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What’s the Difference Between Interior Architecture and Interior Design?

So, what is interior architecture? There has been a debate raging for some time around the terms architecture, interior architecture, interior design, and interior decoration. The discussion centres on the blurring of the lines that define the role and responsibilities of each profession: where does the interior design of a space end and architecture begin, and vice versa?

There have been a number of factors over the last few decades that have increased the ambiguity of these titles, including the improvement of interior design education. This has in turn increased the scope of the profession and led many interior designers to becoming more involved with architectural and technical aspects of interior design, and less with the decorative, soft furnishings side.

interior space in rural house

Image courtesy of Free Land Buck

As a result, many interior design degree courses have been renamed as interior architecture degrees to more accurately reflect what they cover. Courses like this have also shot up in popularity, producing a growing number of architecturally savvy designers, and in turn making it more difficult to differentiate between architecture and interior design.

So what is interior architecture, and perhaps just as importantly, how does it differ from architecture, interior design and interior decoration?

Below, we have attempted to explain the differing roles and responsibilities of all of these professions.

What is Interior Architecture?

kengo kuma interior architecture and design project

Image from Kengo Kuma licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Strictly speaking, interior architecture is a subject and not a profession. The designation of the term ‘architect’ is protected (like doctor) and cannot be used by anyone who does not have the specific qualifications and accreditation.

Interior architecture as a term has come into use  due to the increasing scope and responsibilities of interior designers in recent times due largely to improvements in design technology (CAD) as well as improvements in interior design education. Many degree courses now teach students about the structural technical elements of buildings, which has begun to blur the line between architecture and interior design.

The role of any two different interior designers may differ drastically. Whereas one may be more concerned with decor, soft furnishings and small scale projects, another may be more concerned with larger projects involving technical as well as artistic and aesthetic skills. The latter will be more likely to have studied interior architecture.

interior structure design for children's play area

Image from March Studio

The practice of interior architecture requires designers to consider pretty much everything to do with the building of an interior space that will affect human habitation, including materials, finishes, electrical requirements, plumbing, lighting, ventilation, ergonomics, and intelligent use of space. Interior designers with training in interior architecture will usually be present at, and have an important say during all stages of the construction process, from the initial plans right through to the finishing touches.

modern interior architecture and design example

Image from Reynermedia licensed under CC BY – 2.0

The changing needs of modern society have made the role of the architecturally aware interior designer increasingly prominent. In retail especially, a building is often redesigned on the interior only with the original shell of the building remaining unchanged. This kind of renovation project is the true realm of interior architecture.

In simple and broad terms, interior design is more to do with the art of the building and interior architecture more concerned with the science.

What is Interior Decoration?

interior design of the white house

 Image by Anthony Quintano licensed under CC BY – 2.0.

An interior decorator is solely concerned with the aesthetics of the building, including colour schemes, furniture, and art work. They are involved with the art side of design, and less with the science. Interior decorators will have no concern with the structural design of the building and are not required to be as knowledgable about building regulations. As in the image above of the Christmas decorations from the White house in 2014, there is no involvement with any aspect of the space other than with décor, so this project would require the services of an interior decoration contractor.

An interior decorator will not usually need to be involved from the beginning of the build and will not need to have in-depth knowledge of technical elements such as CAD and structural design. They must, however, be very artistic and have a fantastic eye for interior design trends and aesthetic detail.

All interior designers, even those trained as interior architects, should be skilled in the art of interior decoration in order to complete their job properly.

Summary

  • Interior architecture is the balancing of the art and science of designing an interior space taking into account all elements of the build. However, a designer with training in interior architecture cannot call themselves as such unless they have the professional accreditation from an architectural body.
  • Interior design is a broad ranging profession taking into account all aspects of planning and designing interior spaces in the built environment. The role of any two interior designers can vary greatly.
  • Interior decoration is concerned solely with the decoration or ‘art’ of a space including soft furnishings and colour schemes.

The term ‘interior design’ is used very broadly and can take into account practitioners of widely varying skill levels. This is often where the confusion comes from. However, a variety of skill levels within a given profession is common to all disciplines, and the argument of the difference between interior architecture and interior design is neither significant or constructive.


If you are interested in studying interior design, or indeed interior architecture, make sure you think carefully about where your skills lie and research the course thoroughly before making a decision to ensure that your qualification will give you the best chance of success in what is a very competitive industry.

Here at IDI we offer a BA (Hons) in Interior Architecture and Design that covers a broad range of the skills discussed in this article. We also offer an MA Interior Design course.


We hope you enjoyed this article and feel inspired. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share:


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