I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t know what an interior designer is. That’s one of the reasons why I created a section of this site to explain the roles of an interior designer–what we are and what we aren’t. Unfortunately, not all states protect the title, “interior designer.” Pennsylvania is NOT one of the 18 states that offers protection for consumers and designers when it comes to the profession of Interior Design. Pennsylvania does NOT have any regulations that say, “If you call yourself an interior designer, you must have…experience and training.”

Technical Definition

Technically, interior designers are licensed or credentialed professionals who have completed five or more years in an accredited interior design program. We must understand:
  • Building systems
  • Building codes, including the International Building Code (IBC), Federal Guidelines for Accessibility (ADA) and Universal Design (UD) principles
  • Public health, safety and welfare requirements including fire, electrical and plumbing
  • Construction standards
  • Human dimension and ergonomics
  • Volumes of information on product details and specifications

Actual Pennsylvania Definition

In reality, in Pennsylvania you don’t have to have any of these qualifications. In Pennsylvania, anyone can call themselves an interior designer.

What does that mean for you?

For commercial and residential consumers in Pennsylvania, that means that if you hire an interior designer you don’t know what level of knowledge and experience you’re getting. You could be getting a creative individual who has a talent for how things look but doesn’t know what the building code requires, what standards exist, what laws need to be included. For a commercial client for example, you may have invested a great deal of money in design and aesthetics only to find that when your inspection happens you can’t get the necessary permits to open your business. For a homeowner, things may not show up until you go to sell your home.

What can you do?

Use only IIDA or ASID Members

Just because the state doesn’t define the title, doesn’t mean that you don’t have too. You can insist on only hiring interior designers who are members of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) or the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Interior designers who are members of these organizations must have a 5 year degree, must meet annual continuing education requirements, must have met the required number of hours of work experience and they must pass the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam.

Support Legislation

The Interior Design Legislative Coalition of Pennsylvania (IDLCPA) is a joint effort of the ASID and IIDA and we have been diligently working to promote the Interior Design profession through legislative efforts. I’m an IIDA interior designer and an IDLCPA board member and I believe strongly in our legislative efforts. We introduced legislation in 2016 (PA Senate Bill 1021) that would allow for the registration/credentialing of interior designers in Pennsylvania. Many Pennsylvania homeowners are familiar with (or should be) the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA.) HICPA requires, among other things, that home improvement contractors register with the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s office in order to legally practice their trade. Unlike HICPA, PA SB 1021 would not restrict the practice of interior design. What PA SB 1021 would do is create a separate title–“Credentialed Interior Designer.” If an interior designer uses that title today, they can continue to do the same in the future. However, if they want to call themselves a Credentialed Interior Designer, they will need to meet the Pennsylvania state requirements. These requirements are the same criteria required today of any designer who becomes a full member of the IIDA or the ASID. They are industry standards and do not favor either organization.

What difference does it make?

For Designers

For interior designers, PA SB 1021 allows us to practice our profession completely. Pennsylvania interior designers are restricted by the Pennsylvania Architecture Laws. For example, Federal law requires that you must be a Credentialed Interior Designer in order to work on Federal properties. Since Pennsylvania does not have a process for credentialing, and therefore, no title of Credentialed Interior Designer, interior designers must work under the supervision of a licensed architect if they want to work on a Federal project. This means one of two things:
  1. A Pennsylvania design firm will have to spend additional tax dollars to hire an architect to supervise the work.
  2. Credentialed interior design firms from other states will come in and take the jobs from Pennsylvania workers.
PA SB 1021 will also allow credentialed interior designers to:
  • Submit permit drawings for their clients without having to hire an architect.
  • Certify documents for permitting.

For You

For you the consumer, PA SB 1021 will give you a couple of advantages. As I stated before, the bill will NOT eliminate jobs for anyone who wants to practice interior design. You can still choose to work with whomever you want. However, if you choose to hire someone who is a “Credentialed Interior Designer,” you will have a standard of expectation. This standard will also give you protection and an avenue for resolving conflicts. If a credentialed interior designer misrepresents their abilities and this results in an issue with your project, the state can hold them responsible because there is a documented level of ability they have not met. You can also expect some cost savings. The documentation process is expensive. Architects are expensive. You should not be required to incur additional expenses just to meet a state requirement that is specific to only Pennsylvania, penalizes Pennsylvania workers, and allows architects to control the market despite other professions meeting the same documented skill levels. Please support PA SB 1021 by asking your representatives to support the legislation. In the meantime, for your protection, look for IIDA or ASID membership credentials when you’re hiring an interior designer. For more information, see the links below: Frequently asked questions and answers Interior Design Legislative Coalition of Pennsylvania (IDLCPA) Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA) Who is my Senator?