How to Start an Interior Design Business Without a Degree

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Have you ever had someone visit your home and exclaim over its charm? Have you ever gotten new furniture, new window treatments, and a fresh coat of paint, only to have a visitor vow that you should be a professional? Did it give you ideas?

Excellent! Now all you need to know is how to start an interior design business without a degree, and you can wow all those visitors who said you were the best. Lots of people watching the Property Brothers mumble, “I can do that,” then wonder how to get into interior decorating. You’re in luck because this tutorial will show you how, step-by-step.

What Is An Interior Designer And What Do They Do?

Interior designers work on the inside of buildings such as homes, offices, residential health care facilities, hospitals, and hotels. A good example of this is an episode of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper in which they bought an antebellum house and turned it into a bed and breakfast inn. In the episode, they very prettily highlighted all they had done by decorating for the holidays and celebrating Christmas dinner with their parents and children in the new inn.

What designers do in those homes and other buildings is make them safe for habitation, bring the wiring, plumbing, and HVAC and ductwork up to code, add new energy-efficient windows and doors to the building, make repairs to walls and floors, and only then, once the structure is sound and safe, can the actual design begin.

This is what we see the Property Brothers doing. They’ve gotten all the safety and security considerations done before we turn on the TV. They’ve shown the clients the computer design they’ve devised for the house. Now, they get down to brass tacks with paint, wood for floors, trim, furnishings, accessories, and the personal touch that all homes need to make them real homes.

How To Start An Interior Design Business Without A Degree

How To Start An Interior Design Business Without A Degree

Before we get into the steps of how to get into interior decorating, you should know what education is needed to become an interior designer. Associate (two-year degrees or certificates,) Bachelor’s (four-year degrees,) and Master’s (an extra two years for a degree) degrees are available to those studying interior design. However, there’s a definite difference between book learning and practical experience. Here’s what a design school can’t teach you that experience will.

Understanding The Difference Between A Designer And A Decorator

Understanding The Difference Between A Designer And A Decorator

You can paint a house, toss in some well-placed furnishings, rugs, and accessories, along with establishing a focus wall, and you can call yourself a decorator. Design, though, is a horse of a different color.

Design deals with the structure and not just the aesthetics of a house or building. It deals with inspections, wiring and plumbing, safety, and security, and when that’s handled, the design focuses on concepts, materials, and the cost of it all. Now that you understand the difference, we’ll move on to getting experience.

Interior Design Jobs Without Degree

Interior Design Jobs Without Degree how to start an interior design business without a degree

Furniture stores, home improvement or big box stores, and real estate agents are only a few on a long list of establishments using interior designers. Working for architects, flooring establishments, and sometimes even paint and wallpaper stores can give beginners a chance to become self-taught interior designers.

In this instance, it doesn’t matter what education is needed to become an interior designer. Numerous beginners start out as private contractors, having gotten a grounding in one of the above types of stores. Now they’ve learned how to start an interior design business without a degree, and they’re working on a portfolio of their own.

The Nuts And Bolts Of Establishing An Interior Design Career

Okay, now you have a little hands-on experience. Next, you’ll need to make some decisions before taking your new design business on the road.

What Services Will You Provide, Or, What Is Your Business All About?

What Services Will You Provide Or What Is Your Business All About

Self-taught interior designers or college-educated, you have to tell clients what you’re all about. Are you into making homes safe for seniors remaining in them? Are you all about turning historic homes into modern concerns? How about Millennials? Will you turn their homes into showplaces?

You should know from the get-go that interior designers aren’t like the Property Brothers, who do design as well as build. The services designers provide include a design for spaces, sourcing furniture, and appliance suppliers, managing the project, in addition to designing the décor from floor to finish.

What To Charge For Your Interior Design Services

Now we’re down to the nitty-gritty of interior design jobs without degree. You’ve turned your career around, gotten in on the ground floor, and worked your way up to your own contractor’s business. What do you charge for your efforts, though?

Keep in mind that you’ll need money for:

  • Inspectors
  • Permits
  • Insurance
  • Sub-contractors
  • Materials
  • Furnishings, appliances, and accessories
  • Ten percent to cover any emergencies or mess-ups
  • Your fee

Now, this tutorial can’t give you an arbitrary number and tell you that’s what you should charge. The above list will vary from job to job, so you’ll have to sit down with a notebook, pen, and calculator when you take a new job. Sit down with your clients, explain the finances to them, and go from there.

