Architecture, Design and Decorating: What’s the difference?

Confused about the difference between Architecture, Interior Design and Interior Decorating?

We help you try make sense of it all:



An architect is a professional who has undergone years of training to receive their qualifications and will have to have obtained a certain level of experience.  In South Africa an architect must be registered with SACAP to practice.

We all have a pretty good idea about what an architect does.  A quick summary:

  • Architects are responsible for designing the structure and spaces for domestic and commercial buildings;
  • Their vital role is creating buildings that meet health, safety and building regulations and the structural integrity of the building;
  • An important element is the design and selection of finishes and fittings for the exterior of the building (and in some cases for the interior as well).  Architects work closely with the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers and are responsible for all design and legal considerations regarding artificial and natural ventilation and allowing natural light to enter the building.  These are directly linked to the health, safety and welfare of those who occupy the building;
  • The structure designed by the architect forms the ‘shell’ in which the interior designer will work;
  • Architects will submit drawings to council and will usually oversee the construction to ensure the building’s integrity is as per their designs.


An Interior Decorator is someone concerned with creating beautiful interiors by selecting furniture, fabrics and finishes.  Interior decorators are talented and skilled individuals, no formal training is required however it is beneficial for the individual to have undertaken a short or 1-year course in interior design.

Interior Decorating focuses on:

  • Furnishing “the softs” which including the specification of furniture, fabrics for curtaining, upholstery, scatter cushions.  They will also select rugs, wallpapers and general décor items to create the desired look for the interior;
  • Dealing with spatial planning, selection of materials such as flooring.  They are also concerned with the specifications required for the construction and upholstering of new bespoke furniture or refurbishment of existing furniture;
  • Interior decorators will place orders and oversee delivery and installations of all interior items.

Like the icing on the top of the cake, it is the final touches interior decorating is the essential styling that gives the interior its final look.


Interior design falls between architecture and interior decorating.  In fact, interior designers perform occupational activities that overlap both architecture and decorating (and therein often lies the confusion).

Qualified Interior Designers in South Africa should be registered with their professional body: The IID (  According to the IID an in interior designer should possess a minimum 3-year full time qualification (diploma or degree) from a registered educational institute and a minimum of 3 years practical experience.

A qualified Interior Designer will work on:
  • Domestic, commercial and public interior spaces (such as shopping centers, cinemas, theatres, hospitals);
  • With training and experience these professionals make decisions regarding spatial planning and design detailing.  Construction drawings are produced by the interior designer (ceiling, lighting, electrical and plumbing layouts) which are then issued to the contractor for execution.
  • Problem solving is a large part of an interior designers’ role and as such it includes planning, procurement and overseeing the execution of a project.
  • The creation technical drawings that shopfitters and joiners will require for bespoke furniture and technical aspects of any interior such as balustrades and tiling layouts.
  • Interior designers specify each and every finish and fitting that is found within the interior space and ensure that it meets regulations and is fit for the purpose of its use.
  • Also already mentioned, interior designer also undertakes decorating activities (the softs) to complete the final look of the interior (the icing on the cake).

Interior designers therefore create a fully functional and aesthetically pleasing environment that responds to the inhabitants needs, they must take into account the health, safety and welfare of the occupants when engaging in the design of any interior space.


Interior architecture and interior design are similar, yet interior architecture requires an in-depth study of the space within a building.  A strict requirement for the title ‘interior architect’ is a minimum 5-year full time master’s degree from a registered educational institute.

Understanding the difference between these occupations is vital to ensure the appointment of the correct professional for your project, whether it be for the construction of your dream home, a commercial project or public space.   It is also important that any young individuals wishing to study within one of these fields fully comprehend the course they intend on undertaking, as to change to one of the other fields at a later date is a difficult undertaking.



Related Posts

6 Responses

Leave a Reply

Recent Articles

Transforming Workspaces: The Art and Science of Office Design
July 1, 2024
Winter Dining Trends: Decorating Your Dining Table in South Africa
June 7, 2024
The Pitfalls of Hiring an Interior Designer Too Late in Your Project
May 28, 2024

Passionate about Design

With an eye for the finer details and a passion for creating breathtaking end results, Jossi Design is one of Durban’s most recognised and celebrated interior design agencies. Practicing in the industry for over 15 years, we’ve cultivated strong relationships with clients across the country and internationally.

Committed to style, creativity and uncompromised service, Jossi Design strives to deliver eye-catching design that carefully considers function, comfort and style. Through a keen interest in emerging and current trends, we aim to achieve the right balance of contemporary chic and timeless finishes that reflects all client personalities and individual tastes.

Founded by Jocelyn Jones in 2006, the business has evolved to encompass a broad spectrum of design projects in all sectors of interior design.