Interior design, is this the Remit of a Residential Architect?


Can a residential architect carry out interior design work?  There can be confusion among clients relating to the role a residential architect has regarding interior design.  For many, interior design means soft furnishings, lighting, décor, colour and pattern and it can seem a separate entity from designing a building.  To gain some clarification let’s look at the formal definition of the term ‘interior design’.  This can be interpreted as: ‘the art and science of enhancing internal spaces of a building to achieve an aesthetically pleasing and functional space for the end user.’  Within this definition, it may be argued that there are two elements to achieving the defined goal.

Firstly, there is the consideration of the spatial volume of a building, or a space within a building.  This is where an architect will take the client’s vision and produce sketches, drawings and plans to turn the vision into applicable, practical reality.  An architect will consider the design of both the shell and the internal layout of the shell.  He will look at where walls are positioned, the height of ceilings, size of windows, and how light is deployed.  He will think about the proposed purpose of the space; whether it is to be commercial offices or residential flats or, maybe a residential extension to accommodate a growing family, or a state of the art cooking and dining area.

When drawing up plans an architect will also factor in the personal needs, aspirations and preferences of his client and look at disability; age, hobbies, interests and personal style and lifestyle.  It may be that the brief will involve the design of their new build home to be spectacularly original with a grand entrance hall, high ceilings, and dramatic staircases.  It maybe that the floor space of the building is tiny and the client needs to maximise every square foot to its full advantage.  Or a barn conversion is undertaken and the client requires the original vaulted ceilings remain as a feature.

Then there is the second element of interior design - the surface treatment.  This is where significant attention is paid to the décor, lighting, fabrics, tiles, materials used, and furnishings.  Again, this will be done in conjunction with the client and his overall vision for the project.  In days gone by, this area was the preserve of the architects who oversaw the whole venture from initial conception to completion including fixtures, fittings and decor.  Today, however, this area of interior design has become more specialist and segmented and a new breed of professionals known as interior designers has emerged.

Whilst architects can fulfill this part of a design brief, it is common to see them working in collaboration with an interior designer.  An interior designer will  bring their specialist knowledge of current interior trends, fixtures, fittings, fabrics, and furniture to the table. They also usually have a contact list of suppliers and decorating professionals with whom they can consult with to fulfill the internal design brief.

A good example of architects and interior designers effecitvely working together is seen in the marketing of commercial housing developments.  Here the architect designs the living space, and the interior designers turns this space into an environment that will reflect the inspirational lifestyle of the intended market to attract sales.

It must be understood though, that whilst an interior designer may have a view on the layout of an internal space, he is unable to comment on, or alter load bearing walls without having the professional input of those qualified to advise in this area such as architects and structural engineers.  In all instances, a chartered architect is trained and qualified to take into consideration, such things as planning rules and regulations, building standard codes, and building construction details and safety as well as carry out the ‘surface’ interior design.

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