Top Five Self-Taught Interior Designers

These five top interior designers figured out how to start an interior design business without a degree:

  • Joanna Gaines. Easily the most famous and popular interior designer practicing today, it might surprise everyone to know that the spirited designer was self-taught, although she graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She certainly turned her passion for design into food, clothing, books and magazines, and her own cable network.
Joanna Gaines instagram how to start an interior design business without a degree
  • Elsie de Wolfe. One of the earliest interior designers in American history, she lived the life of an early 20th-century historical romance heroine. Universal admiration for her clothing style on the stage of a theater in that era led to people begging her to design their social clubs (the first for American women,) and homes. She mastered how to start an interior design business without a degree, and as a result, her design style is still sought after to this day.
  • Martyn Lawrence Bullard. You might know his face from TV’s Million Dollar Decorators, but what you don’t know is that among his acting credits, he has designed the homes of some of Hollywood’s elite. He began collecting antiques during his childhood in London, grew to impress the likes of Ralph Lauren, and moved on to designing the showrooms of Lauren and Jimmy Choo. His home design clients range from Ozzy Osborne to Cheryl Tiegs to Patty LaBelle. Hotels in California and Switzerland bear his design mark.
martynlawrencebullard website how to get into interior decorating
  • Frank Lloyd Wright. While most may know the name from the architecture for which he’s justly famous, very few recognize his interior design style. Although he didn’t graduate, he was in college for two years studying architecture. His interior design often accompanied what he built, and he built churches, schools, museums, offices, and hotels with the interiors finished in his signature style. Glass was his major fascination, and he used it in innovative ways, even inventing a few along the way.
franklloydwright website interior design jobs without degree
  • Billy Baldwin. Although he studied architecture at Princeton, he failed to graduate. He turned how to start an interior design business without a degree into designing the JFK White House, the homes of people with names like Mellon, Onassis, Rothschild, Greta Garbo, and Barbara Hutton, along with men’s clubs, hair salons, and hotels. He was among the first, if not the first, to incorporate humor in his style as well as comfort and elegance.

Ways To Gain Interior Design Clients

Ways To Gain Interior Design Clients how to start an interior design business without a degree

If you’re going to learn how to start an interior design business without a degree, then you’ll need clients. Without them, there is no business. Now, you can hit up every “guru” out there, buy their courses, and learn nuttin’ honey. You can hire professional marketers, but that costs more money than most beginners have. Or you can:

  • If there’s a problem, yo, you’ll solve it (thanks, Vanilla Ice.) If homeowners, hoteliers, and business persons lived and worked in ideal spaces, no one would need interior designers. There is a problem, though, or they wouldn’t be trolling for help. You have the answer, so all you need to do now is catch their attention. That can happen with a blog, video, website, graphics on T-shirts, or asking people to write reviews for your business.
  • Market yourself on one social media site. If you jump all over the social media landscape, people will think you’re trying to use whatever you can use to get their attention. That they’re entirely correct isn’t the point. Focus on one (one) social media site and use it five days a week and no more. Don’t blitz it, but make sure you post a few entries every single day. This shows users a serious business that they might want to check out.
  • Research your competition. Almost all designers focus on their specialty, which leaves a lot of the design picture empty. Fill up that picture. Find out what other designers are not doing and do it for your own clients. Trust us, people will see the difference.

How To Start An Interior Design Business Without A Degree FAQ

How Do I Become An Online Interior Designer?

It’s called “virtual designing,” and it’s just as viable as on-site designing:

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  • Know the pathways to your clientele. Zoom, Skype, Facebook Live, and many other communications pathways are integral to reaching your clients. They need to see your style and specialty, they need to know about your materials and other sources, and they need answers to hundreds of questions. Give them the means to learn all this.
  • Create a virtual portfolio. Clients need to see what you’ve done along with what you’re capable of. Show them with a virtual portfolio, even if it’s only your efforts to transform your own space.
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How Much Does An Interior Designer Charge?

Part of how to start an interior design business without a degree is how to charge for your services. Seasoned professionals charge between $65 up to $500 per hour, while beginners start at $25 to $50 per hour. Some designers charge a percentage of the total cost of designing the property which can top out at $5,000.

What Payment Methods Do Interior Designers Accept?

The digital landscape has broadened due to the pandemic, so virtual payments have become the newest thing. The most popular is PayPal, but Google Pay, Zelle, and Square are all secure and well-known payment methods.

How To Be Featured In Interior Design Magazines

Every business needs to show off or highlight its virtues, so getting your design business out there is vital to your survival. These rules govern getting your designs published:

  • You’ll need permission. Permission from the homeowner to submit photos of his home to magazines is necessary before the magazine will move. The magazine will also go to the house for a reshoot, so you’ll need the homeowner’s permission for that as well.
  • Keep it short and simple or KISS. Magazine editors don’t have time to troll all the emails containing fabulous pictures of your work. Give the editor two short, simple paragraphs. Link to one picture of your work with a description of your style. Link to further pictures in Dropbox or Google Drive.
  • Once. Don’t submit pictures to an editor that are already in the public domain which means published on your blog, your Pinterest page, or your Facebook business page. The pictures have to be fresh (less than a year old) and unpublished anywhere.

Final Thoughts

How to start an interior design business without a degree consists of learning your craft from a professional such as a real estate home stager, an architect, or a furniture showroom. You’ll need to establish a style as well as on what your design efforts will be centered on. Dust off your business abilities like marketing and networking, and you’re on your way.

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