There is more to an interior designer’s work than what meets the eye.
A coalition of designers have been trying to get Arizona lawmakers to recognize this since 2011, when its most recent draft to include interior designers in Arizona Revised Statutes failed to pass. Their edits would have made Arizona the 31st state to recognize and regulate interior designers’ certifications and training.
It is a “continual battle to show how hiring a qualified interior designer is important” and differs from hiring a decorator, says Jill Gibney, interior designer at McCarthy Nordburg. An interior decorator can rearrange an office’s furniture, re-imagine a break room’s aesthetic or fill blank space with trendy statues or a fountain. A commercial interior designer, by definition, can do all of the same things, as well as make structural changes due to formal training in the topic. This, however, is not the case in Arizona. In fact, interior designers — even those who are formally trained — must have all their structural work signed off by a certified architect. That’s why many design firms employ people like Michelle Rutowski, of Dick & Frische Design Group, a certified architect who says 85 percent of her job is related to architecture.
In many states, commercial interior designers must take the NCIDQ, short for National Council for Interior Design Qualification. The eligibility for this qualification is extensive and the exam price tag is around $1,000. Despite Arizona law, many commercial interior designers still pursue the certification.
“It is important for designers to take the exam as soon as they are eligible as a commitment to the profession,” Gibney says.
The American Institute of Architects openly opposes practice and title regulations being extended to interior designers. “In the public interest, the AIA holds that only architects and engineers licensed through examination possess the necessary education, training and experience to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public in the built environment,” according to AIA’s public policies and position statements. “Other individuals may possess useful skills in designing within the built environment, but fragmentation of responsible control of the building design process endangers and misleads the public as to respective areas of competence and expertise. The AIA opposes practice or title regulation of individuals or groups other than architects and engineers for the design of buildings.”
When AIA Arizona was contacted for comment, it deferred to the national organization’s policies.
Nevada and New Mexico, both part of IIDA Southwest, have practice and title laws, respectively, that regulate interior design on a state level.
“Nevada sets the bar when it comes to the interior design profession,” says Peggy Favour, principal of Las Vegas’ SMPC Architects and member of IIDA. Nevada’s registered interior designers can sign and seal documents for permitting per guidelines of the Nevada 2009 Blue Book. On the other side of Arizona, in New Mexico, the title Licensed Interior Designer identifies a professional who completes a formal education, has legitimate work experience and has demonstrated competency on the NCIDQ examination. An annual license renewal process confirms professional conduct and continuing education compliance, explains Favour.
“It is surprising that the State of Arizona, with three institutions that offer professional level interior design programs accredited by CIDA, would not have professional state recognition to support the professional career paths of their graduates,” says Favour.
It’s an issue of keeping design students in the state, IIDA Southwest President Stephanie Fanger says.
“Professionals designing commercial use spaces need to have advanced knowledge of the local building codes and require specific experience to plan space and create designs that comply with these codes,” says Chris Dos Santos of Gensler in Las Vegas. “Clarity in knowing which people practicing interior design can provide this service is critical to the industry and life safety.”
DFDG’s Rutowski is the vice president of advocacy for IIDA Southwest, where she intends to re-assemble a coalition to bring this issue to the legislature. Until then, she encourages certified designers to make clients aware of their recognition by the industry, to show them there’s more than meets the eye.