The Best Paid Interior Design Firms

Despite a U.S. recession and less spending allowances in most family budgets, interior design is one of the few jobs to experience growth in its market. According to industry resources, the interior design industry made more than $2 billion in 2008 and has seen significant growth in the years since.

Interior designers who are earning the most share of that number seem to be those who operate successful interior design firms. Many specialize in a specific type of style and work in both commercial and residential interior design. Many of the top players work in retail, education, hospitality, and healthcare design.

According to, there are 100 big earners in the interior design industry. (See their list of top paid interior design firms.) The report from attempts to explain this growth trend in a 2009 report about the industry:

“This is going to require a little perspective. Interior Design’s current top 100 Giants earned $2,697,678,869 in 2008, an increase of 13 percent over the previous crew and 9 percent more than their own forecasts. Sounds good, no? But if the pundits who claim the current recession was already under way a year ago are correct, 13 percent is not just good but rather extraordinary.

This year’s Giants were responsible for 750,308,533 square feet, up 19 percent, and $58,375,277,937 in furnishings, fixtures, and construction, up 7 percent. New construction accounted for 62 percent of jobs, renovations 38 percent—pretty much the same as the year before. Project types that paid the best per unit of time or effort were health care, office, and hospitality, followed at a distance by retail. Government and educational paid the least.

As of our survey last October, the Giants predicted a 6 percent decline in interior design income for the coming year. But, again, a little perspective. A 10 percent decline is projected in overall income, which includes earnings from building and landscape architecture, engineering, facilities management, industrial design, consulting, planning, preservation, lighting, feasibility studies, branding, graphics, and set design. On average, interiors account for 58 percent of Giant income, with only 16 firms devoted exclusively to the practice. Declines of 7 percent are also projected in square footage as well as furniture, fixtures, and construction.

The largest portion of Giant income still comes from the office sector, but its share has dropped 11 percent since 2005. Over the same period, hospitality grew from 9 to just shy of 20 percent of income.

Almost 30 percent of Giant fees derived from environmentally responsible design, with 19 firms earning 50 percent or more from the category. Still, 22—including five of the top 10—did not report …

Read more: Up To The Challenge: 2009 Top 100 Giants



Types of Entry-level Jobs for Interior Design College Graduates

When it comes to high-paying interior design jobs, it takes work experience to land the best jobs. But in the mean time, interior design students and recent graduates can gain important real-world experiences at an entry-level job. Interior design college graduates can enter the workforce directly without any prior industry-related work experience through available entry-level opportunities.

According to (a job site worth a look if you want to see what companies are hiring for entry-level types of jobs), interior design college graduates or graduate students with an associate’s degree or better can work in the same occupations as seasoned designers. It’s a matter of less pay and fewer responsibilities until the new designer gains experience:

“Working as an entry level interior designer requires at a minimum an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in interior design and sometimes a license depending on the state in which you would like to pursue this career path. The average entry level salary for an interior designer is $37,758, based on research done by The salary ranges vary across states and even metropolitan areas, so make sure to check what interior designers make in your region, especially if you want to do freelance work.

Interior design is an increasingly popular field for many talented young people: the creativity involved makes it a passionate career for many, with the added flexibility to do contract or freelance work on the side. The job outlook for interior designers is particularly good, as this occupation is expected to grow faster than average at a rate of 19 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the BLS. Both businesses and homeowners are expected to drive the demand for interior designers for the years to come. However, the competition in this field may stiffen in the near future. This should not discourage you, but rather make you proud that you are part of a field that is growing and attracting more interest.

If you want to gain more leverage over your peers, you could specialize in an area of interior design. For instance, an increasing number of interior designers get closely involved with detailed architectural work. A good knowledge of drafting programs such as CAD could be an added value to your resume. Succeeding as a renowned interior designer may prove as challenging as becoming the next famous fashion designer, especially since some fashion designers have already dipped their ink in the interior design industry, however keep in mind that your unique vision and passion about this field can get you a long way, and you may very well be the next big thing!”

Read more about the types of entry-level jobs and requirements for interior design graduates at’s by searching the directory of Entry Level Interior Design Jobs.


Types of Interior Designers

When it comes to interior designs, there are as many types of interior designers as there are different opinions on what is ‘good’ interior designing. When we break it down to types of projects, there are two primary types of interior designers: residential and commercial. Beyond this, interior design can be categorized by sustainable design, elite design, and budget designing. However, the true categorization of the types of interior designers might best be defined by the types of interiors that these professionals create for their clients.

