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State’s design registry useful, not foolproof

If you hire an interior decorator, do you know what you’re getting?

In Indiana, the answer is both yes – and no.

Since 2009, you can be a bit more assured of the person’s educational and professional qualifications if he or she is listed on the Indiana Interior Design Registry.

But the registry isn’t the last word.

Listing is voluntary, and the state doesn’t require interior decorators or designers to be licensed or restrict or otherwise regulate their activities, says Jill Mendoza, founder and president of IDO Inc., an Indianapolis interior design firm and registry overseer.

To be listed, Mendoza says, practitioners must pass an exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualifications and/or show educational or work experience. However, she says, many practitioners with experience were grandfathered into the registry without taking the exam.

Professionals on the registry also must pay a $100 fee every two years and complete 12 hours of continuing education, Mendoza says. Registration allows a practitioner to use the term “Registered Interior Designer,” she says – although the unregistered may still use terms such as “designer,” “interior designer” or “interior decorator.”

“Indiana does not regulate our profession. It only provides a voluntary registry for those who want to use it,” Mendoza says, adding that registration can be necessary or advantageous in bidding jobs where a credential is required, such as in large corporate or government settings.

“It’s sort of a vetting thing,” she says.

As of last week, the registry included 483 people. About 120 of those are listed as “expired” – Mendoza said the reasons for that are now being investigated and may include people who have moved, retired, temporarily ceased practice or felt listing was not worthwhile.

Sue Hoaglund, owner of a Decorating Den Interiors franchise in Fort Wayne, says she doesn’t see being on the registry as necessary for most residential design work.

With a home economics degree and in practice for 10 to 12 years, Hoaglund is not on the registry and says many other well-qualified decorating professionals aren’t.

Generally, she says, homeowners hiring a designer or decorator are “just looking for someone to help with color selection and the functionality of a room, for things like furniture style and placement and the correct purchases to make,” she says.

Moving walls or major architectural changes usually aren’t part of the agenda – and if they are, interior designers generally will see them as outside their skill set and consult with and defer to licensed contractors.

But with the dizzying array of decorating options, it’s easy for someone to get overwhelmed and confused, she says.

“A lot of people, they don’t have the time or they know they don’t have the talent or the training,” Hoaglund says.

“They know it’s a big investment, and they don’t want to make mistakes they could avoid with help.”

Mendoza says homeowners can use the registry as a starting place for determining credentials, especially if planning extensive or specialty designs, such as handicapped accessibility.

But, she adds, using the registry is only one aspect of choosing a professional.

“It’s also relationship-based,” she says. “It’s based on reputation and performance as well as credentials.”