Interior Designer vs. Interior Stylist: What’s The Difference?

Interior Designer vs Interior Stylist


Really though. What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior stylist?

Lucky we have Jen Bishop, editor of Interiors Addict to explain for us.

Interior Stylist

Sam McAdam-Cooper

One of the questions I’m most commonly asked is what is the difference between an interior designer and an interior stylist?

Vanessa Colyer Tay, who works as a stylist for Inside Out magazine, put it brilliantly when I recently interviewed her for Interiors Addict. She said, “designers were scientists and stylists were magicians.”

Interior design, dealing with the spatial planning and material specifications, is crucial to any room layout. Styling, in my book, is the icing on the cake. Both are important to the end result and I think there’s a healthy respect for both professions in Australia.

Some interior designers are referred to as interior architects. You’ll find them creating amazingly detailed, rendered scale drawings and dealing with issues like safety and accessibility. The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) says interior designers “plan and detail commercial and residential building interiors for effective use with particular emphasis on space creation, space planning and factors that affect our responses to living and working environments.” It goes on to say interior design is also referred to as interior architecture because interior designers are trained to consider the modification of the interior structure of the building rather than just refinishing and furnishing existing spaces.

Interior Designer vs Interior Stylist

Interior design

Anson Smart

Greg Natale, Thomas Hamel, Diane Bergeron and David Hicks are all well-known Australian interior designers. Some of them work across residential and commercial interiors while some specialise in just one kind of work. Interior decorators, according to the DIA “plan and prepare building interiors for effective use with particular emphasis on furnishings, finishes and aesthetic presentation.” They’ll often work directly with the person who will live in the space rather than working with other building or design professionals and must be able to identify and accommodate another individual’s taste. And then there are stagers, who work with real estate agents and property developers to achieve a certain look in a home, appealing to a target buyer to get the best possible price for homes for sale.

Stylists work largely on editorial projects, making rooms or sets look amazing for beautiful photographs that appear in magazines and catalogues. Some of them may do styling work for residential and commercial interiors too. Sydney stylist Sibella Court, for example, has styled and decorated the interiors for many of the city’s restaurants and bars. Melbourne stylist Glen Proebstel works for Inside Out magazine, and also does a lot of editorial work on the side. This editorial work is no less important to the interiors industry because it is these photos which evoke the emotional reaction that makes us want to run out and buy what we see on the pages. And this is what starts trends. Steve Cordony, of Belle magazine, also styles many glamorous high-end parties and events.

Interior designer Natale, who has also studied architecture, told me an interior designer is basically an interior architect who works with structure, while an interior decorator works on soft furnishings. Editorial stylist Kirsten Bookallil tells me she loves her work being photographed because “it captures life with light, the vignette of a moment,” and says it’s just as interesting working in print as it is styling someone’s home that they’ll actually live in.

Having interviewed most of Australia’s top designers, deorators and stylists, I can say that the one thing they have in common is a natural eye for what looks good. Great even. While qualifications and levels of formal training vary, there is only so much you can teach when it comes to aesthetics. And while some people live with (in) their work and others just look at it in magazines, the world is a much more aesthetically pleasing place because of them!

Interior Designer vs Interior Stylist

Interior stylist

Greg Natale

Feature Image: Sam McAdam Cooper

Jen Bishop

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  • Reply May 18, 2012


    I love the definition of scientist vs magician. I am definitely in the magician camp – I told a client only this morning that my job was often ‘smoke and mirrors’
    For home staging or property styling I always explain the difference that interior designers are making a home that’s personal to YOU (the homeowner) whereas home stagers are making a house that’s appealing to THEM (your potential buyers)

  • Reply February 8, 2016

    Sandra Thomas

    I love interior designing. this blog is very helpful for us.An Interior Designer is someone who has extensive training in color, fabric, furnishings, lighting, plumbing, wiring and other specialties.

  • Reply February 14, 2016

    Lauren Sellers

    Hi Jen! Thanks so much for writing this blog and taking the time to show respect to both professions. I’ve heard people sneer and snap because someone unknowingly called a “designer” a “decorator.” In one instance the person obviously was offended by the notion that someone would consider her a “mere decorator, as if” was her quote. I totally agree with you there is a need for both facets of the profession in the field and working together will always yield better results. I, like the other commenter, loved the scientist vs magician comparison and your thoughtful description of each.

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