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What is Interior Design?
Before exploring the highest paying interior design areas within this field, you need to understand the various creative roles of the designer as these can influence one’s wages in the profession. The degree type can also affect the designer’s salary; for example, junior interior design positions may require an undergraduate degree in fine arts.
Creating an aesthetically pleasing environment both commercially and residentially is a primary responsibility of Interior designers. Their responsibilities may also include making indoor spaces more environmentally friendly, making buildings accessible to people with disabilities, figuring out ideal lighting, and maximizing storage space. With these objectives, interior designers must know:
- Familiar with software for the creation of 2D and 3D computer-aided designs (CAD)
- Applicable building codes and structural concerns
- Colors, textiles, lighting, space planning, and Green technology
Equally important as the creative talents are communication skills. Interior designers are constantly conversing with clients, partners, suppliers, local officials, manufacturers, architects, and builders.
Because there are so many different areas of interior design, salaries can vary significantly. Some designers may concentrate their business on one specialty, for example, commercial or residential. Others may focus on lighting or sustainable design. The latter refers to using technology to minimize artificial lighting and excess energy. Commercial designers dedicate their practice to public spaces, common areas, entertainment centers, hotels, restaurants, shops, banks, and office environments. Maximizing employee production or revenue through attracting customers or hotel guests are examples of the goals in a commercial setting.
Exhibit designing services is another specialty that entails creating displays, fixtures, and décor for trade shows, art exhibits, museums, fashion shows, and private corporations. Computer-aided design (CAD) is crucial in these events to develop computer models of the result. CAD creates a realistic 3D representation of the space, allowing the designer to easily tweak lighting for effect or rearrange displays.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average interior design salary was $57,060 in May 2020 – the lowest 10% earned $33,020, while the top 10% earned more than $97,920.
According to the BLS, the majority work in Specialized Design Services. This group covers various jobs, including graphic design, industrial design, fashion, and floral design services. This category has the third-highest median income at $59,840, with total employment of 20,880. The Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services Industries are a distant second, with 14,950 employees earning a median salary of $68,000 (May 2020). Residential Building Construction is in the fifth spot, with only 2,990 workers in the United States.
Best Sectors for Interior Design Income
Perhaps surprisingly, the Federal Executive Branch (OEWS) industry has the highest average salary at $85,300 ; however, this is offset by the low number of employees with only 380. The OEWS refers to the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.
Federal agencies may seem unlikely to find employment, but USAJOBS.gov lists postings for interior designers. There are only eight postings as of August 2021, and all are at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) across the country. Locations, for example, are Muskogee, Oklahoma, San Diego, West Haven, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Temple, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
The lowest starting salary is an interior designer in the VHA in San Diego, California, at $59,802 (G.S. 9 or Government Schedule 9). This job has an assortment of responsibilities. Some of these are:
- Maintains a current design resource library, inclusive of furniture, equipment, building finishes, and materials’ samples
- Analysis of interior designs regarding energy use, utilization, building codes, aesthetics, and economics
- Performs design analysis of existing workstations and features
- Coordinates with architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical engineers and technicians
The VAH also refers to the position as entry-level with a 2021 salary range of $59,802 to $77,741.
Another job posting for the VHA is in West Haven, Connecticut, for an interior designer who reports to the Chief of Facility Management at the location’s medical center. Applicants need to be familiar with V.A., OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and National Fire Protection Association policies. There is a long list of duties; examples are:
- Coordinates with engineers and architects
- Acts as technical advisor for design and finish specifications
- Plans and writes procurement packages
- Provides technical expertise to contractors
- Manages the design of interior environments to ensure employee health, safety, and productivity
- Plans and implements Interior Design Programs from inception to final installation
The salary range for this GS-11 position is $74,702 to $97,118. This annual income is the highest for the job openings at the VHA for interior designers as of August 2021.
According to the BLS, the second-highest level of employment is in the category of Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services, with 14,950 employees as of May 2020. This group is third on the highest wage list, with a median salary of $68,000. The Management of Companies and Enterprises industry has a greater average wage at $71,310 ; however, they employ only 1,750.
The occupation mentioned above involves a controlling interest in management decisions, typically by holding the securities or other equities within the respective corporation.
In the architectural arena, some companies refer to their business as Interior Architects. These firms employ professional architects and interior designers; the latter performs numerous lighting design, workplace strategy, graphic design, technology (CAD, for example), and design intelligence (spatial planning).
One firm, aptly titled Interior Architects (IA), has designed office space for many prestigious clients: Bank of America, Whole Foods, Humana, General Electric, Liberty Mutual, Aetna, Apple, Amazon, Intel, and hundreds more. I.A. is an international company with twenty locations in the United States; London, Dublin, Ireland, and Toronto, Canada, have one office.
With the introduction of the term interior architect – is it the same as interior design. Some of the differences are that the former also works on components that are non-aesthetic—for example, the electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing, lighting, and air conditioning systems. The architect may perform more drafting work using Auto CAD and review architectural plans and drawings.
The interior designer will also use CAD while focusing on room layouts, flooring materials, appropriate light fixtures, furniture, wall coverings, and bathroom fixtures. The responsibilities will involve collaboration with the interior architect.