A residential interior designer is a professional designer that works specifically on designs for the home. This type of interior designer is dedicated to the function, feel, and layout that will please the people that live in the space.

Commercial designers are a type of interior designer that works specifically on offices, stores, and other public or semi-public spaces. They must consider how the interior will affect customers and employees, as well as mood and productivity.

Sustainable interior designers focus on using sustainable products to create their designs and create interiors that best utilize natural air flow, heat, cooling, lighting, water, and other elements. Budget designers create interior designs for clients who are only able to spend a small, specific amount of money on their design, while elite designers are able to create interiors that cost much more.

Inside of each of these types of interior designers lie additional categories. Some span all of those listed above (such as ‘bathroom designer’) while others apply to a specific industry (such as ‘commercial dining’):

Cultural and Style-based Designers – Cultural designers are well-versed in architecture and design concepts from around the globe. This type of interior designer may specialize in a specific type of design, such as eastern philosophy and feng shui. He or she may also understand the general styles that are popular around the world, able to create any mood from western desert designs to clean and modern décor.

Set Designers – As part of the production teams in entertainment circles, set designers are a type of interior designer that specialize in creating false, but realistic interiors that photograph well. Many times, set designers design a working space for a television show or a ‘living space’ for photographs, cinema, and live theatre.

Hotel and Motel Designers – Hotel and motel designers specialize in maximizing the use of limited space throughout a hotels interior. They design rooms, lobbies, restaurants, pool decks, and more for the comfort of visitors and staff.

Health Care Designer – Health design is a fast-growing industry that focuses on health and wellness, as well as employee productivity and mood.

Bathroom and Kitchen Designers – Bathroom and kitchen designers specialize in the unique facets of these common areas. They may work in commercial or residential project teams to choose appropriate lighting, fixtures, tiles, and backsplashes.

Commercial Dining Designers – This is a type of interior designer that is able to imagine creative solutions for spaces where customers will dine. Most restaurants hire interior designers to make the most use of a small space or open floor plan so that customers are comfortable in their environment.

Exhibition Designers – Interior designers that work in museums, art galleries, and other types of exhibit halls are highly-specialized professionals that work to create a mood or ambience for an audience within the inside of a building.


How Interior Design School Prepares you for Project Management

Interior design school is an ideal college major for anyone who loves the art of design and those who appreciate the subtle nuances in both indoor and outdoor settings. But part of the job of an interior designer is to plan the design so that it is executed as close to ‘perfect’ as possible. For that reason, much of your time in an interior design college program will center on planning, preparation, and managing an interior design project.

While most interior designers are working designers, that is – they do some of the work themselves; it is the interior designer’s job to manage their project. This is perhaps just as important as the actual interior design. Without proper palnning, a great interior design project can become delayed, more expensive than expected, or simply fall apart. To avoid the hit to your reputation, it is important to pay close attention to the details of project management.

According to ASID Illinois, and interior design professional association, interior designers spend a lot of time planning and less time actually designing:

“An interior designer is professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior environment. Qualified through education, experience and examination, a professional designer can identify, research and creatively resolve issues and lead to a healthy, safe and comfortable physical environment.

Interior designers provide various services including:

  • consulting services to help determine project goals and objectives
  • generating ideas for the functional and aesthetic possibilities of the space
  • creating illustrations and renderings
  • developing documents and specifications relative to interior spaces in compliance with
  • applicable building and safety codes
  • allocating, organizing and arranging a space to suit its function
  • monitoring and managing construction and installation of design
  • selecting and specifying fixtures, furnishings, products, materials and colors
  • purchasing products and fixtures
  • designing and managing fabrication of custom furnishings and interior details
  • designing lighting and specifying… read more about the jobs of an interior designer at ASID Illinois.

Careers in Interior Design, an online publication, has this to say about planning:

“Interior designers must know how to plan a space and how to present that plan visually so that it can be communicated to the client. Interior designers must also know about the materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and how texture, color, lighting and other factors combine and interact to make a space. In addition, interior designers must understand the structural requirements of their plans, the health and safety issues, building codes, and many other technical aspects.

Interior designers must have excellent time and project management abilities since they frequently work on more than one project at a time under demanding deadlines. Interior designers must understand business planning, and they need to know how to sell their ideas to clients, create informative and persuasive proposals and presentations, and maintain good client relationships.” Read more here.


