Why Set Decorating Styles are Not Important in Interior Design

white mansion patio with lush topical trees

6 minute read

Did you know that, contrary to what we learn from watching HGTV, many professional interior designers are not concerned with creating new designs in a particular style, like ‘modern farmhouse’?

Today we are going to look at what ‘style‘ in interior design is, and more importantly where our sense of style in interior design actually comes from.

We’ll also learn about why style is often the result of design for designers and not a starting point, as it might be for decorators.

How to Distinguish Between the Style of an Interior and Interior Design “Styles”

in interior design refers to the end result of a design. It’s the way the interior looks visually (for example, a vintage style or a modern style), and may include the aesthetics of furniture and decor.

Established interior design “styles” on the other hand, are ‘an inherited manner’ in which the interior was constructed and may relate more to the architectural and built-in elements. Examples include historic styles like Victorian or Colonial.

If you’re still not sure what this means, don’t worry. Keep reading!

The Difference Between Decorating and Designing Interiors

woman in white shirt and blue denim jeans standing on brown wooden seat

To start, it might help to review the difference between decorators and designers.

(For those of you who are thinking about studying interior design you might be interested to know that I studied both interior design and decoration, and there is a good distinction between them!).

Here’s what you need to know:

The Definition of ‘Decoration’ vs ‘Design’ in Interior Design

Decorating is concerned with the more superficial elements, whereas designing is concerned with everything related to the structural, constructed and fitted elements. Having said that, designers often make decoration a part of their design approach in professional practice.

How Design and Decoration Differ in Full Service Interior Design

Here’s an example: An interior designer might do a commercial design project. This would usually be full service interior design (including site survey, design work and construction management) and would often include renovation and remodeling. This type of design project is especially common in the retail and shopfitting spaces where a complete fit out and all new furnishings are needed.

Commercial design can include the removal of old design fittings, the restructuring of internal partition walls, and the installation of all new appliances and even HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning) systems.

The design side

For the design side of the job plans would be drawn up for each aspect of the design individually. These would usually be featured on different construction sheets, as part of a series in the building plan. To create these plans a designer would use standard construction design process. Any remodeling work which included changes to the existing building would have to be approved before commencing with the design.

Other aspects to the design could include the planning of finishes. Thse are the surface treatments in the space, like the flooring, tiles, carpeting, etc. These might be followed by mill work (custom cabinetry) and the fitting of lighting fixtures and appliances.

Sometimes home systems for sound and media also need to be included in the design plans.

The decoration side

Anything that is less fixed and more easily movable and replaceable might be considered to be part of the decoration. This would include such items as free-standing furniture, window dressings and treatments, as well as rugs, artwork andother decorative additions and features.

Why Interior Designers Aren’t Focused on Styles

black flat screen tv turned on near green plant

Some designers are known for their sense of style. Others approach every project on its own merits, and with very different end results.

The designer known for their approach to style has usually developed a particular way of working that results in a certain look, such as the popular “jungalow” style made popular by Justina Blakeney. However, what we are looking at in Justina’s work might be better described as her decorating style than an actual ‘design style’.

Decorators Focus on Style, Designers on Function

For a good designer, how the final design will look comes down to many factors, and these factors go beyond the pure aesthetic. On the other hand, decorators are necessarily much more focused on style as this is their specialty.

Nonetheless, a designer who isn’t focused on a particular look might still produce work that is easily recognizable as their own. This usually comes down to the use of certain materials or a unique way of working.

Aesthetic vs Functional Focus

The reason that designers focus on function and decorators focus on style is that decorating is unapolagetically about the aesthetics. Design is more about spatial and functional problem solving.

It gets more confusing because designers may decorate as part of their job, but not all decorators “design”.

When decorating, both designers and decorators may use existing ‘styles’ as inspiration for projects. Clients, too, are often interested in knowing what their own style is before committing to starting a design project.

How Many Common Decorating Styles Are There?

chopping boards near oven under hood

Did you know that there are at least thirty recognized interior decorating and design styles? Where do they come from?

The styles we see in home fashion start life as preferences for certain ways of building and furniture and textile creation and many have cultural roots. There are likely at least one hundred or more possible major styles globally.

Looking at different interior design styles is how a lot of people first come to learn about interior design. Even if this focus is on looks and ignores many other important aspects of design, it is fun to look at styles and it is fun to discuss them.

Read: How Many Interior Design Styles in the World?

Aesthetics come from combining elements

Interior design and decorating “styles” are basically compositions of elements which together give us a particular “look” or vibe.

So, they are made up of a lot of different things which together achieve a certain aesthetic.

In architecture the style of a house or building is known as its typology.

In America some common home typologies include, “colonial”, “craftsman”, “ranch” and “mid century modern”.

Interior design style typologies can overlap with architectural typologies

red mini copper

We have typology in interior design too. Each of the well recognized architecutural home styles usually has it’s equivalent interior style, such as mid century modern.

While many style typologies are well-recognized around the world, there are plenty of what might be considered “rogue styles” in between. These are often transient, flash-in-the-pan style trends which don’t last.

Some of the more well recognized interior design styles include “classical”, “transitional”, “modern”, “urban modern”, “industrial” and “farmhouse”.

Some styles defying categorization

Just as in architecture, there are plenty of real-world styles which exist in interiors around the world which can’t be perfectly defined.

The reason for this is that the individual people who created this designs and styles were drawing on a lot of personal influences in their creative process.

The creative person may or may not end up with what can be described as an easily identified “style“, but it might still be incredibly stylish.

Sometimes we might just have to shrug and admit that they have “a style all of their own“.

Find yourself with a style which is “between styles”? This can be referred to as an “Eclectic” style, and it exists in architecture as well as interior design.

The bottom line is that to create something new, a designer often needs to put aside preconceived notions of styles and set ways of decorating. The caveat is that in order to do this well, a designer should be a students of styles and a student of history.

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Yes, my friends. To break the rules like Neo in the Matrix, you must first master them. Follow Design Baddie to learn more about interior design styles, our unique style systems and all topics related to learning interior design and running a virtual interior design business.

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Stay badass,



Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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