Careers 101: Interior Design in Canada

Careers 101: Interior Design in Canada

Written by: Khadeja


As a child, I always had my nose in a book or was elbow-deep in paper mache creating something or another. It was only natural that I decided to go down a creative path. Some of the early signs that I exhibited were:

  • An interest in furniture that began during the height of the inflatable seating options circa the 90’s
  • A fascination with home makeover shows–I would literally spend hours watching Trading Places and Extreme Makeover–Home edition
  • Schemes to re-decorate my room in quirky ways that followed trends (clouds on the ceiling anyone?)

However, when I began studying interior design, I realized there was so much more to it! In fact, what I had been fixated on previously was interior decorating and not necessarily design. Decorating focuses purely on aesthetics, i.e, paint colour, furniture selection, fabric selections, etc. You can absolutely make a career out of just decorating. Some people are specialized purely in providing colour consultations.

Interior design involves decorating, but it also focuses on how a space will be used, which is called space planning. Often a designer will be brought onto a project at a very early stage to make sure that the input is there from the get go. Designers think about every aspect of the space, considerating how their client will use it (for example, is there a designated spot for the client to put away their shoes when they get home?), the amount and type of natural light that the space gets, limitations that the designer might need to work with such as existing electrical and plumbing systems (which is important especially when redesigning a bathroom, as the plumbing system will dictate where everything goes), and larger factors such as environmental concerns and whether or not certain permissions need to be granted from the authorities in order to work. For example, if a building is ‘Grade Listed,’ this means that it has historical significance, and that can potentially pose limitations on what you can and cannot do to it.

In terms of study there are a variety of routes one could take:

  • Full 4 year bachelor’s degree from a university that offers art programs
  • A master’s degree in design (this could be in something design related such as textile design)
  • Shorter programs through art schools.

It is important to research what each program will offer you, especially when it comes to software. If a specific program doesn’t include training that you want, then it is crucial that you supplement it through a separate course. For example, AutoCad is an important program for interior designers. I’ve met designers who haven’t been trained on AutoCad; they get on just fine, but it is such a valuable asset that I highly recommend it. There are other programs that would benefit you as well–what you choose is up to you and your style. Some designers prefer hand-sketched drawings so they don’t need to train themselves on programs that generate 3D images. Some software is quite time consuming. Larger architecture firms may have a dedicated 3D specialist who will work with architects and designers to produce 3D interpretations of their work.

During your schooling, it would be beneficial to intern in various fields within the design world. I started internships in my second year of school, beginning on one side of the spectrum–I interned for two fabric suppliers–and working my way up to interning for an interior design firm. This path worked well for me, as I was exposed to both trade suppliers and designers, who work in conjunction with one another.

Once you graduate, it will be time to specialize within the field. This may take some trial and error, or you could be lucky and find what it is you love at your first job! Generally, interior design is divided into the following:

  • Residential design: Here, you will work directly with private clients on their homes.
  • Commercial: In this case, you will be designing for retail shops, offices , hospitals and schools.
  • Hospitality: The focus here is on hotels and restaurants.

Some design firms focus solely on one of the three categories, while others work on all of them. You can either work for an interior design firm or an architectural firm that has an in-house interior design department.

There are other career paths that can be taken as an interior designer:

  • If you find that your passion is actually in the materials, you may end up working for a fabric company or  suppliers of wood flooring, tiles, etc.
  • If you are passionate about writing, then you may end up contributing to a design/architecture magazine or blog.
  • There are other more specialised design niches such as yacht interiors or aviation interiors.
  • Some designers start their own companies. I recommend that you get a few years of experience first before venturing out on your own. As much as you with learn in school, once you begin working you’ll learn so much more! For example, the projects you do in school will not be realistic, as there isn’t much focus on budgets, so while your design may be amazing, it may not be achievable in real life.

Interior design requires good communication skills because it is your responsibility to accurately bring to life your client’s dreams and ideas. It is also very fulfilling because you are creating spaces that people live/work/eat/play in, so in a way you control how they will feel in the space. Exciting, isn’t it?

I’ve been exposed to the design field in both Canada and the UK, and while there are similarities, the main difference is that in the UK interior design isn’t as regulated or structured as it is in Canada and the US, both of which require you to successfully pass the NCIDQ exam before legally calling yourself an interior designer. The exam is to be taken after at least 3 years of work experience post-schooling and encompasses both the theory and practice of interior design.

I hope you enjoyed this journey on the path to design!

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