How Interior Design Schools are changing the Working World

Going to an interior design school might be a personal goal for students, but when it comes to world’s workforce – such a decision can lead to an unintended consequence: participating in positive projects that change the world for the better. Interior designers are among the world’s most influential people, impacting employee performance, patient wellness, and economy.

In a recent study by the American Society for Interior Designers (ASID), the industry association spells out the influence of interior design on the working world and gives a sneak peek into the role of future interior designers on society as whole.

In the report, ASID president Kathy Montgomery notes that efficient interior designs are an important part of workplace productivity. She wrote:

“This paper demonstrates that interior designers can help companies improve employee productivity and overall corporate efficiency by developing office spaces that work. Interior designers also can help companies integrate interior design into their strategic plan. Interior designers are the experts who can develop “productive solutions” that help companies boost their bottom line.”

Read the full report from the American Society of Interior Designers here.

Hospitals have long understood the benefit of hiring interior designers that graduated from an accredited interior design school. Not only can an appropriate interior design change the mood and productivity of employees, it can change the behavior and psychological stress experienced by patients, too.

A report by the College of Architecture at the University of Texas A & M summarizes a study conducted on the implications that interior designs can have in a hospital environment. They wrote:

“To promote wellness, healthcare facilities should be designed to support patients in coping with stress. As general compass points for designers, scientific research suggests that healthcare environments will support coping with stress and promote wellness if they are designed to foster: 1. Sense of control; 2. Access to social support; 3. Access to positive distractions, and lack of exposure to negative distractions; A growing amount of scientific evidence suggests that nature elements or views can be effective as stress-reducing, positive distractions that promote wellness in healthcare environments.

In considering the needs of different types of users of healthcare facilities–patients, visitors, staff–it should be kept in mind that these groups sometimes have conflicting needs or orientations with respect to control, social support, and positive distractions. It is important for designers to recognize such differing orientations as potential sources of conflict and stress in health facilities… “

Read the report abstract or purchase it from the National Library of Health.

Many other organizations have conducted research into the ways that interior design schools are influencing the world through the skills they are teaching to student designers.  But breaking it down to economic value can be tough. Interior design students learn to solve problems and stimulate the economy surrounding their industry. When more students graduate with an education that involves solving consumer and company problems, more economic stimulation occurs for the industry and for the client being served.

In their interior design school brochure, the University of Kentucky presents some of the residual effects of productive interior design:

“In addition to interior design services positively impacting the client’s bottom line, the economic impact of these services can also be viewed from the perspective of how the practice of interior design stimulates associated industries such as, furnishings, fixtures and equipment. In 2008 the top 100 firms were responsible for 750,308,533 square feet and $58,375,277,937 in furnishings, fixtures, and construction (Interior Design Magazine, January 2010).” (See the brochure.)


Do You Interior Design Schools Train Interior Decorators?

Do you need to go to an interior design school to be an interior decorator? Is “interior decorator” and “interior designer” the same thing? The short answer is no, they are not. Going to school to become an interior designer will definitely qualify a student as an interior decorator, but the same is not true in reverse. In reality, interior design school program are intense and involve many hours of study in the subjects of architecture, human behavior, elements, materials, lighting, and many other topics not suitable for the title of “interior decorator”.

Interior designers and interior decorators are often used interchangeably, notes the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. The NCIDQ also says the two are very different:

“Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.

Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability.” Read more from the NCIDQ here.

Interior design schools teach students in all disciplines of interior design, focusing on specific aspects in depth depending on the degree program – such as environmental design or landscape design. As it turns out, interior designers have an important job in shaping the communities of the future, just as they have in the past. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“Interior designers make interior spaces functional, safe, and beautiful for almost every type of building: offices, homes, airport terminals, shopping malls, and restaurants. They select and specify colors, finishes, fabrics, furniture, flooring and wall coverings, lighting, and other materials to create useful and stylish interiors for buildings.” (Read more.)

For those who are still on the fence about whether or not to enroll at an interior design school, the BLS also notes the important qualities of an interior design school student-to-be:

“Artistic ability. Interior designers use their sense of style to develop designs that look great and are aesthetically pleasing.

Creativity. Interior designers need to be imaginative in selecting furnishings and fabrics and in creating spaces that serve the client’s needs and fit the client’s lifestyle.

