What is an interior designer?

We answer all your questions.

Hiring an interior designer is a luxury that often feels out of reach for many people. However, hiring an interior designer can actually save you more time, money and energy in the long run, whether you are building, renovating or just doing a makeover.

What is interior design?

The interior design definition is the art of enhancing the interior space of a building to achieve a healthier and aesthetically pleasing environment for the people who use the property.

black bathroom
Great interior designers know how to make every room look stunning. (Credit: Lydia Maskiell Interior Collective)

What is an interior designer?

An interior designer plans, researches, coordinates and manages projects that create interior environments inside buildings.

Lydia Maskiell is an interior designer and the head of her own business in Tasmania, Lydia Maskiell Interior Collection, and she says an interior designer is generally a jack of all trades. “They have the technical knowledge and skill set to design an interior project from scratch – whether that is a renovation, working with an architect, or working with a building designer on a new build,” says Lydia.

Lydia has a Bachelor of Environmental Design (Interiors) and has worked within the residential and commercial styling industry. Lydia’s experience as an interior designer within the industry is vast and varied. “Interior designers have a good understanding of spatial awareness and work with their client to spatially plan what is best for their needs,” says Lydia. “An interior designer should have the knowledge to interpret a space and ensure its functionality, be wary of scale, size and proportions of the space they are working in.”

all white kitchen beach themed
This image is an example of beautiful interior design. (Credit: Getty)

“An interior designer should be able to fulfil their clients’ brief while taking into consideration space, colour, colour psychology, materials, finishes, relevant compliance of governing State and Federal laws (these differ state to state) and document the project for pricing and construction,” says Krystal Sagona of Melbourne boutique firm Interior Flow. “An interior designer is able to project manage the design and in some cases construction, obtain building permits, complete comprehensive client briefing, understand local and federal laws, use relevant computer software to design and document a project.”

monochrome bedroom
Interior design firm Interior Flow have created a beautiful bedroom in muted tones. (Credit: Krystal Sagona/Interior Flow)

What does an interior designer do?

 “A good interior designer is a visionary. They can see space and create environments that please their clients. These finished spaces should delight and surprise their clients by enhancing the client’s lifestyle,” says Barbara Schmidt, a New York-based interior designer whose work has appeared in Elle Décor, Architectural Digest and more.

“A great interior designer can help you create your dream spaces and make them a reality. Your designer should have loads of resources and help you stretch your imagination. Designers should help their clients stay on trend and create lasting timeless design,” says Barbara.

beach house kitchen
This beach house was created by interior designer Barbara Schmidt, and is open and spacious but functional. (Credit: Barbara Schmidt)

According to Lydia, once the space has been assessed, interior designers are able to draw up the appropriate working and documentation drawings such as floor plans, internal elevations, custom joinery and details of the space.

“Interior designers should also be able to communicate their vision of the proposed space to the client through conceptual drawings and renderings so that the client can get a sense of what the space will look like before they make the big commitment. Interior designers also need to have an understanding of building practices and a general knowledge of other trade professions to know the constraints and requirements of a space,” says Lydia.

Lydia says the second layer of the role of an interior designer is to have a grasp on materials and their properties, such as understanding how hard surfaces can affect the acoustics of a room, or understanding how a material can affect our health in an interior environment.

“Many interior designers take great pride in our knowledge of the psychology of a space, how different colours and materials affect us,” says Lydia.

dining room with timber table
This dining room by Interior Flow is the perfect balance of light, space and contrast. (Credit: Krystal Sagona/Interior Flow)

How do you become an interior designer?

There are many pathways to becoming an interior designer. Some people undertake interior design study at university, while others undertake courses at private interior design institutions. Other interior designers have moved from a similar design career and naturally transitioned into the role of an interior designer, while others have learned on the job under the guidance of senior mentors.

dark office
This office by Barbara Schmidt packs a punch of personality. (Credit: Barbara Schmidt)

Interior Designer Krystal Sagona of Melbourne business Interior Flow is a very experienced and successful interior designer. “To become an interior designer you would need to study at a recognised university with a comprehensive course offering that covers documentation – which most small colleges and TAFE’s do not offer,” explains Krystal. “However, if you complete a TAFE Diploma in Interior Design and Decoration there are TAFE Building and Drafting courses available to ensure you are a well-rounded and employable interior designer who is able to design and produce documentation for construction of the envisioned design.”

monochrome living room
This monochrome bedroom by Interior Flow is contemporary yet warm. (Credit: Krystal Sagona/Interior Flow)

 “I became an interior designer in an unconventional manner,” says interior designer Barbara Schmidt. “I was a prop stylist who became a set designer and then an interior designer. I learned on the job over the past two decades and continue to design dozens and dozens of spaces every year. If someone were to ask me today, I would highly suggest attending an accredited school and work as an assistant to an established designer to get started.”

white kitchen with coloured dinnerware on bench
Sleek, chic and functional this kitchen by Jasmine McClelland is a study in neutrals. (Credit: Jasmine McClelland)

How much does an interior designer get paid?

