Commercial Interior Designer Jobs

What Do People Think You Do?

People often confuse Interior Designers with Decorators due to the numerous HGTV reality shows featuring home flips and renovations. Most of the personalities on these shows are decorators who have not gone to school and become Certified or Registered as Interior designers.

Most people assume I only pick paint colors and choose furniture to be installed for a project. Interior Designers must work with qualified Designers or Architects for a certain number of hours and pass an NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) test to show a basic understanding of design and to protect the public’s Health and Safety Welfare.

What Do You Really Do?

As a Commercial Interior Designer, I work primarily on non-residential projects. This may include Healthcare, Offices, Education (K-12 and University level), Government, Retail, and Hospitality. Although I am responsible for researching and selecting finishes like paint colors, fabrics, flooring, and ceilings, that includes about 20% of my work.

Designers are typically known to work on FF&E (Furniture, Finishes, and Equipment). This involves research, specifications, and coordinating purchasing and delivery. I work heavily in AutoCAD 2D and 3D software and Revit BIM (Building Information Modeling).

A Day In The Life

Most of the day, I spend time drafting in CAD programs, which means drawing lines and symbols in a computer program that coordinate with real life dimensions. The CAD programs allow us to print out scaled floor plans, ceiling plans, elevations, sections, and room finish schedules.

We incorporate many codes, so research of code books and standards is essential to ensure we are providing the most up to date information for our clients. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is extremely important in all of our work. We want the spaces we design to be accessible to children, adults, and elderly of all ages and abilities.

I might spend the day drawing casework elevations which shows how cabinet and countertops and desks and closets will look like. We add dimensions and call out materials and show a basis of construction so Contractors have a detailed plan to begin fabricating from. Contractors use our drawings and details to fabricate casework and construct buildings. I might spend part of the day working on a space plan, which involves arranging blocks of rooms like Tetris or Legos so they fit efficiently without waste into a shell designed by an Architect. Some days, I add notes to the floor plans and ceiling plans and elevations.

This takes coordination between different sheets on a project, and involves a lot of double checking to ensure what we show on the floor plan is the same size and style, just with more detail in the elevations. Some days I work on redlines, which involves using a red pen to mark up plans, elevations, schedules with correct information so a drafter can update the drawings in CAD. I often hand sketch elevations and sections to get a drafter started on a drawing on the computer. Specifications is also important to a Designer. We research materials and find the best product that will function as required by the code and be safe for the users. We have to include the product information like Manufacturer, product name, product style or color, product size, product installation adhesives, product testing data and other requirements into a spec book or on the sheets of the drawing set. Specifications are time-consuming and are a lot of reading, checking boxes, and verifying the products on the specs are actually what you want to use in the project.

We receive submittals of the products to review after bids come in and a Contractor is awarded the project. This takes time to review the submittals to ensure they plan to provide the exact products we specified or an equal product we approve. I coordinate furniture options and ordering for many of our clients, which involves knowing how to read price guides from manufacturers and confirming the correct sizes and types are ordered for each configuration.

What’s The Average Income?

It varies by location and market and experience. Starting out fresh from school, designers can expect to make $35,000. This can grow to $60,000 or more.

What Education If Any Is Needed?

4-year CIDQ certified university usually requires an internship as part of the program. Then, the designer must work for about 2 years full-time with a Certified or Registered (certification/ registration varies by state) Interior Designer or Licensed Architect to qualify for the multi-stage NCIDQ test. After passing the NCIDQ test, Interior Designers take CEU (Continuing Education Units) required annually to keep the registration current. It’s a lifelong career.

Something Important To Know

There is a lot of stress from short deadlines and interaction with clients. Many clients don’t know what they want, or can’t verbally or visually explain what they like. Designers do often carry heavy samples like floor tile.

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