Detail oriented. Interior designers need to be precise in measuring interior spaces and making drawings so that furniture and furnishings will fit correctly and create the appropriate environment.

Interpersonal skills. Interior designers need to be able to communicate effectively with clients and others. Much of their time is spent soliciting new work and new clients and collaborating with other designers, engineers, and general building contractors on ongoing projects.

Problem-solving skills. Interior designers must address challenges such as construction delays or the high cost or sudden unavailability of selected materials while keeping the project on time and within budget.

Visualization. Interior designers need a strong sense of proportion and visual awareness to understand how pieces of a design will fit together to create the intended interior environment.” Read more at the Bureau of Labor Statistics


Are Online Interior Design Schools Worth It?

Whether you are interested in an online interior design school or an online class about a musical instrument, chances are you may have some concerns about the quality of an online education. This may be especially true if you are a parent helping your child decide on a college major or a college campus. The savings offered by online classes are tremendous, but you probably don’t want to risk sacrificing a superior education just to save a few grand.

What are the risks of online interior design classes?

The answer to this question has sparked debate for at least the last decade and it was, at one time, a common discrepancy among educators, professionals, and students. The conversation went something like this:

Student: I want to take five of my classes online. It costs less and I can do it at my own pace.
Parent: Online classes leave out the important parts of the class; like participation and group discussion.
Student: But….
Parent: …but, what?

The good news is that this isn’t such a common argument anymore.  Even educators at top universities agree that online classes, for many studies, are completely appropriate. The education industry has actually done a really good job at figuring out what type of courses are acceptable for online studies, including those taught in interior design schools.

The Academy of Art University, a well-respected design college, offers a full range of degree programs online for this reason. While it is unlikely that you or your child will be able to earn a master’s degree by taking a wholly online degree program, you might be surprised at how much of the curriculum doesn’t involve hands-on participation (especially while earning a lower degree).

The American Society of Interior Designers Weighs In

The ASID, an interior design industry group that keeps an eye on all things interior design endorses at least five online interior design school programs (including the Academy of Art university) and had this to say about online interior design schools and classes:

“When considering enrolling in an online learning program, you must conduct your research.  While a certificate from such a program, such as the Sheffield School of Interior Design, would probably provide you with a good introduction to interior design, it would not provide you with the credentials you will need to sit for the NCIDQ exam or to be licensed in most states or hired by most interior design or architecture firms.”

Read more about interior design school from ASID here.

More Reading:

Should All Schools Be Virtual?

What Should I Know About Accreditation and Online School?


Are You Meant to be an Interior Designer?

Students in interior design school may be surprised to find out the amount of work it takes to graduate college and actually become a licensed interior designer. However, for those who have a passion for the art of interior design, it seems much less like actual “work” and more like something they were meant to do.

According to the American Society of Interior Designers, students can know ahead of time if interior design school is the right choice. The ASID says that interior designers “need to be creative, imaginative and artistic.” The report also says:

They also need to be disciplined, organized and skilled business people. Combining aesthetic vision with practical skills and knowledge, interior designers work with clients to develop design solutions that are “aesthetically appealing, technically sophisticated and pragmatically satisfying.”

Areas of Design Specialization

Designers work in a wide range of settings, both commercial and residential. Surveys indicate that a majority of designers practice at least part of the time in both the residential and commercial areas, although they tend to favor one or the other.

Because commercial designers must be knowledgeable about their clients’ business needs, most concentrate within design specialties, such as designing for the hospitality or health care industries. Some restrict themselves to particular subspecialties, for example, designing restaurants or residential kitchens and baths. A few work in highly specialized fields, like designing interiors for airplanes or yachts, or doing historic conservation or restoration.

Skills for Success

As members of a service profession, interior designers’ fortunes depend on their ability to satisfy clients. Thus, they must possess three important skill sets-artistic and technical skills, interpersonal skills and management skills:

Designers must know how to plan a space and how to render that plan visually, so that it can be conveyed to the client. They must also be knowledgeable about the materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color, lighting and other factors combine and interact to give a space its “feel” or “look.” In addition, they must understand the structural requirements of their plans, the health and safety issues, building codes, and many other technical aspects.

Designers must be comfortable meeting and dealing with many kinds of people. They must communicate clearly and effectively, as well as be attentive listeners. Because they often must work collaboratively with architects, contractors, and other service providers, designers need to be both good team leaders and good team players. They must be willing to negotiate and mediate when necessary to resolve problems.

