'Licensed Interior Designer', 'Interior Designer' or 'Interior Decorator'. What is the difference?

While many people use the terms 'interior designer' and 'interior decorator' interchangeably across Canada, these disciplines differ significantly from Licensed Interior Design in Alberta. It is important for the public to understand the difference, to ensure you hire a qualified and/or required designer for your project.

Currently 'interior designer' and ‘interior decorator’ are not protected titles in Alberta and so anyone can use these titles regardless of qualification. In this context interior designers and interior decorators are not recognized as registered professionals as referred to in the Alberta Building Code. The client thus needs to verify that they are hiring a registered Alberta professional whose skills are appropriate for the project and level of responsibility required. A Licensed Interior Designer is the only registered Alberta professional title governed by the Architects Act and recognized in the Alberta Building Code*

Alberta has a rigorous licensing structure for Licensed Interior Designers in accordance with the Architects Act. Under the Act, Licensed Interior Designers may provide the same services as an architect, except on all matters that affect the exterior shell of a building, environmental separations and exits. They are qualified by relevant post-secondary education, completion of the international NCIDQ examination, years of supervised work experience, ongoing mandatory professional development and adherence to high professional standards and codes of conduct. 

Non - licensed interior designers and decorators require no such ongoing professional rigour, formal training, or licensure to practice. In general, interior designers and decorators manage the appearance of interior spaces; they work with embellishments, furnishings and built-in components to address the aesthetics and function of individual rooms.

As well as aesthetic and functional considerations, Licensed Interior Designers are involved at a technical and strategic level. They ensure regulatory and building code requirements are met. Only Licensed Interior Designers (or Registered Architects) are legally permitted to perform the scope of work of interior design as it is defined in the Alberta Architects Act.

Among other services, Licensed Interior Designers perform the following: 
  • Plan new interiors & renovate existing interiors in residential, commercial, public & institutional buildings
  • Design and develop space plans
  • Prepare technical construction drawings
  • Acoustic and lighting requirements
  • Manage a project within budget constraints
  • Ensure that appropriate permits are obtained
  • Coordinate the efforts of other design and construction consultants (engineers, architects and other specialists and suppliers)
  • Respond to and coordinate with the building shell
  • Acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project
  • Respect principles of environmental sustainability
  • Adhere to building codes, health codes and other government regulations,
  • Complete the construction administration of the project to substantial completion
In addition, certain types and sizes of projects require the involvement of a Licensed Interior Designer and other registered professionals. A municipal building department will not accept a development or a building permit application without the involvement of, and the seal of a Licensed Interior Designer. Hiring the correct designer is thus essential to obtaining approval for such applications.

Refer to Practice Bulletin 26 – Professional Involvement on Building Projects to learn more about whether your project needs a Licensed Interior Designer

* A ‘Registered Interior Designer’ in Alberta is also qualified by education, examination, supervised work experience, mandatory professional development, adherence to professional standards and code of conduct. However, a registered interior designer cannot practice the scope of interior design as defined and protected under the Architects Act.