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Speaking Out on Interior Design Licensure

Icon Mag CoverIn between all the chatter about trending color palettes, health product declarations, and workplace evolution, you may have noticed another topic gaining traction among interior design crowds: licensure legislation.

In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled upon this topic among non-designers, like in the 2014 Huffington Post article, "Arbitrary Interior Design Regulations Hurt Entrepreneurs, Consumers," or The Wall Street Journal’s May 2015 story, "Regulation Run Amok—And How to Fight Back," which asked, "Can’t we rely on the market to deal with incompetent barbers, interior decorators, and manicurists?"

In the years following the recession, a wave of outcry against over-regulated industries has gained support across the country. Somewhere, along the way, interior design became a central target in the debate. While it is great for the interior design industry to garner attention from wider audiences, articles like these show just how little outsiders really understand about the interior design profession. They often decry, or outright deny, any distinction between interior design and interior decoration, while, at the same time, lumping in all forms of design work with jobs like arranging flowers or painting nails.

To date, much of the conversation has been caught in this quagmire of apples and oranges, with a need for regulation that qualifies interior designers to work in code-impacted spaces for commercial interior design on one side, and a rejection of the need to regulate residential interior decoration on the other. That’s a level of misunderstanding that can have a dangerous effect when it comes time for elected officials to legislate.

When the issues surrounding interior design licensure reach lawmakers, it is important for all professionals in the field to understand just what impacts those legislative decisions will have on their careers. That said, most people along the project pipeline didn’t get into this profession to argue over public policy or dive deep into legislation.

That’s where organizations, such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), become so important. ASID is the only industry association with both a presence in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals around the country. Every day, staff members work hard to ensure the unified voices of all interior designers and their corporate industry partners, whether a member of ASID or not, are represented in front of elected officials. ASID is committed to obtaining legislative outcomes that are in everyone’s best interest— not just one segment of the industry. (See page 31 for a message from ASID VP of Government and Public Affairs Jim Brewer to learn more about how interior designers and their industry partners can take action through the One Voice program.)

The impact of interior design licensure legislation goes well beyond interior designers. Architects, engineers, fire marshals, building developers—everyone with eyes on the project—have skin in the game. ASID asked a number of professionals to weigh in on interior design licensure and share how this issue impacts their work. As with all great debates, their varied opinions throughout these pages provide both understanding and a means for continuing the dialogue. Our hopes? Finding a common ground that can benefit everyone.

Erika Templeton is a writer and communications consultant working out of Brooklyn, New York. Previously, she served as editorial director for Interiors & Sources magazine, and was a judge for the 2015 ASID National Awards.



THE VOICE: Jennifer Winters, Owner, JML Design; President, Interior Design Legislative Coalition of Pennsylvania; 2016 ASID Legislative Advisory Council Member


THE PERSPECTIVE: Commercial interior designer working at a small, self-owned practice in Pennsylvania, a state with no practice or title acts regulating interior design, and no permitting privileges


"Our problem in Pennsylvania is that we are directly restricted by the state’s Uniform Construction Code, which does not allow a commercial interior designer to practice without being under an architect or an engineer. If we try to work independently, we’re breaking the law. …And, if we get audited, I have to prove that an architect had visuals on my project at every stage—the construction documents, the space plan. It’s kind of like the teacher checking the work, but you have to pay them to do it.

"The federal government has made great strides in putting together programs for minority small businesses, and all of the work that’s just interior design—not structural, not architectural, just interior guts only—specifically requires a Certified Interior Designer. There are federal government offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that I, as a business owner, could be working in, but I can’t because I’m not a Certified Interior Designer. I’m just an interior designer. If I can’t apply for that job, I can’t make that money. And, if I can’t make that money, they can’t collect my taxes on it. Meanwhile, a designer from Florida or Nevada (author’s note: two states with title and practice acts) could come in and take that business."



