When I tell someone I’m an interior designer, they often think that I spend my days picking paint colors and finding fabrics, similar to a design stars on TV. While that’s a part of my job, it’s a more accurate description of an interior decorator—someone who can design aesthetically pleasing residential spaces without formal training or a professional license. However, as a commercial interior designer, I design high-volume, high-occupancy public spaces such as hospitals. With a professional license, commercial interior designers where I live, in Florida, have the authority to stamp and sign construction documents, while licensed interior designers in most other states do not. The exception to this is residential work, which does not require a license to use the title interior designer.
To be considered an interior designer, candidates must complete six years of combined school and on-the-job experience before passing the National Council for Interior Design Qualification’s exams. Passing these exams is a strenuous process that requires countless hours of studying everything from selecting appropriate furniture and fixtures, to demonstrating an understanding of detailing construction documents and life safety and accessibility codes. It’s long and grueling, yes, but it’s important because commercial interior designers’ decisions ultimately affect the health, safety, and welfare of the communities and clients we serve.
In recent years there have been repeated attempts to pass deregulation bills in Florida that would affect a wide variety of professions. In some versions of the bills, commercial interior designers would no longer require a professional license or any kind of training, similar to how the interior decorator profession works now, and would revoke our ability to sign and seal documents. While the bills have been intended to expand access to professional jobs and increase economic opportunity, such legislation could have a variety of unintended consequences. For example, many interior designers own small businesses and would be forced to contract work out to architects to complete projects that require signing and sealing. Remember, these interior designers are currently qualified to do this work, so being forced to hire a third party would raise the cost to do business.
Without the combined efforts of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), the American Society for Interior Designers (ASID), Dave Roberts of the Nortelus Roberts Group, and other advocates for the interior design profession, the deregulation bill likely would have caused thousands of practitioners to lose their signing and sealing privileges and ability to operate independently. Thanks to the North Florida Chapter of IIDA’s efforts to organize a statewide campaign to educate lawmakers, the Senate’s version of the bill was amended to recognize interior designers as registered professionals.
However, while the Senate bill was amended, the House bill was not. In response, over 30 interior designers from across the state, including seven of us from Gresham Smith, traveled to the Florida State Capitol earlier this year to speak in opposition to the language pertaining to interior design in the House’s deregulation bill. As we walked to the Capitol on the morning of the hearings, we learned that the House bill’s verbiage had been amended to match the Senate’s version, allowing the interior design profession to continue to sign and seal drawings. As we were leaving the hearing later that day we were stopped by one of the lawmakers. He admitted that he previously didn’t recognize the depth and duties of the interior design profession, but thanks to our education efforts he now understands the important value interior designers provide for the built environment.
I’m extremely proud of our success on Florida’s Capitol Hill, but I’m even more proud that Gresham Smith supported our engagement in this important civic issue and efforts to communicate our value. I’m glad to be part of a firm that sees interior designers as integrated, integral parts of project teams that contribute heavily to the success of our clients. And now, I’m happy to say that many of Florida’s legislators have recognized our value as well.