From the June/July 2015 Issue:

What’s a Certified Interior Designer? (And Why Do You Need One?)

    By: Leslie Gilbert Elman |


We love D.I.Y. television shows as much as the next person, but they can be misleading, creating the expectation that anyone can redesign his or her living space in the course of a weekend.

There’s more to interior design than simply making a room look the way you like. It’s an art. It’s a science. It’s aesthetic and it’s technical. It operates on levels that you may feel without being able to identify them. If it sounds like we’re gushing, we are; we respect professional, certified interior designers and the work they do.

Before you embark on a D.I.Y. home design project—or hire your cousin who has really great taste to do it for you—here are 12 points to help you understand why hiring a pro will make you happier, healthier (yes, really) and wealthier in the long run.

1. Education
“Everyone thinks they’re designers because they choose colors and buy furniture,” says Dr. Alfonso Torino, chair of Interior Design at Berkeley College School of Professional Studies based in Woodland Park with nine campuses in New Jersey and New York. “Interior design education is a hands-on, studio-based program. It’s creative and technical, combined with business.” Coursework includes both rendering with pencil and paper as well as computer-aided design; conceptual design; lighting; finishes, materials and textures; color and composition; and much more.

2. Certification
The NCIDQ exam (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) is “the bar exam of interior design,” says Michael Mariotti, a Haworth-based interior designer and president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. “It covers codes, accessibility, space planning, health, safety and welfare...all the things that make an interior designer more than a decorator.” New Jersey’s licensing procedure for interior designers requires candidates to successfully complete the NCIDQ before they may use the letters CID (certified interior designer) after their names. (For details, visit the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs website: njconsumeraffairs.gov.)

3. More Education
To maintain their licenses, certified interior designers must complete 12 credit hours of continuing education every two years. Profes­sional organizations such as ASID, the International Interior Design Association, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, among others, also offer professional certificate programs, and some require continuing education credits to maintain membership.


Educational background is one thing that sets a professional interior designer apart from a hobbyist decorator. There are others:

4. Vision
An interior designer views your space considering not only how you’ll use it today, but also how you’ll use it in the future. “A professional interior designer is trained to understand how a person ages, ergonomics, anthropometrics, a person’s physical characteristics and abilities,” says Carl Ballinger, a Philadelphia-based interior designer and vice president of advocacy for IIDA. “A lot of people are getting into aging in place, so in a renovation we might put plywood behind the wall now to anticipate instal­ling the grab bar you’re going to need later.”

5. Safety
“The second you start making decisions for other people, you affect their health, safety and welfare,” Ballinger says. “You’re not just choosing a rug because it looks cool; you’re choosing materials that meet codes and safety standards.” Fabrics, materials and finishes must have low toxicity and flame-spread ratings, for example.

6. Health
Mariotti gives the example of a client who initially wanted to paint the master bedroom red. “The function of your immune system is based on how you eat and how much rest you get. Red is not restful; it’s overly stimulating for a bed­room,” he says. “The same goes for lighting. Even small lights, like the glow of an electronic thermostat or alarm system, can be disruptive. These are things designers think about regularly that clients might not realize.”

7. Problem Solving
Designers are trained to be “inquisitive and analytical, to design for a client with a particular problem and to solve that problem by coming up with the right concept for the project,” Torino points out. The finished look of a living space is important, but the functionality of the space is what makes you comfortable when you’re in it.


Working with a certified interior designer also has practical benefits, such as:

8. Access to Products and Information
Styles and trends in home design change regularly. More importantly, so do building codes and standards in home technology, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning; kitchens and bathrooms; windows and doors; and, most of all, lighting. Professional interior designers keep up with the changes and have access to the latest products and information.

9. Time Saving
Back to that idea of a “weekend project.” It’s a great theory, but as we all know, weekend projects tend to drag on longer than a weekend. You become busy with other things. After all, home design isn’t your primary job. It is, however, the primary job of a certified interior designer, who will oversee your project so the work is done to specification, and delays and do-overs are avoided.

10. Cost Saving
“If a project has a budget, which it should always have, good design shouldn’t cost more,” Mariotti says. “In fact, not working with a professional costs more because [an amateur] won’t execute the project properly and things will have to be redone.”

11. Resale Value
“Years after a renovation, if you try to sell your home and the building inspector sees a blatant code violation, you’re going to have a problem,” Ballinger says. “A professional designer makes sure you’re altering the structure wisely—adding to the electrical and the heating and cooling, for example—in accordance with building codes.”

12. Professionalism
To be a certified interior designer means abiding by a code of ethics. It means speaking the language of design in a way that both clients and other professionals in the building trades understand. “I break down every task, asking questions to get at the function of the space—how you use it comes first—educating the client on the process all along the way,” Ballinger says. “It’s always a back and forth, and the client should be informed of everything—especially what things cost—during the process.” Mariotti adds that true professionals strive for chemistry with their clients so decisions are made to everyone’s satisfaction and the project proceeds on time and on budget. “We will make your space pretty, that’s a given,” he says. “But it’s also going to function better, feel better...you’ll feel better in it. To improve the quality of life through design is our professional responsibility.”

Design Titles

AKBD (associate kitchen and bath designer – National Kitchen & Bath Association certification)
ASID (American Society of Interior Designers)
Allied Member ASID
Associate Member ASID
IDS (International Design Society)
IIDA (International Interior Design Association)
CID (certified interior designer)
CKD (certified kitchen designer – a National Kitchen & Bath Association certification)
CBD (certified bathroom designer – an NKBA certification)
CKBD (for both certifications, and any of these certification with an “M” after the “C” are acceptable for those who hold Master level certifications)
CAPS (Certified Aging in Place)
CWTC (certified window treatment consultant – a Window Coverings Association of America certification)
CWTW (certified window treatment workroom – a WCAA certification
FASID (fellow of the American Society of Interior Designers)
LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) and several others such as LEED AP and LEED Green Associate that signal advanced certification in certain areas.
Regreen Trained Professional

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.