Designing means different things to different people, which is a problem. I’m referring to the way the word has come to be used in the world of interiors, making it difficult to distinguish a designer from a decorator or even just a great shopper.
Leave aside the last category for now, and consider the first two. Take “Designer Damien”, who once showed me a rug he had “designed” for himself. For the rug maker, he had provided a screenshot of a chevron pattern, given measurements, specified a border around the zig-zags and chosen colours (red on white). So did he design the rug? Was he a rug designer? What if he had matched cushions to the rug? Would that make him an interior designer?
Then there is “Designer Desiree”, who oversaw the refurbishment of a flat for a friend, re-upholstering tired sofas, choosing wallpaper and dealing with tradesmen. No walls came down, meaning the layout remained the same. Did she design the flat or merely decorate it? Or both?
Although the jobs of designers and decorators sometimes overlap, the terms are not always interchangeable. Not surprisingly, perhaps, interior designers bristle at perceived interlopers who, they say, disrespect the profession. And for the consumer (me), the lack of regulation is frustrating. Whom can you trust?
“My entire career, I’ve had people telling me they’ve done places for friends and should have been an interior designer,” says Suzy Annetta, a Hong Kong-based Australian interior designer-turned-publisher. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I did my tax returns this year; maybe I should have been an accountant.’
“It’s becoming really big for fashion designers to put their names all over hotels,” she continues. “They may have ideas and choose a palette, but they’re not designing anything. It’s marketing speak.”
Although it’s clear certain people have an eye for colour or even an innate understanding of scale and proportion, most of us need to be taught certain skills: how to draw and render perspective, for starters. And no one is born with a knowledge of ergonomics, safety, the properties of materials, building codes and so on. Interior designers bring all of this to a project.
Which is why Hong Kong needs a registration system for interior designers. Such systems are already a reality in other parts of Asia (Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia), as well as in Europe, Canada and the United States.
Registration – on the basis of education and experience – would only raise standards. Meanwhile, the Damiens and Desirees of this world can continue beautifying rooms, improving their aesthetics along the way, but they must also accept their limits.
So am I a designer or a decorator? Well, neither.
But I do know the difference between style and substance.