Should You Call an Architect or Interior Designer

Should You Call an Architect or Interior Designer


When it comes time to embark on any type of home renovation project, it can feel both exciting and overwhelming when deciding the best way to bring your dream home into a reality. Will you need to hire an architect? Will an interior designer be necessary? Or will you need both? While both bring technical skills to the table, there are distinct differences between an architect and an interior designer. Here are the basic scopes of expertise for each:

  • Architect: Designs, reviews, and oversees the construction of all aspects of a building and/or building project—both inside and out—to ensure it is functional, structurally sound, and aesthetically appealing. Basically, an architect deals with the complete building structure from renovations to new builds, including any structural changes (both large and small) while making sure all aspects of a project are in line with local building codes and project plans. Some architecture firms may have interior designers on staff.
  • Designer: Focuses on details like materials, furniture, wall designs, color schemes, and accessories while also understanding the scope and functions of the project as well as the needs of the client where both taste and functionality are concerned. Designers are typically involved in the many phases of a project from a layout to final touches, focusing on the look, feel, and mood inside the home.
  • Design Architect: Typically does both interior design and architecture. They require a local architect of record to complete a permit set. Design architects have the flexibility to tackle design holistically, relying on local engineers and architects for permitting and any local code requirements.

It’s important to note that most projects involve both an architect and a designer. Sometimes an architect’s training and discipline does not allow them to be well suited to interior design, while an interior designer may not have the knowledge base to be able to design and understand space like an architect. This is why you likely will need both when you’re deciding who you should call an architect or interior designer.


There is typically some overlap between the professions, but as with any great marriage, you'll want to hire the right people to fit your job. Here are some skills shared by both architects and interior designers:

  • Meet with a potential client to understand the full scope of the design, the client’s needs and lifestyle, and the client’s overall budget for the project.
  • Create a design based on the initial meeting with the client including all aspects of the design based on that professional’s scope of expertise.
  • Meet with potential clients to thoroughly understand all aspects of the project and propose a tentative budget to the client based on the proposed design.
  • Handle any changes or modifications to the design during the entirety of the project once the design is accepted and the project is approved.
  • Visit the project site periodically to make sure the project is proceeding per the design.
  • Work with other contractors to ensure their work is according to plan as far as quality, materials, and budget are concerned.

Related: Click here to better understand all the phases of a project—including both architecture and design

Design Architect vs Architect?

There is a new breed of architect called the Design Architect. This person focuses on design holistically, considering both interior and exterior in their design. Design architects tend to rely on local Architects of Record (AOR) and engineers to review their drawings and fill in any missing pieces needed for local code requirements. A design architect will be able to do both architecture and interior design. In this instance, you don't need separate entities. Like we mentioned before, depending on the type of project you’re embarking on, you might need both an architect and an interior designer or only one of the two, so here is a breakdown of some common projects and which professional is needed for each.

Building a New Home (Hire both)

When you’re wanting to build your dream home from A (design) to Z (move-in ready), you’ll need both an architect and an interior designer. The architect will bring your dream home to life as far as the structure of the complete home is concerned, and the interior designer will create your dream home on the inside through furnishings, color schemes, wall hangings, flooring, lighting, and more, taking care of the overall mood, feel, and look of your home based on your personal tastes, needs, and wants.

Redesigning a Space (Depends on your needs)

If you're building a new home, the answer we outlined above is pretty clear. When you get into existing structures that need some work or if you want to do a total renovation, you'll have to consider your needs.

  • If you’re changing the floor plan (walls and structure changes), you’ll need both an architect to take care of these structural changes and an interior designer to then design that space.
  • If you’re only changing the look of a space—giving a space a facelift, you’ll only need an interior designer since no structural changes will be needed.

Keep in mind that redesigning or renovating space would be best suited to a design architect who has the capabilities to look at the design holistically.

Adding an Addition (Hire both)

While you will still have the basic structure—your existing home—in place, when it comes to adding a new, attached structure to your existing home, you’ll need both an architect and an interior designer, similar to as with a new build. The architect can draw up the plans based on your wants and needs, ensuring the plans are in line with local codes and that they will integrate nicely with your existing home. The interior designer will add the all-important design aspects to the addition while making sure the new addition flows and is in line with the design aspects of the existing structure. Both will create cohesiveness between your existing home and the new addition, giving you the best of both worlds. This scope of project would also be very well suited to a design architect. The design architect will be able to design holistically utilizing local architects for and code requirement and permitting.

What About Design-Build Firms?

As you've probably figured out by now, in many cases, you'll likely need to hire both an architect and an interior designer. While it may seem easier to work with a firm that houses all of the professionals you need—including architects and interior designers, design-build firms are not always transparent.

In other words, there's no clear definition of who they are, what they specialize in, and who they employ as far as legit professionals.

Whereas, when you hire an interior designer, you know you're getting an interior designer. Same with an architect.

Here are some other drawbacks to hiring a design-build firm:

  • Focus of the firm: Some design-build firms are more focused on construction over design, so the design aspect of your project could suffer. Others are more design-focused, potentially leaving the crucial construction of your project less focused upon.
  • Less control: When working with a design-build firm versus individual contractors (architect, interior designer), you won’t know who is handling what aspect of the project, which can create a lack of transparency.
  • Design decisions will be based on margin and return rather than design merit, stifling creativity.
  • Different contractors bring different skill sets and value to a project. Design build firms will design to the builders strength which can result in uninspiring designs and limiting the options available.
  • Fewer objective solutions: When using a design-build firm, since both the architect and designer will work for the same firm, if problems arise at any point during the project, some objectivity might be lost versus working with a separate architect and designer who are not associated with a single firm.
  • Potential for miscommunication: Since contractors are under one roof in a design-build firm, different aspects of your project can get lost in the shuffle, especially if one professional is supervising different aspects—both construction and design, for example. This can lead to miscommunication between you and the other professionals working on your project since you might not be sure which contractor is handling which aspect of your project.
  • Cost (More Expensive): Design-build is a lot more expensive. They charge a % of the design side and a % on the build side. Instead of an architect recommending a GC to you that you pay directly, they take on the responsibility and sign the GC directly and you pay a premium for this. While you technically have a one-stop-shop, you will be paying for it.
  • Uninspiring designs: Design build firms tend to replicate the same formula to cut back on time and risk, increasing their margins.

Home renovations can either bring your dream home to life or become a total nightmare. Before you take that first step on the home renovation path, be sure to understand what type of experts you’ll need to make that path as smooth as possible, whether that’s an architect, an interior designer, or both. When it comes to the design aspect of a project, we’re the pros. Reach out for help with your dream design, and we’ll put our expertise to work for you.

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