“Despite rigorous training and testing, registered interior designers are still unable to work independently due to burdensome regulations.”

Melissa Destree is a licensed architect and a registered commercial interior designer. Destree has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and has owned her own firm, Destree Design Architects, Inc., for 20 years. 

Destree was passionate about architecture from an early age. As a child, she worked in her grandfather’s cabinet shop and learned to do cabinet design drawings. By high school, she knew that she wanted to work in architecture. After completing a four-year architecture program and obtaining her master’s degree, Destree began work as an architect. 

Early in her career, she was able to do high-end cabinet details because of her childhood experience in her grandfather’s shop. She frequently worked on small details, practicing interior design, and loved it. 

Soon after becoming a licensed architect, Destree left an architecture firm to become a consultant and opened her own business. But she found that for many projects, clients required their architects to be registered interior designers as well. 

Destree works with large municipal projects such as airports as well as military projects. She became a registered interior designer 10 years ago because she found that many of her clients required that she have that certification, despite the fact that she was an architect and registered interior designers needed architect approval for permit submission.  

Occupational Licensing

Many states often have occupational licensing requirements that are both arbitrary and unnecessary for both the health and safety of the public. These licenses are required for a range of occupations, from barbers to pest control workers, shoe shiners and more.

Unlike many other occupations, there are legitimate health and safety concerns for commercial interior designers since they often aren’t just involved in deciding on the look and decor of the interior of a building, but must comply with building codes and ensure the interior space is constructionally sound.   

Only three states require commercial interior designers to meet licensing requirements. Others, like Texas, have voluntary registration. This voluntary registration allows commercial interior designers to sign off on permitting for designs with building codes. Destree is working to have a similar optional registration in her home state of Wisconsin.    

In order to become a registered interior designer, candidates must pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) Exam. Before taking the exam, candidates must meet a minimum of 60 semester credit hours of post-secondary design coursework resulting in a certificate, degree, or diploma from an accredited institution. Then, these candidates must work a minimum of two years full-time under a certified interior designer or architect who provides interior design services. Finally, the candidates must pass the NCIDQ exam, an 11-hour three-part exam which includes a focus on building codes amongst other necessary knowledge. 

Despite completing this rigorous training and testing, registered interior designers are still unable to submit their own designs to obtain building permits. They must have an architect sign off on their work and submit it for them. 

Destree explains that with all of this education, registered interior designers “should take on the liability for their own work.” 

She has met with building inspectors, advocating for registered interior designers and arguing that they should be able to approve their own drawings. Not only does the need for architect approval limit the freedom and ability of registered interior designers, when there is a problem onsite, the architect who stamped the design doesn’t know how to fix it because they didn’t make the designs themselves.

In Wisconsin, there is bipartisan support for creating an optional certification that would allow interior designers to work independently and submit their own non-structural drawings for permits.

But this reform has opposition from architects who want to protect their lucrative monopoly on approving designs. Destree is still hopeful that Wisconsin lawmakers will push this optional certification through in the near future. 

Empowering highly-educated and trained commercial interior designers would encourage entrepreneurs to enter this growing profession, reduce costs for those looking to build or expand their properties, and allow commercial interior designers to work independently, no longer limited by their most direct competition: architects.

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