Should You Call an Architect, Interior Designer or Decorator?

Should You Call an Architect, Interior Designer or Decorator?

Your home will become part or your family’s story. Whether you’re designing/building a custom home, or renovating your existing one, it can be confusing to know whom to contact. There’s a glut of information on the internet, and it quickly becomes apparent that there seems to be some overlap between roles.

We’ve broken down the differences between architectural designers, design-build contractors, interior designers and interior decorators, to help you narrow it down.

Architects / architectural designers

An architect designs the structure and facade of your building, whether you’re building a custom home from the ground up, moving a few walls or extending the floor plan during a remodel. The architect’s job is to convert your design ideas into a structurally sound structure, that’s up to code, functional and aesthetically appealing. S/he designs and reviews the building project and can sometimes oversee the construction as well.

Successful architects have technical knowledge, advanced analytical and problem-solving skills, are well-versed in the latest municipal building code and zoning, and are up on the BC Energy Step Code. Your architect needs to be a great communicator and understand your needs and wants, then advise you on the best way to integrate all or most of those ideas into a home you will love and enjoy living in for years to come.

The architect will draw up the plans for your home and create 3D renderings, so you can visualize your new home or remodel. Once you’ve approved the plans and renderings, the building plan can be sent to the municipal office for approval. This design process, from initial consultation to the time the finalized construction drawings are submitted, typically takes about four months.

There are several different role options:

  1. Upon approval of the construction plans, the architect hands off the project to the builder.
  2. The architect works with the building contractor and construction crew, ensuring that the work is up to standard, consistent and according to the plan. There are usually visits to the construction site to inspect the work-in-progress.
  3. In architect-led design-build projects, the architectural designer is also the builder, and construction begins after the building plans have been approved by the municipal office.

Design-build contractors

In the traditional ‘design-bid-build’ approach to residential construction, the appointment of the architectural designer and building contractor are separate. A proven model, design-bid-build has been around for over 150 years. After the initial plans have been drawn up, the project is typically put out for bid with several construction companies. As the project is passed between architect and builder, opportunities arise for unexpected costs, time delays, conflicts and gaps in communication, and other obstacles. Gaps in communication between the architect and contractor can often result in change orders being submitted to the architect for additional revision work.

The ‘master builder’ approach dates back even further than ‘design-bid-build’, in which a single builder takes on the entire project. Design-build is a project delivery method for meeting the deliverables of a project in which the design and construction services are both handled by the same general contractor, the modern spin on the proven ‘master builder’ approach. A typical design-build contract will include the architectural design, construction and project management; but it could also include interior design and materials.

One designer/builder takes your project from start to finish, offering a far more unified approach. You’re collaborating with a designer who also works for the team responsible for the construction. A design-build team will typically partner with subcontractors, but the entire simplified project comes under the administration of a single source of leadership. There’s less time waiting for input, approvals and other bottlenecks because the relationships and communication styles within the builder’s team have already been established.

With a single point of responsibility, the design-build procurement route typically reduces the risks, costs and stress of working with separate companies and potentially conflicting ways of doing things. There’s one vision when it comes to understanding the homeowners’ needs and desires, the timeline and budget. The single-source responsibility approach consistently outperforms traditional methods because homeowners don’t have the hassle of dealing with middlemen. And work can begin on the initial phase of construction while the designer is still completing final design revisions.

According to a Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), design-build showed notable advantages over traditional design-bid-build and construction management at-risk projects. Improved team chemistry and earlier involvement of the builder in the design-build delivery model were the most influential factors in controlling costs throughout the delivery process and sticking to or staying ahead of timelines. There was up to 3.9% less schedule growth, and projects were up to 102% faster from design through completion, when compared with the design-bid-build approach.

When you choose one team to oversee the entire build, there are fewer variables, so you benefit from a more accurate timeline and scope for the project. It becomes easier to budget, track expenses and maintain a comprehensive understanding of the costs throughout the project. A study by GKKWorks, of various construction methods, concluded that design-build achieves completion dates on average that are 33% faster than traditional construction methods.

Interior designers

Interior design is the art and science of understanding the behaviour of the home’s inhabitants, to create functional spaces within the home. Designers understand your preferences, needs, lifestyle and budget and bring their creativity to your living spaces. They work with colour schemes, materials, wall designs, flooring, furniture, lighting and accessories. They follow a systematic and coordinated methodology when implementing thoughtful solutions to improve the experiences of those who live in your home.

Once the structural construction has been completed, the interior designer typically furnishes and accessorizes the empty interior. Your interior designer might also work closely with the architectural designer, so the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, countertops, flooring and finishes are installed or applied at the correct phases of construction.

Where architects design and deliver the complete building, designers focus on creating the desired look/mood/feel within the house. Interior designers may also decorate, but decorators do not design.

Like architects, interior designers must adhere to code and regulatory requirements, and integrate the principles of environmental sustainability. Cost-conscious homeowners hire professional interior designers to create the home of their dreams while saving them money. Your interior designer can:

  • save you a lot of time and legwork, which usually translates to money;
  • prevent you from making costly mistakes;
  • pass on manufacturers’ direct trade discounts;
  • increase the durability of the elements and finishes by knowing when to pay extra for higher quality;
  • eliminate future expenses by planning for the future.

Two of the biggest potential pitfalls, when homeowners design their own living spaces ad hoc are impulse buys and second-guessing or regretting earlier decisions. Often, as the rooms and living spaces come together, the individual pieces that looked gorgeous in the showroom, don’t match the rest of the décor at all. Here, the designer’s years of experience in creating beautiful spaces, knowing where to look for just the right pieces and careful planning can save you a lot of time and money.

There are finishes, furniture pieces and artwork that are worth splurging on – to achieve just the right look and feel for the space – while others only require a cursory cost-effective consideration. A great interior designer can future-proof your investment by considering what your family’s needs will be as your children grow older, or they move away to start families of their own, and some rooms will be repurposed.

Your interior designer will consider each remodel idea against how it will hold up in a future real estate market. Incorporating concepts that will add to your home’s market value down the road is another way your interior designer can maximize your return on investment.

Interior décorators

Interior decorating is the furnishing or adorning of already designed and completed living spaces with decorative elements to achieve a certain aesthetic. After the structural build or renovations have been completed, and the designer has chosen the key elements and finishes, decorating helps give a seamless look to every room or space, without changing the layout of the room fundamentally.

There can be some crossover between the roles of interior decorators and interior designers. As a general rule, interior decorators will not involve themselves with altering the function of rooms and spaces, selecting flooring and wall treatments, kitchen and bathroom design, choosing electrical or plumbing fixtures, or windows and doors.

Interior decorators are often referred to as decorators or interior stylists. They can help you pick colour schemes, choose furniture for interior and outdoor areas, and accessorize.

Do you need an interior decorator? If you have a great eye for design, art pieces and décor, and you have the time, decorating your home allows you to put your unique stamp on every room. If you’re pressed for time or don’t know where to start, hiring an interior decorator can be the best way to put the final aesthetic touches on your custom home or remodel project.

A good interior decorator will know how to integrate or feature your personal elements, like old family heirlooms, treasured pieces of art, antique furniture or souvenirs into their compositions. And they’ll tactfully advise you when a certain piece isn’t going to work.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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