Approximately 75,400 interior designers and decorators are employed in the United States. Interior designers and decorators can be found wherever there is a need to style or beautify the interior environment of a building. The main professional areas in which they work are residential, government, commercial, retail, hospitality, education and research, health care, and facilities management.
In addition to "traditional" interior design and decorating opportunities, some professionals design theater, film, and television settings. A few designers become teachers, lecturers, or consultants, while others work in advertising and journalism.
The majority of interior designers and decorators work either for themselves or for companies employing fewer than five people. Since the industry is not dominated by giant conglomerates or even mid-sized firms, employment opportunities are available all across the United States, as well as abroad, in cities both large and small.
Most large department stores and design firms with established reputations hire only trained interior designers and decorators. More often than not, these employers look for prospective employees with a good portfolio and a bachelor of fine arts degree. Many schools, however, offer apprenticeship or internship programs in cooperation with professional studios or offices of interior design. These programs make it possible for students to apply their academic training in an actual work environment prior to graduation.
After graduating from a two- or three-year training program (or a four-year university), the beginning interior professional must be prepared to spend one to three years as an assistant to an experienced designer or decorator before achieving full professional status. This is the usual method of entering the field of interior design and gaining membership in a professional organization.
Finding work as an assistant can often be difficult, so be prepared to take any related job. Becoming a sales clerk for interior furnishings, a shopper for accessories or fabrics, or even a receptionist or stockroom assistant can help you get a foot in the door and provide valuable experience as well.
While advancement possibilities are available, competition for jobs is intense and interior designers and decorators must possess a combination of talent, personality, and business sense to reach the top. Someone just starting out in the field must take a long-range career view, accept jobs that offer practical experience, and put up with long hours and occasionally difficult clients. It usually takes one to three years of practical, on-the-job experience in order to become a fully qualified interior designer or decorator.
As interior professionals gain experience, they can move into positions of greater responsibility and may eventually be promoted to such jobs as design department head or interior furnishings coordinator. Professionals who work with furnishings in architectural firms often become more involved in product design and sales. Designers and decorators can also establish their own businesses. Consulting is another common area of work for the established interior professional.
Become proficient in using design software, such as CAD (computer-assisted design) programs.
Volunteer or work part time as an apprentice to an interior designer while you are in school or just starting out.
Visit or tour homes that are open to the public. Historical mansions, model homes in real estate developments, and architecture tours can provide examples of current and past trends in the industry.
Learn as much as possible about subspecialties such as floor and lighting installation, wall treatments, engineering, and architecture, to aid in project creation, timeline, and budget.