THE VOICE: Miguel Rodriguez, Chairman, Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design


THE PERSPECTIVE: Enforcing and writing the rules to interpret the statutes affecting interior designers and architects in Florida


"We use the rule-making process to help facilitate regulation for the licensee to be able to practice effectively, not for the state to be able to beat them up effectively. …And sometimes, that can be filling a gap, or closing a loophole that becomes apparent, or addressing something that was not known at the time the statute was written. The biggest part of that is just trying to keep the implementation of the law current with how business operates. That’s a contrary argument to the people that would like to see no regulation. I’m a good Republican at the end of the day, but the reality is that there is a need for effective regulation, and the rule-making process allows the Board to make sure that regulation stays effective.

"How does this affect someone’s practice? It really shouldn’t. And, the regulation naysayers are going to chew this one up. But, in reality, the only difference should be that [you have] a license fee that you’re going to pay and an application that you’re going to have to fill in and submit, and then you’re going to have to renew every so many years. How you actually practice should not significantly change, except that, by virtue of the regulation, there’s a certain amount of ethical responsibility that becomes part of the law. So, it does have that effect of ensuring that you’re more likely to stay within the lines than stray beyond them,…when you do stray beyond them is when you hurt the consumer. Our primary focus is health, safety, and welfare—not financial. That’s the importance of regulation."

Every day interior designers spend so much effort positively shaping the lives of their clients through design. It’s what you all love doing—and it’s why ASID is so dedicated to supporting you.

To keep your career and passionate efforts moving steadily forward, we invite you to take time for self-reflection, and ask: "What can I do to better shape myself, my practice, and the profession as a whole, for all interior designers?"

A major part of the answer lies in how you work every day: using your voice and vision to reshape spaces—and the lives of those occupying them—for the better. With those same voices working in unison, we have the power to design a better future for ourselves and our entire profession.

To do that, every interior designer, soft or loud spoken, must speak up about the issues that affect his or her ability to practice interior design.

From small business owners to large firms, residential and commercial, the future of our profession will be heavily influenced by government decisions. Right now, elected officials are having conversations on issues that affect your lives and careers. That’s why ASID established the One Voice program as a platform for every interior designer to be heard by their elected officials, from state capitals to Washington, D.C.

No matter your age or where you are in your career, your voice matters. Let One Voice be your microphone to speak out on the issues that affect you as an interior designer. It is the avenue by which we act and move our elected officials to understand what we do as interior designers and how their decisions affect us.

It’s time to raise up our voices as one and design our future!



THE VOICE: Yvonne Castillo, Esq., AIA Senior Director, Business Policy & Practice


THE PERSPECTIVE: Representing architects’ interests in matters of public policy on a national level (author’s note: in lieu of a one-on-one interview, we asked The American Institute of Architects [AIA] for a written response to a few questions, including "How has an architect’s work role/professional outlook been altered in states that have licensure requirements for designers?").


"It depends in each state on the definition and scope of the law (practice versus title) that has passed or is being proposed. In any case, where the issue of licensure for interior designers comes up, we evaluate the proposed definition of interior design practice and what duplication or conflict there may be with how the state regulates and assigns a standard of care for the public’s health, safety, and welfare to licensed architects in that jurisdiction. We remain opposed to any regulatory increases in the scope of work incorporating the assignment of responsibility for the public’s health, safety, and welfare to any interior designers who are or would be considered for licensure that is unaccompanied with a commensurate increase in training and health, safety, and welfare continuing education requirements."



THE VOICE: Kenneth Falcon, former Vice President, Real Estate and Facilities, NBCUniversal


THE PERSPECTIVE: Overseeing corporate building projects in California, a state with a voluntary "self-certification" system that is often confusing


"An interior designer is very important as a conceptual designer. They’re doing those kind of drawings that show people, scale, and perspective. But how do you then take that perspective and do a construction document? The interior designer needs to know how to do that—especially on the things that have a lot of detailing. That’s where I think the interior designer is qualified in a different way than, say, a general architect. …Every project that we did had to be permitted, and it had to be stamped by an architect. But the interior designer has to understand all of the codes and all of the implications of ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] to be able to then do the drawings for the senior partner to be able to stamp.

