restaurant bar

BBC’s  Interior Design Masters  is yet another  quick fix, staples, glue, centrepiece, wow factor, TV game show.

From this, viewers will think ‘interior design’ is about shoddy craftsmanship, a kaleidoscope of colour and a random mix of cheap materials and garish patterns.  

After all, it’s just a bit of fun.

It’s just interior design. 

The elephant in the room ( not sprayed gold, not made of sequins) is that none of the candidates are actually qualified interior designers.

Universities produce hundreds of graduates every year with excellent design skills. Some of whom actually have a Masters in Interior Design.  

To be clear: the contestants on this show have not spent 3+ years  at university learning about design.

In any field there are gifted amateurs: people with natural flair, talent, experience and knowledge.

For example, in Masterchef  all the candidates are highly-skilled amateur cooks. On this show, the culinary challenges push and showcase their creative and technical skills. Ultimately, only those who can handle the rigours and pressure of a real life professional kitchen will win.

Likewise in The Apprentice, at the final pitch competitors must demonstrate they have a viable business plan. They have to show they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur – similar to what we see in Dragons Den.

As a TV show Interior Design Masters sticks to a ready-made formula. It must have: ‘interesting characters’, be ‘entertaining’ and have an element of ‘competitive tension’.

The idea is that this creates  a buzz to entertain an audience with an easy-watching concept and the inevitable big visual reveal. 

Viewers can dip in and out as they put kids to bed, do the ironing, tidy up. It’s not demanding, or binge-worthy and you don’t need to know who is who to follow what’s happening.

Interior design on TV is generally shown to be superficial and cosmetic.

To the world it sends out a narrow, jaundiced view of the interior design practice as slapdash, decorative and purely residential. 

All this puts trained interior designers on the back foot.

This is not what interior design is about.

So, what is interior design? 

white rubric cube concept for retail
Photo by Xianjuan HU on Unsplash

An Interior designers’ role/remit/work deals with every type of building.

Such as: the interior of an airport, hospital, school, shopping mall, department store, retail unit and commercial office.

Interior designers work with five star hotels, budget hotels and with every type of hospitality venue.

A good interior designer can transform a business.

Their input ( insight and solution) can be the difference between what makes a business work – or not.

A well designed interior may be what people most remember about a space, and it may be the reason why they choose to come back – again.

The primary concern for all interior designers is about improving people’s experience of space.

That is: making things better, easier and more comfortable – and attractive.

For clients, this is about making the best use of space; improving visual appeal and updating systems for greater efficiencies. This involves re-working the existing space and spatial  layout.

The finishing touches will come from the designer’s expertise in the use of light, form, colour and materials.

Interior designers work with new and old buildings, developing opportunities in a space for new types of businesses.  

From concept through to a final solution, a design scheme will go through many iterations. This involves original design research, a deep understanding of materials and experience in project management.

Interior designers are not interior decorators.

Major global practices in hotel design clearly differentiate both roles and will employ both interior decorators and interior designers.

The interior decorators are largely concerned with soft furnishings and style. They play an important role in design in the field of show houses and as Home Stagers.

Interior designers are more involved with shaping the interior architecture so that the space is a better fit.  This may for example, involve removing existing architectural elements ( staircases, doorways, walls, floors, openings).

Ultimately, the Interior designer is in charge how the space looks – and how people experience the space.

Employers need people with the right skills for a specific task.  

This is reflected in the wider reach of university courses in.. architecture, interior architecture, interior design – and interior decoration. All of these course develop graduates to work within the construction and building industry.

modern glass offices and corridor
Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

Inevitably, there is some overlaps and blurring of boundaries.  

Interior design crosses over into architecture, textile design, product design, furniture design, kitchen design and lighting design.

On a small job the interior designer covers most of the work ( lighting, furniture design, procurement). Whereas, in very large projects the workload is much more clearly defined.

There is so much more to interior design than a slap of paint and a leopard-print cushion.

The general public still think of interior design in terms of home staging – as a cosmetic feature of domestic space realm… rugs…colours..flower arrangements.

Probably because this what is continually perpetuated in the media.

Some day, we will see experienced and qualified ‘ Interior Design Masters’ more widely represented in the media.

And when this happens the wider role (and importance) of the interior designer will ( hopefully) be more widely understood.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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