“If we could sign and seal our own drawings here, our businesses would boom.”
Robin Stroebel is a registered commercial interior designer. She has owned her interior design business, InteriorLOGIC, for over 30 years. InteriorLOGIC specializes in the design of commercial environments, including multi-family, office, government, retail and more.
Stroebel knew she wanted to work in interior design at a young age. After earning her interior design degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she worked for a commercial furniture dealer in interior design and marketing for 10 years.
Then the interior design profession became more specialized and she shifted her focus to the design of commercial environments. This specialization ensures the health, safety, and welfare of occupants in the event of disasters–following building codes, and designing a space to fit the client’s needs.
Stroebel explains that commercial interior design is about working with businesses and analyzing how they function and will grow.
But in Wisconsin, despite the extensive knowledge of registered interior designers, an architect must approve all designs before they can be submitted for a permit. Many women want to practice commercial interior design like Stroebel but are discouraged because of these work regulations.
Many states over-regulate different professions, requiring extensive amounts of time and money to obtain a license and practice a certain profession in the state. These often-unnecessary requirements create a barrier for many, which deters potential workers from entering certain professions.
But for commercial interior designers, the problem isn’t that licenses are unnecessary, but rather that states aren’t recognizing their expertise and allowing them to submit their own designs for permits even when they have achieved registrations. There are legitimate health and safety concerns for commercial interior designers because they aren’t just involved in the function and aesthetic of a building. The first objective of the Registered Interior Designer is to ensure compliance with the International Building Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is required to keep occupants safe.
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 bachelors, masters or certificate from an accredited institution. Then, these candidates must work a minimum of 2 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.
But in most states, even after this rigorous training and testing, an architect must sign off on and submit the plans of the registered interior designers for permitting, even though they are already prepared for this by the Registered Interior Designer.
Stroebel was very clear that they are not trying to regulate who calls themselves interior designers or decorators. Instead, she’s working for an opt-in title recognition that would designate registered designers who have passed the NCIDQ as having the knowledge to practice in a commercial environment. This would allow registered interior designers to submit their own work, already prepared for submittal. Currently, their compliant plans must still be stamped by an architect before submittal.
Another challenge for commercial interior designers is finding an architect who’s willing to work with them. Architecture firms are getting larger and big firms have their own interior designers. While InteriorLOGIC currently works with a few small architecture firms, Stroebel explains their precarious position:
“If we can’t find an architect willing to sign and seal our own drawings in the future, it will eliminate the business of independent commercial interior design.”
She says that requiring architect approval for permit submission is “killing the interior design business. Interior design firms are about 80% women. It’s killing women-owned interior design firms.”
While more women are becoming registered interior designers than ever before, Stroebel says that they’ve resigned themselves to working under architects. Because interior designers can’t sign and seal their own work, becoming registered doesn’t have any additional meaning for them.
According to Stroebel, “Interior designers may say ‘I’m not allowed to do this, I’m going to go work for an architectural firm.’”
If qualified commercial interior designers could work independently of architects, both designers and clients would benefit from reduced costs, greater freedom of choice, and economic opportunity. We should encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of these designers, instead of limiting it.
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