20 May 2010
Architects vs. Interior Designers
Interior Designers vs. Architects
Can’t we all just get along? I have been repeatedly asked to take a side in this on-going battle of the perceptions and have been keeping this post at bay with a long stick. But the time has come… (crows cawing off in the distance) … and I think you’re going to be disappointed.
I like interior designers. I think that they make my projects, and by extension me, look good. Sure I have my issues but they aren’t systemtic to interior designers as a group of professionals. Just like with all things, there are some good ones and some not so good ones.
I will admit that I did not have a very high opinion of interior designers when I didn’t actually know any and had never worked with any. But along my career development, I worked as the in-house architect (re: the only architect) for a interior design firm that had a lot of people who had a lot of skill. This particular firm focused on projects in the high-end hospitality market sector and we worked on historic projects all over North America. One of the first things that became apparent is that interior designers have to be well organized because the amount of paperwork they produce is staggering, I mean really, really staggering. Every single item has like a reams worth of paper of information associated with it. For example, take a typical sort of chair: it has a model number, a wood species, a stain, a fabric selection, a finish brad specification, a finish on the brad specification, a custom size (width, height of seat, height of arms, height on the back), the cushion has a spec, what type of fill, does it have springs, what kind, etc. It literally goes on and on and attached to each on of these pieces of paper is a swatch or little plastic baggie stapled to it as confirmation of the order. Backing this paperwork up is the order information, the order confirmation, delivery paperwork, installation paperwork, location paperwork, etc. Have I made it clear that there’s a lot of paperwork? Just because most of these designers couldn’t draw their way out of a paper bag (or even draw a paper bag) doesn’t mean that they are doing real work.
Speaking of drawing, this was the major point of contention with me and probably one of the few things that I never got over during my time working hospitality. I thought I had some real ability and to them I was a meat bag there to do their drawings – the dreaded cad monkey. It made my blood boil to think that their obvious lack of a particular skill set was almost seen as an asset. Maybe if you don’t know how to draw, you don’t have to draw, which means you are a designer and not a drafter. This mindset supports a perception that most architects have – that interior designers (rag pickers, paper hangers, whatever word you’ve heard) don’t create space, they decorate it.
All architects are taught in school the process of creating mass, form and form. We never talked about color or materials (unless it was a class on color and materials). For architects, it was all about the big idea, the concept, your parti, and if you got into your jury and the panel was talking about some detail of your project and not the manifestation and execution of that concept – your project probably sucked (or blew, your choice). As a result, it seems fairly straight forward to me now why architects tend to not place as much value on the scope of work that interior designers are “relegated” to working. Architects tend to view interior designers as people who come in after the “real” work is done, after the form and mass and concept are in place, and adorn they space they had just created with carpet, tile and paint.
To add injury to insult, moderately successfull interior designers in private practice can make more money than architects and can only contribute to the backlash of irritation. I know that in our residential practice we to deal with clients who think they know how to design a house because “I’ve lived in one before” yet these same people can’t make a decision on what color to paint a wall unless the interior designer tells them. Oh brother….
Since I am now on the record and stating that I know more good interior designers than bad, there is one other thing about interior designers that works me up; and that’s when they act as purchasing agents for their clients. For the record this isn’t true about all but I still see it and it’s a total rip-off. That’s right, I know all about the 50-20-10 deal. It’s fairly common that showrooms will give deep discounts to interior designers who purchase products for their clients. How it works is you take the listed retail price and knock off 50%, and then 20% off that price, and then 10% off that price and that’s what the interior designer pays. But wait – it gets better! The interior designer will tell their client that they can get such-n-such product at a lower price, but they will still leave a healthy commission in place. So let’s review; client hires interior designer who charges hourly fee and pays commission on the purchases of the items that the interior designer selects. And what if a showroom doesn’t want to play ball that way? Then the interior designer doesn’t use that product. On the architecture side of things, we call that a kick back and I’m pretty sure the AIA Code of Ethics has a position on not taking kickbacks. Based on my own first-hand knowledge, either ASID doesn’t or no one cares.
Granted there are a lot of talented designers out there that do not have any professional degree or license and are called “interior decorators” or simply “decorators” – the short version without putting a whole lot of thought into it is that I don’t care about that. Architects have to be licensed because the scope of work we are inherently responsible for has to do with the health, safety and welfare of the general public. We screw up and people can get killed - our licensing test doesn’t even take design into consideration. I also know a lot of smart talented people with architecture degrees that simply aren’t motivated enough to get their license nor do they want the liability of being an architect. Why should interior decorators be any different? I have no doubt (and I kind of expect) for the licensed interior designers to weigh in on the reasons why being licensed holds more inherent value than not being licensed.
Round 2 – ding ding!!