"For larger projects, most people understood they were bidding for a big corporation, but what we would run into quite often is—let’s say we’re doing a senior executive’s office. Even though it might be just 200 square feet, that space is still within your commercial office building so it still has to meet codes. …Sometimes, you’d have that senior exec say, ‘I have my own designer I can bring in,’ or, ‘My wife’s an interior decorator.’ So, to work around that, we would always assign one of our licensed designers—our in-house interior designers—to work with that person, to do the drawings, and make sure everything was to code. [Did] we have to turn the decorators down? No. Did we have to do it a different way? Yes."



THE VOICE: Dwayne Garriss, State Fire Marshal, Georgia State Fire Marshal’s Office


THE PERSPECTIVE: Working with architects and interior designers to ensure projects follow fire codes in Georgia, a state with a title act with permitting privileges


"Once the building is already designed and you’re doing a tenant finish area, then really all you’re doing is arranging the internal, non-structural elements in a design layout to accomplish the desires of the client. If you can do that to minimum code requirements and you’re trained to do that as an interior designer, I have no problem with that. Because it’s like a jurisdiction—[it] doesn’t really matter who’s looking at it; they’re looking at it for the same code provisions. So, that was my response to legislators and I have no problem supporting their efforts in Georgia."



THE VOICE: Beth Bernitt, Senior Vice President, Regional Principal, HOK


THE PERSPECTIVE: Commercial interior designer in Florida, a state with title and practice acts, working at a large firm spanning states with no licensure requirements


"We [have] a whole team of interior designers working in Georgia who don’t have their license, because they aren’t required to need it. So, if we’re competing for a project in the state of Florida and we want to use some specific expertise from our Atlanta team, we can’t list them as an interior designer. We have to change the nomenclature for what they’re going to do, because every proposal that comes out of our office must list the interior designers’ licensed credentials. … When you’re working at a firm like HOK, yeah, it feels a little over-regulated and a little unnecessary because the types of projects that our designers work on, whether they’re a licensed professional or not, are pretty heavy, complicated, code-related projects. But where I think the licensure is really useful is when we’re looking to hire, especially in a state that has a licensing requirement. It’s just a level of professionalism that we clearly look for."

For nearly 50 years, the interior design industry has been engaging government about issues of interest to the design field. Lobbying government officials, however, has been a centuries-old tradition. In the 1790s, Virginia veterans of the Continental Army hired a lobbyist to help them gain greater compensation. Now, the practice spans a wide range of concerns and constituencies. Thriving on elements of education and advocacy, as well as money and influence, lobbying clearly is ingrained in the American democratic process.

Today, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) lobbies at the state and federal levels on behalf of its members and the industry-atlarge. On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as well as in state capitals around the country, ASID focuses on issues ranging from real estate, infrastructure, sustainability, and resiliency, to energy efficiency, business regulation, tax reform, and professional licensure. The organization collaborates with its state chapters throughout the country to enact legislation on these and other issues with the goal of providing opportunities for designers who wish to expand their capabilities, without curbing the activities of those who want to maintain their scope of services.

With regard to professional licensure, a core issue for many designers, 29 states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have title or practice acts governing interior design. Title acts allow state-qualified practitioners to use the moniker "certified," "licensed," or "registered" interior designer. Practice acts incorporate the benefits of title acts while recognizing designers’ education, experience, and examination as a means to legally guaranteeing them rights to submit documents in order to obtain building permits for their scope of work on a project.

Across the spectrum, the legacy of lobbying is lengthy and it tracks closely with the fluctuating patterns of American history, politics, and culture.

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