Emptying out my mother’s house brought back memories of watching WWF on television when I was a kid. Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant were deserving heroes, slicked with sweat and grunting from their unnatural strength. They were burly men who, in my Frosted Flakes fueled imagination, could do anything, from lifting a Cadillac above their heads to solving the third grade multiplication tables that were causing me migraines. The closest I’ve ever come to feeling as powerful as one of those vintage muscled masses of manhood was when I helped to unload the furniture and remaining items from the tiny single-family dwelling that my mom, and all of her stuff, called home for ten years. There’s something about lifting large pieces of wood that taps into a universal undiscovered reservoir of testosterone. And if that piece of wood happens to have a set of drawers and antique brass hinges, then it also appeals to my feminine sensibilities.
It helped that there was a team of large-and-in-charge men assisting yours truly, ’cause otherwise the new owners would walk into a house filled with furniture splinters and old high-heels.
Living in an empty house that’s not your own has its perks. For one, there’s the satisfaction of having gotten rid of so much. It’s really liberating in an Ani DiFranco-lyric sort of way: I only have a bag, some boxes, and a dog. The other cool thing is that Simon and I can pretend we’re squatters. Which really consists of little more than me going, "Heh, this is cool. We can have sex on the floor." And him agreeing in several different ways.
But living in a cavernous series of rooms with nothing in them has helped me to appreciate good interior design. While minimalists such as myself could live with little other than a mattress and a desk, in order to make a home an inviting place to rest your bones (or to just bone) you need to make sure that you’re optimally using the space available to you. And if you happen to have some spare cash in your pockets, you can pony up and have an interior designer turn your home from look-away ugly to must-stare HGTV.
Because I realize that if I continue without explicitly defining the differences between an interior designer and an interior decorator I will have a high-end protractor thrown at my head, I will say that interior designers often have graduated from a four-year college or degree program, while interior decorators, as a general rule, have obtained a certification. Designers are usually more educated in the technical aspects of planning a space, as well as having knowledge about building permits, blueprints, contractor obligations, and flammability and toxicity levels of materials, among other things. A lot of the time interior decorators focus more on lower-budget elements, such as selecting paint colors and cabinetry, while designers can handle these tasks while also managing structural and coding requirements of a project. The going rate for an interior designer is $150 an hour, with a 25% mark-up on items that are discounted to the trade.
If I were to hire an interior designer, I would have the house gutted completely (except for the kitchen) and put a half-pipe where the dining room table once was. Generally, interior designers are hired to handle the aspects of home decoration soup-to-nuts, which can mean flooring, painting, repairs, plumbing, and the selection of everything from furniture to fixtures. They probably install their fair share of vert ramps, too.
Whether it’s knocking out walls or wiring a chandelier made out of hipster skulls, an interior designer will either do it or subcontract someone who can. Designers can be employed by large companies, small firms, or they can be self-employed. Working for firms can mean anything from slaving away in an office nine-to-five, to working on a per-job basis. Self-employed designers make up 26% of the field. These are the poor visionaries who toil the longest, and have to hustle to create their client base. Because of the stress of deadlines, traveling to job sites, budgets, and calming cantankerous clients, I assume that once you enter the field of interior design, your life expectancy drops by about ten to fifteen years. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
If you’re a creative, hands-on type (like Randy Savage with a color wheel) then interior design could be your calling. Keep in mind that most designers choose to pursue a bachelors degree in interior design from a Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER) accredited college or department. After graduating, it’s useful to contact the regulatory agency of the area you live in, just to make sure you meet and understand the licensing requirements for interior designers. These can vary on a state-by-state basis, so it’s helpful to have the National Council for Interior Design Qualification‘s site bookmarked. Of course, instead you could just watch Trading Spaces reruns and talk about painting your bathroom "one of these days."
For those who have the perspicacity and the pencils to get their degree and get to work, there’s a little bit of gold at the end of the paint chip rainbow. The average salary for interior designers is about 42K a year. Commercial projects can vary from having a per-hour fee to having a flat fee, while self-employed designers working on residential projects often charge a per-minute fee along with a percentage of the cost of accent pieces, furniture, fixtures, and any other design components. Depending on where they live, designers can build up a solid client base, and in cities like New York, where word of mouth is king, the rise to a steady income can be quick. Or it can be never. Much like copywriting, I suppose. But urban areas, with their larger populations, create a larger demand then, say, places like Norman, Oklahoma, where you can slap an OU sticker on it and say that it’s no longer fixin’ to be decorated.
Of course, when we move into our apartment, we’ll once again be nesting in a way that’s unique to us. Fortunately, all that consists of is my Nine Inch Nails poster and a bookshelf. And if we decide that the living room would look better in a lovely shade of avocado green, I think that we would avoid hiring anyone to wield the roller in our place. In truth, as impressive as interior designers and interior decorators are, I think we’d be disappointed that we didn’t take the time to do something to our new home with our own four hands. And before I haul any furniture into the new pad, I’ll be sure to say my prayers and take my vitamins.