  • I wish that people were less territorial about their part in the decorating process. I’m a color consultant, and freely admit that color is my specialty. I don’t design kitchens, or sell furnishings. But, I have found that not all kitchen or interior designers are good with color. And, if a client wants my help, they can get defensive about it. But, I did have one interior designer who had her house painted, and then realized it looked lavender instead of gray! She called and admitted that she blew it, and hired me to come up with the right colors. She then turned around and had her house re-painted! That’s commitment to doing the right thing. She couldn’t live with it otherwise.

  • Kelly says:

    Maria this is an excellent post in so many aspects! Thank you.

  • Gianna Glaesmann says:

    Very well put Maria! This couldn’t be more true. I’m an architect / interior designer and NOT a decorator… and there’s not way I can do what you do as well as you do it and with the ease and confidence that you have. Bravo for making a very good point – we all have our talents and should be proud of what we do know!

  • Lucy HAINES says:

    When in college we were told every (woman) is a decorator. When you graduate you are now a designer with hopefully more knowledge than the average housewife. I don’t think it matters what your title is but how well you do your job!!

    Love your post as always. It certainly is inspirational whether you think you are a decorator or a designer.

    • I studied at a Midwest university that had its ID program in the College of Agriculture even though the classes were held in the College of Art buildings. I never understood why but maybe my school felt every woman was a decorator also!

  • Parisgirl says:

    Another great post Maria. On the topic of pillows or cushions as we call them here, they are the bane of my decorating life. I do really well, well at least I think I do really well decorating the house in general but when it comes to the cushions I lose my confidence. I sew mine and have no sooner made new ones when I second guess myself or see something on the web that I like better. I plan to buy a new piece of art this week so will most likely be sewing again in the next few weeks. Could be worse I suppose and have a far more expensive hobby than cushions. Haha

  • sandyc says:

    Your delineation of the roles of designers and decorators and stagers was great, Maria, and I don’t think it was offensive in the least. I’m always dismayed by anyone who uses years or education or credentials to verify their work. I’m a retired registered dietitian which gives me some creds but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m better than someone who isn’t. In the design world, I can only think of a recent HGTV renovation show when the “designer” told the couple who wanted at “coastal” room that she was going to add some zebra pillows. When the husband objected, she haughtily informed him that she was the designer and knew best and that was what they were paying for. In the end, they got their coastal room but it completely lost its effect for me when my eye got to those totally-unrelated-to-anything fat zebra pillows sitting on their beautiful new sofa in their beautiful light and breezy new room. I wanted to pick them up by their corners and drop them in a garbage can (and deduct their cost from her check).

  • Livia says:

    I have a chuckle every time I hear this debate… The pie is big enough for all of us. We all fit in this scheme quite perfectly, as you succinctly say Maria.

  • Mary Jane Sorensen says:

    Excellent article Maria! We all have our strengths and by realizing that and working together we can really help pull a clients space together.

  • Debz says:

    So are they not throw cushions? Pillows are what you put your heads on when you go to bed.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Good question, search results come up higher for pillows which is why I call them pillows and not cushions.

  • Erica says:

    Whether you’re a decorator or a designer, it’s all about your work and finished product. You should never have to defend it by mentioning your credentials. The more time and money you have invested into your career may give you more responsibility technically and perhaps more income in return. It does not, however, give you the ability to truly absorb your client’s styles and needs or give you a better ‘eye’ for selecting the finishes and elements in a room. You cannot acquire this talent – it can only be honed.

    • You cannot acquire this talent – it can only be honed.”
      VERY well said!
      Throughout school I met many girls that got the same piece of paper as I even though they couldn’t “see” 3-D in their head. And I’ve met folks that are super talented with no degree.

      And Lucy Haines is so right – it’s not about the label but how well you do your job.

      How could I be offended being called a decorator when a significant part of the work I do IS decorating. Throw pillows can COMPLETELY save the day in a room. Paint the walls the right color, get the furniture in the right spot, add more lights with the right bulbs and the pillows can round out the color story that can distract from the remaining less-than-ideal. Doesn’t matter what you call it, it makes clients (and me) happy!

  • Mary says:

    Interesting post, Maria. I always wondered what the difference was between a designer & a decorator.

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Hey Maria, No WONDER I need a decorator!
    I like to draw floor plans! And…COLOR “inside the lines”, after drawing black crayon around the edges! (haha, that really was true when I was a little girl!)
    You’ve taught me to color OUTSIDE the lines!!!
    (Ok…colour.) xo.

  • Nichole says:

    Awesome Post!! Thank you!

  • Robbin says:

    Excellent post Maria! I cannot tell how many times I have to correct people who call me a designer. The public really doesn’t understand the difference. So, I’ll just keep on educating them!

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