Designers must have excellent time and project management skills, since they frequently work on more than one project at a time, under demanding deadlines, while looking for new projects or clients.

Read more about what it takes to be an Interior Design School superstar from ASID.

More Reading on Interior Design School Success

What is an Interior Designer?


Interior Design Classes: Learning the Basics of Interior Design

The basics of interior design are taught by interior design schools through a program curriculum that teaches all of the necessary components to begin working as an entry level interior designer. With a certificate in interior design, students can choose to directly enter the workforce or go on to pursue a bachelor and master’s degree in the discipline, opening doors to higher paying jobs.

The basics of interior design are considered core classes at a typical interior design school. This is because no matter how advanced the classes become, they will always rely on the core skills and principles learned in the basic classes. Technology, colors, architecture rules, concept designs, and art studies are an important part of the core elements in interior design programs.

Students who are pursuing a certificate from an interior design school usually start with the basics of color theory. Color theory discusses the way that color impacts the behavior and moods of people, as well as how light and dark colors influence the aesthetic look and feel of an interior space. Colors can make a space look bigger or smaller and can clash or work in harmony to draw the eye away from or toward a central object of focus.

Planning is another core principle that is heavily explored in basic interior design classes. Planning an interior design begins with an evaluation of the client’s needs and follows up with a conceptual design of how to make the space meet the requirements of the consumer. This may include color choices, scaling items up and down, changing or using innovative lighting techniques, surface treatments and materials, furniture, wall art, draperies, and other physical elements. It also includes human behavior and moods analysis, practical use of spaces, and presentation of the interior design concept.

Interior design classes incorporate drafting technologies to help present the concepts and analyze the plans for an interior space and rendering software is learned so that the student can use a 3-d model of the space during the presentation. Decorating and accenting skills are first taught in the core level of interior design classes and are later expanded upon in advanced classes that cover textures and materials in greater detail.

Because art is an important element in the profession, interior design schools often require various art history and art theory classes in their basic interior design certificate program. This may include renaissance art and the study of foreign culture that greatly impacted modern-interior designs. It may also include historic studies in art and design following the industrial revolution, when American design came to the forefront of the art. Interior design schools typically involve antique history and selection classes in the interior decorating modules as well.


Interior Design School Graduates Can Work Outside, Too

Interior design students that love the outdoors can learn landscaping at an interior design school and work on outside projects, as well as inside design. In fact, a portion of the interior design profession chooses to specialize in exterior designs.

As of 2008, there were 71,000 registered interior designers in the United States. According to the recent estimates by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 30% of interior design school graduates work in a specialize field of interior design. They also estimate that 14% of those are working in architectural and landscape architectural roles.  (Another 9% work in furnishings as a specialty, including outdoor furniture.)

Interior designers get to choose the way a room accomplishes a certain goal or aesthetic feel. They can manipulate moods, behaviors, and productivity. The job of an interior designer doesn’t have to stop there, however. Many interiors overlook an outside landscape, so it seems fitting that the interior designer should have a voice in what that part of a design looks like, too. Interior design and landscaping are closely related fields of study and it only takes a few extra classes to be qualified to do both.

At an interior design school, the curriculum to become an interior designer is fairly standard. It includes design principles and techniques, as well as learning to choose interior materials, finishes, furnishing, colors, lighting, and energy use and conservation. Interior design schools teach students to also provide consultation services, manage projects, and work with other allied professionals in architecture, construction, and electricity. Architecture is a big part of an interior design education, and it is one of the commonalities between interior design classes and landscape design.

Landscaping classes at an interior design school also focus on the principles of design and the techniques utilized to bring designs to life. These classes will often focus more on the sustainable aspects of design and proposes unique processes for carrying out the function of landscape designers in the bigger project. Community landscaping, commercial landscaping, and private landscaping consultations and project management skills are also a core part of a school’s course curriculum.

Both interior design classes and landscape classes teach students to use technology such as software programs to draw up conceptual ideas of how a space should look. Professions delve into the way an environment will feel to the inhabitants, how they may behave in the space, and how the design of the space will influence the purpose of the space. For example, an interior design for a home and an interior design for a busy hospital waiting room will have a similar function: to provide relaxation and a place of rest that is away from the critical operations that need to occur nearby. (No living rooms with openly adjacent laundry rooms.)