The difference between interior design and interior architecture

Interior design of a furnished apartment with a leather sofa, glass internal doors and large photos
Interior Design apartment visual
Type: Text
Category: Industry insights

If you’ve got a passion for designing interior spaces, then you may be exploring the different paths to pursue a career in this industry. Interior design and interior architecture are both centred around the designing of interior spaces but have different approaches to their practice.

In the article, we caught up with Fay Freeman, Course Leader for Interior Design BA(Hons), to hear about the differences between interior architecture and interior design.

What is interior architecture?

Interior architecture is the practice of sensitively and innovatively redesigning an existing interior space, while respecting its historical value. As well as considering aesthetic design, interior architecture focuses on the functionality and material construction of interior spaces. It addresses structural elements like window and door placements, ventilation, heating and plumbing, as well as interior decoration.

The below plan reflect how interior architecture is centred around adaptive reuse, where an art gallery has been redesigned to become a refugee hub. In the design, key characteristics of the original building have been retained and highlighted to help tell the story of the building’s past.

Building design of an art gallery transformed into a refugee hub

What does an interior architect do?

An interior architect will come up with concept designs based on the functionality and structure of an existing building. Interior architects design with adaptive reuse in mind, often focusing on the sustainable re-modelling of existing buildings. They will be predominately designing for specific communities or for a particular user group and their needs. They could work on public projects such as the design of hospitals, museums, schools or theatres.  

Interior architects are usually involved throughout the duration of a design project, taking conceptual schemes through to technical and material specification. During this process they will regularly communicate progress to the client as well as collaborate with a myriad of different specialists, such as structural engineers, lighting specialists, building contractors and material suppliers. 

What skills do interior architects need?

An interior architect needs to have the creative skills to explore new conceptual designs and layouts to reimagine interior environments. They need to be good problem solvers and be able to pitch, model, draw, simulate and test their design proposals. They also need to be good communicators, both visually and verbally, and most importantly they need to understand the fundamentals of interior architecture and adaptive reuse. 

What does an interior designer do?

An interior designer will understand the principles of design and create interior spaces for residential, hospitality, exhibition and commercial and pop-up / experiential projects. They will liaise with clients and brands to understand their needs in order to create beautiful, functional and safe spaces. Interior designers incorporate technical design, colour palettes, textiles, furniture placement and material specification to enhance the look and function of a space. During a project, interior designers may liaise with contractors, electricians, painters and plumbers to ensure the client’s brief and budget is met. 

The below mood board is an example of how interior designers use a combination of colour, material and texture to create stylish interior spaces that are fit for purpose. 

Interior Design mood board of different materials with visualisation of interior space

What skills do interior designers need? 

An interior designer needs similar skills to an interior architect, however there is more of a focus on the decorative and atmospheric aspect of design. An interior designer needs to have a good knowledge of historic design periods, colour theory, and classic design ranges. They need to have an eye for style when selecting furniture, fittings and equipment required for each unique project. Interior designers also need to be good communicators and well organised to bring a project to fruition.  

What’s the difference between interior design and interior architecture?

Interior architecture focuses more on structural design, with an emphasis on adaptive reuse and the remodelling of existing buildings. Whereas interior design is the practice of creating interior atmospheres – focusing on finishes, furniture and colour palettes.  

Both interior designers and interior architects have a similar set of skills but need to apply these skills in diverse ways. Interior design and interior architecture are both creative and innovative careers to work in and can help transform the way we use spaces to live, work and play. 

An undergraduate degree in interior design or interior architecture gives you the opportunity to level up your skills and build a professional portfolio while you study. Through masterclasses, live projects and industry collaborations, our on-campus and online courses will help you to secure your footing in the design industry. 

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