According to payscale, the average interior designer salary is AU$52,680, but can range from $40,982 up to $99,777 per year. Payscale reports that an interior designer may earn between $501-$6,054 in bonuses per year, and that their salaries generally reflect their position in the business, such as whether they are in a junior role or if they are the director of a firm.

For example, you can expect a famous and in-demand interior designer to charge more for their services than an independent interior designer working for themselves.

RELATED: The ultimate guide to styling living room decor

monochrome masculine bedroom in grey
The perfect balance of masculinity and style. (Credit: Getty)

What credentials should you look for in an interior designer?

Award-winning interior designer Krystal Sagona has more than 10 years’ experience and has built a strong reputation in the design industry, so she knows what she is talking about when it comes to identifying a solid interior designer.

“Request to see the interior designer’s registration to obtain building permits and a copy of their Public Liability insurance – which all designers must have as best practice,” says Krystal. “Public Liability insurance ensures that if anything should go wrong during construction due to the documentation of your chosen designer that their insurance can cover the fault.”

outdoor dining area
Interior design isn’t limited to the inside of your house. (Credit: Cath Muscat for Home Beautiful)

“Ask for examples of your prospective interior designer’s sketch designs, which may be in the form of 3D renders or colour and mood boards, and most importantly ask to see the documentation of the interior designer to ensure that relevant plans and elevations are produced.” Krystal says that while being able to select colours and finishes are all well and good, someone is required to advise the builder where the tiles are going to be placed and how these will be finished at existing floor junctions where surfaces may ramp at differing heights. “Ask if you can view a previous clients’ home that the interior designer has completed if you are still unsure.”

Krystal explains that the interior design industry is not regulated with qualifications Australia wide as Architects are, therefore a lot of groundwork and box ticking needs to be completed beforehand.

“Always have a fee agreement in place outlining the services to be provided so that you know what you are paying for. Always go with your gut feeling as it never lies and if something feels off then it probably is,” says Krystal.

white country kitchen
Good interior design is about seamlessly fusing functionality with beauty. (Credit: Getty)

How do you choose an interior designer?

Krystal says it’s incredibly important to get along with the interior designer that you are working with. “It is a deeply personal experience when choosing to renovate or build a new home and you want to ensure that you can trust the interior designer you choose,” says Krystal. “The must have your best interests in mind and not just the design aesthetic. Ideally you would want to employ someone with at least 6+ years experience to ensure that they have a well-rounded knowledge of the construction industry and can execute their ideas into built construction and are able to converse with the builders on site.”

luxurious white walk in wardrobe
A good interior designer can create a space that reflects your personality. (Credit: Getty)

What can an interior designer help you do?

“There seems to be a common misconception that the role of an interior designer is merely aesthetic, such as choosing a few colours or cushions” says Lydia. “However, there is a broad spectrum of technical knowledge that comes with being an interior designer which is why most interior designers hold a university degree. By engaging an interior designer, you’re able to tap into that knowledge to get the most out of your space. We are definitely worth the investment!”

  • Spatial planning 
  • documentation drawings- floor plans, internal elevations
  • Custom joinery design  
  • conceptual drawings, 3D renderings of the proposed space 
  • Lighting scheme and plan
  • Material specifications
  • Colour consultation 
  • Furniture layouts 
  • Project managing 
mudroom in white
An interior designer can transform any room in your home. (Credit: Armelle Habib for Home Beautiful)

Why use an interior designer?

Professional designers and decorators bring extensive training and a wealth of experience and knowledge to your renovation, build or makeover, reports the Design Institute of Australia. Interior designers and decorators use their expertise and product knowledge to expand and develop your original ideas, to solve environmental problems, and save you time, money and frustration.

According to the 2018 AU Houzz & Home study interior designers made up 6% of the professionals hired in 2017 as reported to Houzz by homeowners who renovated their primary property. On average, homeowners seriously consider 2 interior designers before hiring one they feel comfortable and confident with.

white kitchen with green tiles
Simplicity at its best in this laundry by Lydia Maskiell. (Credit: Lydia Maskiell Interior Collective)

How can you tell good interior design from bad interior design?

Unfortunately, as with all creative things such as interior design, art or fashion, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether or not something is ‘good design’ often comes down to the personal taste and style of the person judging it. However, there are some markers of bad interior design, and varied opinion on what constitutes good design.

Interior designer Lydia Maskiell says she determines whether or not interior design is good by asking herself the following questions. “Is the space functional? Are the design elements proportionate to the space? Have they maximised the height and/or length of the room? Is there a distinct relationship between the materials and finishes? Have the design principles of functionality and aesthetics been met?”

blue wall in bedroom
(Credit: Lydia Maskiell Interior Collective)

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