The educational requirements differ, as the interior architect to have at least a bachelor’s degree from an institution accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board . Eligibility for licensure occurs after a lengthy internship. Most states do not require residential interior designers to have a license, and a few states require commercial designers to be licensed. (Image Below: Microsoft ClipArt)
Specialized Design Firms
Individuals with impeccable interior design talent may want to set their sights on one of the top design firms in the United States. Working for the best should translate to a higher salary. Decorilla is one in this category that has residential and commercial clients. The firm offers customers the option to hand-select designers based on their style and décor preferences and allows clients fixed pricing to satisfy most budgets. Each client is in constant communication with the personal interior designer assigned or chosen for the project—Decorilla has in-home assistance in major cities and online decorating services.
Kellybehun Studio in New York City is an exclusive interior design firm that has provided services for wealthy clients in Madison and Park Avenue penthouses. Her company has created designs for many iconic NYC hotels, for example, the Morgans, Hudson, Royalton, and Paramount. Other projects were in the Hamptons, Greenwich Village, Central Park, and Soho. Before training with renowned architect Anda Andrei and notable interior designers, Ms Behun attended Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Architectural Digest also lists the company on the Top 100 Interior Designers’ list.
Owning your own design firm sought by affluent clients probably ensures financial rewards at or near the top earners in the profession. Establishing a business can be a risky and challenging endeavor. Instead, you may want to focus your employment on one of the elite interior design companies. The top three most successful and highest-paying interior design firms in the United States are Gensler and HOK. Working for a large firm is a good way for interior designers to make more than the national average salary.
Gensler , for example, is a global architecture and design firm grounded in the belief that design strategy optimizes business performance and human potential. Boasting as the world’s largest design firm, it announced the Gensler Cities Climate Challenge at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. They are on track to eliminate all emissions associated with their work by 2030.
Gensler’s 5,000+ practitioners networked across 32 offices in North America, three in Latin America, four in Europe, three in Greater China, two in the Middle East, and five in the Asia Pacific region. It uses a global perspective and local presence to innovate. Individuals with exceptional design skills, a background in architecture or design, and a portfolio of innovative design concepts are eligible to apply. These are some of their design projects:
- Duke Kunshan University – Shangai
- Incheon International Airport – South Korea
- QBE Insurance – New Zealand
- Westin DEN Hotel and Transit Center – Colorado
- Xandr Headquarters – New York
According to their site, Gensler is always searching for dynamic designers with degrees in interior design or architecture; they also have an internship program that attracts ingenious designers worldwide. Moreover, Fast Company named the firm one of the 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators in 2021. An accolade like that should result in higher salary potential.
HOK , founded in 1955, is a global design, engineering, and architectural firm with another 1,600 employees spread across 23 offices on three continents. HOK’s interior design teams examine a client’s business culture and create space that helps them flourish. They design everything from airports to skyscrapers to healthcare in lighting, landscape architecture, interiors, and architecture. The host of design markets exists in government, aviation (airports), corporate, healthcare (hospitals), transportation, higher education, justice, and hospitality.
HOK posts career openings on their website . As of August 2021, there are numerous openings for interior designers, senior interior design professionals, senior technical coordinators, and project managers. One example is for an interior designer in St. Louis whose requirements are:
- A Bachelor’s degree in interior design, architecture, or equivalent
- Prior experience in interiors projects
- Must be a professional Interior Designer and passed the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualifications) exam or be a registered Architect with a current license
- Proficiency in AutoCAD and 3D Modeling, like 3D Studio Max
Unfortunately, these firms do not provide any salary data; however, the salary is probably commensurate with the corporation’s stature.
Certifications are a means to enhance your credentials, resume, and stature as an interior designer. One is the Certified Healthcare Interior Designer (CIHD), offered by the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers , for those working in this specialization. Eligibility requires a minimum of three years experience in healthcare design.
As mentioned above, self-employment (running your own show) can be complicated until you have acquired a steady list of clients. To succeed on your own or with a small business, you may have to start as a small boutique interior design firm. As your business draws more clients, the revenue will increase, as will the financial means of your customers. After all, the affluent client redecorating a penthouse, large home, or company offices will spend more on design services.
Another source of salary data, in addition to the BLS, is usawage.com, which reports the highest paying cities in the U.S. for interior designers. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, is at the top with an average wage of $88,530 and an entry-level salary of $29,980. Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Missouri, is second at $74,960 with a much higher entry-level average of $50,270 . Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, California, area is third with an average of $74,750 and entry-level of $52,130 . The highest salaries frequently lie in regions with the most substantial living costs that quickly drain earnings.
You may find the cost of living less outside of California. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts, for example, has the highest average income for interior designers in the state at $69,440. USAWage also reported the 90 th percentile wage for interior designers in Barnstable at $121,410 and predicted the growth at 8.85% for interior designers in 2020.
As illustrated by these statistics, location often dictates who receives the highest income. Furthermore, most companies have to adjust compensation depending on the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, and taxes, or they wouldn’t attract employees to their locale.
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