The Difference Between Interior Design and Interior Architecture

If you have a passion for designing interior spaces, you may be considering a career in either interior design or interior architecture. While these two fields share a common focus on creating functional and visually...

If you have a passion for designing interior spaces, you may be considering a career in either interior design or interior architecture. While these two fields share a common focus on creating functional and visually appealing interior spaces, they approach the practice in distinct ways. To shed light on this topic, we spoke with Fay Freeman, Course Leader for Interior Design BA(Hons), who shared valuable insights into the differences between interior architecture and interior design.

What is Interior Architecture?

Interior architecture involves the sensitive and innovative redesign of existing interior spaces while preserving their historical value. In addition to aesthetics, interior architecture emphasizes the functionality and material construction of interior spaces. It encompasses structural elements such as window and door placements, ventilation, heating, plumbing, as well as interior decoration.

Consider the example below, which showcases the concept of adaptive reuse in interior architecture. The image depicts an art gallery transformed into a refugee hub, where key characteristics of the original building have been retained and highlighted to tell the story of its past.

Building design of an art gallery transformed into a refugee hub Building design of an art gallery transformed into a refugee hub

What Does an Interior Architect Do?

An interior architect conceptualizes designs based on the functionality and structure of an existing building. They prioritize sustainable remodeling and adaptive reuse of existing structures, often focusing on specific communities or user groups and their needs. Interior architects work on various public projects such as hospitals, museums, schools, and theaters.

Interior architects are involved throughout the design project, from conceptual schemes to technical and material specifications. They regularly communicate progress to clients and collaborate with specialists such as structural engineers, lighting experts, building contractors, and material suppliers.

What Skills Do Interior Architects Need?

Interior architects require creative skills to explore new conceptual designs and layouts, reimagining interior environments. They must be adept problem solvers and able to pitch, model, draw, simulate, and test their design proposals. Effective visual and verbal communication is essential, along with a solid understanding of interior architecture and adaptive reuse principles.

What Does an Interior Designer Do?

Interior designers possess a comprehensive understanding of design principles and create interior spaces for various purposes, including residential, hospitality, exhibition, commercial, and pop-up/experiential projects. They collaborate with clients and brands to understand their needs and create beautiful, functional, and safe spaces. Interior designers incorporate technical design, color palettes, textiles, furniture placement, and material specifications to enhance the look and function of a space. Throughout a project, they liaise with contractors, electricians, painters, and plumbers to ensure that the client's requirements and budget are met.

The mood board below exemplifies how interior designers use color, material, and texture to create stylish and purposeful interior spaces.

Interior Design mood board of different materials with visualization of interior space Interior Design mood board of different materials with visualization of interior space

What Skills Do Interior Designers Need?

Interior designers require skills similar to interior architects, but with a greater emphasis on the decorative and atmospheric aspects of design. They should have knowledge of historic design periods, color theory, and classic design ranges. An eye for style is essential when selecting furniture, fittings, and equipment for each unique project. Additionally, interior designers need excellent communication and organizational skills to bring projects to fruition.

What's the Difference Between Interior Design and Interior Architecture?

Interior architecture focuses more on structural design, emphasizing adaptive reuse and remodeling of existing buildings. On the other hand, interior design centers around creating interior atmospheres, with a focus on finishes, furniture, and color palettes.

While both interior designers and interior architects possess a similar set of skills, they apply these skills in diverse ways. Both professions offer exciting and innovative opportunities to transform how we inhabit, work, and enjoy spaces.

If you're interested in pursuing a career in interior design or interior architecture, an undergraduate degree in either field can help you refine your skills and build a professional portfolio. Our on-campus and online courses offer masterclasses, live projects, and industry collaborations to launch your design career successfully.

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