An Argument for Recognition

Currently, 27 states require some form of regulatory licensure for practitioners to legally use the title of “interior designer”—and Massachusetts is not one of them. This contributes to an uneven playing field and creates a number of disadvantages for designers in the Commonwealth.

Bill H.262, introduced in 2009, provides interior designers with a path towards certification and the advantages it would bring, namely in terms of contract and bidding requirements. Along with passing the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) Exam, licensed interior designers would maintain their expertise by taking continuing education units (CEUs), a process that resembles the registration requirements in the other 27 states. In 2014, under Bill H.2832, interior designers gained the right to bid on state contracts under certain conditions, making “Interior Design” a recognized profession for the first time in state history.

Yet, since there are still no licensing options, interior designers are left questioning whether they will ever achieve full recognition, be it through the NCIDQ or not. If the NCIDQ Exam is not considered adequate, an alternative route to licensure should be offered; otherwise, those that enter the profession are arbitrarily deemed less capable than their peers. Marie Fitzgerald, SMMA’s Director of Interior Design, has strong opinions about this topic, and offers her candid thoughts here.

Why is licensing such an important issue to you?

MF: I work with a staff of incredibly talented, educated, and experienced design professionals. Moreover, I am an officer and major shareholder within my company, and a professional with 30+ years of experience. With all of that said, I am, quite simply, tired of seeing our skills and qualifications minimized. Despite our degrees, our training, our testing and requirements, interior designers are still not eligible for licensure in Massachusetts.

SMMA designers reviewing floor plans for new building

What limitations do interior designers face when they cannot receive licensure?

MF: We cannot stamp and submit drawings for building permits and we cannot sign AIA contracts. To move forward with our work, we must instead rely on engineers and architects. We are, in effect, rendered their subordinates. And as long as all paths to licensure remain closed, our career paths remain limited.

How has this impacted your career?

MF: Since SMMA is an integrated firm, people are quick to assume that my inability to sign a contract shouldn’t bother me; after all, I sit next to engineers. Yet, this logic disregards the fact that limiting any potential part of my role, whether utilized or not, is still a limitation. I am a firm leader, but I cannot sign contracts that pertain to major business operations. Whether I need to sign them is not the issue; the issue is that I am not allowed to sign them. And crucially, this is not the result of a choice I made, but rather one made for me by the industry – again, despite my qualifications, I have never been offered an option for licensure. Essentially, anyone who chooses a career in interior design in Massachusetts resigns him or herself to fewer options for advancement.

SMMA interior design director Marie Fitzgerald on stage at an event

Who would benefit from interior designers receiving licensure in Massachusetts?

MF: The interior design industry itself, both clients and designers. As I mentioned, a career in interior design in Massachusetts is automatically limited, which means we lose talent to other disciplines and to other states. In states with licensing privileges, interior designers act as the main points of responsibility, relying on themselves, rather than paying an architect or engineer to stamp and sign their drawings. Likewise, many federal projects require a licensed design professional to bid on work; interior designers have this opportunity in other states.

Since the majority of interior designers are female, this also has significant repercussions on gender equality in the industry.

While I am not implying that gender is the cause of licensure restrictions, I do want to point to the results on gender because of those restrictions. When we limit the options of a woman-dominated field, we inevitably limit the options for women.

What path would you recommend for licensure, moving forward?

MF: The NCIDQ already has an exam that ensures that qualified interior designers have in-depth knowledge of the core capabilities of interior design. This exam is currently the standard for receiving licensure in other states. We have the process in place; now we just need to make it official.

Interior designers at SMMA working on a project