Who’s Who: Residential Designer, Architect, and Interior Designer?
There’s a bit of confusion, and rightly so, about the abilities and roles of the professionals responsible for designing your dream home. We’d like to set the record straight so you can streamline assembling your Team.
There is a common misunderstanding that the services of an architect are required to design and build a new home or renovation project. This is not the case!
Another common, though not entirely accurate, belief is that architects are the only designers required to pass rigorous testing, abide by industry standards, and keep up with continuing education. This is also not the case!
To further complicate things, professionals who create architectural designs without having completed the rigorous and time-consuming process of becoming a licensed and registered architect are referred to by many names (residential designer, home designer, building designer, etc.). For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to these professionals collectively as residential designers in this article.
Architect vs Residential Designer
Both architects and residential designers are familiar with all facets of the home building trade, whose designs and plans represent the vision, needs, style, and budget of the client.
Their expertise involves knowledge of building systems, maximizing design opportunities, finding solutions to site issues, and coordinating with other professionals as part of the Team necessary to ensure your home is designed and built successfully.
Both are able to create detailed preliminary designs and completed construction drawings that comply with all applicable local and state building codes and regulations. These construction drawings are the blueprints used by your build team and are used to obtain the necessary permits and costs to build the project.
Both give recommendations for interior and exterior layout, treatments, and materials to be used.
Both are able to help you select building contractors, interior designers, soil scientists, landscape designers, and any other professionals needed to assemble your team.
Jurisdiction of an Architect:
The term “registered architect” is highly governed. Only a professional who has
completed the steps outlined below and is licensed and registered in the state in
which they are practicing can use the title Architect.
An architect is only allowed to assume the title ‘architect’ in the state in which
they are registered. If a professional is providing services in a state in which they
are not registered they must refer to themselves as a residential designer or any
other myriad of terms used to describe someone who practices architecture
without being licensed and registered.
Most states do NOT require architect “stamped” plans in order to legally build a
residential building. What this means is that homeowners and builders are NOT
required to hire a registered architect for home design across most of the
nation. See HERE to find out if your state requires a licensed architect for your
However, commercial design is generally required to be done by licensed
Jurisdiction of a Residential Designer:
The term ‘designer’ is unrestricted which means anyone can define themselves
as a designer. Because residential design is unregulated, a license is not
required in order to practice.
Residential designers are focused on residential structures and are legally able to
design homes in most states. Under the law of most states, single-family homes
and smaller structures are exempt from requiring the involvement of an architect
in the design.
Education of an Architect:
An architect is a licensed and registered professional who has graduated with an
architecture degree, typically with 5-6yrs of study, and has completed about 2
years of on-the-job experience. They must complete continuing education
courses each year to maintain a license.
Most architectural schools focus their studies on commercial building design,
requiring architects entering the field who have a desire to design residential
homes to learn on the job. Residential construction is typically quite different
from commercial construction so when selecting your professional be sure to
ask about their residential experience.
Education of a Residential Designer:
The profession of residential design is unregulated with no minimum
requirements for education and so the industry is comprised of professionals
with varying degrees of education and experience.
Some designers follow the same path as architects, graduating from an
accredited college, have acquired the extensive on-the-job training, and have
either not taken or have not passed the Architectural Registration Exams (ARE’s).
Some designers who, after graduating and working in a design firm, choose to
continue their career as a designer and not get licensed.
Other designers are actually licensed architects practicing in a state other than
where they are licensed.
Some are former architects who chose not to renew their license.
There are also designers who have acquired architectural technology degrees
and have chosen to focus their attention on residential design. They do not need
to complete the rigorous and time-consuming architectural degree requirements
for a license, since a license is not required to design residential buildings in the
vast majority of the nation.
It’s also possible to become a residential designer through the path of interior
design, industrial design, or another design concentration. Some are even self
taught or have a natural talent for design.
For these reasons, there are varying degrees of skill and knowledge across the
industry of residential designers.
When selecting a professional to design your home, it’s wise to inquire about any
additional credentials they may have acquired, length of experience, references,
and review their portfolio.
IMPORTANT: Here we would like to make another distinction. There IS a difference between a residential designer and a RESIDENTIAL DESIGN SPECIALIST. Specialists will have far more experience, credibility, credentials, references, accolades, talent, and expertise.
Professional Organizations for Architects:
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the professional organization that
serves members of the architecture profession. AIA is used as a resource for its
members through education, government advocacy, community development,
and public outreach.
The National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) is the
governing body that regulates architectural practices and mandates certifications
and licensing. Architects must complete and comply with all regulations and
certifications for maintaining a license.
Professional Organizations for Residential Designers:
The American Institute of Building Designers (AIBD) is the professional
organization that serves members of the building design profession, including
both non-licensed residential designers and licensed architects who have a
residential focus in their practice. Just as AIA serves licensed architects, AIBD
serves residential designers through education, government advocacy,
community development, and public outreach.
The National Council of Building Designer Certification (NCBDC) was created to
administer an examination and certification program for designers not licensed
as architects. It’s not mandatory for residential designers to complete
certification with NCBDC, however those who choose to must complete and
comply with all regulations for maintaining a certification.
* RESIDENTIAL DESIGN SPECIALISTS will have passed the examination and certification process with NCBDC
CREDENTIALS & CERTIFICATIONS
Credentials & Certifications for Architects:
Registered architects are required to pass seven Architectural Registration
Exams (ARE’s) mandated by the National Council of Architectural Registration
* Architectural Registration Exams do not measure design skill and abilities. It tests on architectural principles and processes as well as technical knowledge related to health, safety, and welfare.
Credentials & Certifications for Residential Designers:
Though there are no mandatory exams required for residential designers, some
may choose to become a Certified Professional Building Designer (CPBD).
A professional member of AIBD who has completed the National Council of
Building Designer Certification is permitted to use the title of Certified
Professional Building Designer (CPBD).
To acquire certification a Certified Professional Building Designer must be
actively engaged in the professional practice of residential design, have more
than six-years of work experience, have submitted a portfolio, and have been
tested on their competence in building structure design, building science,
building code requirements and space visualization of form, scale, and balance.
This certification holds residential designers to high standards of conduct, ethics,
and continued learning required to maintain certification.
When selecting your residential designer be sure to find one who is a Certified
Professional Building Designer (CPBD).
* RESIDENTIAL DESIGN SPECIALISTS are Certified Professional Building Designers and will carry the letters CPBD with their name.
Side Note: Jenny Pippin, of Pippin Home Designs, is a Residential Design Specialist and a Distinguished Fellow as a Certified Professional Building Designer, one of only five women Fellows in AIBD, and amongst a select group of CPBD-certified professionals globally with this honor of distinction.
Working with an Architect:
Architects design both commercial and residential buildings. Commercial design
is generally required to be done by licensed architects. Although some licensed
architects design homes as their main focus, most architects mainly focus on
designing commercial projects, and only design homes as an aside if requested
by their commercial clients.
Architects often oversee construction and “author” your home from start to
Working with a Residential Designer:
Residential designers specialize in residential construction and will occasionally
design smaller commercial buildings.
Residential designers may or may not provide the service of overseeing
construction, especially if the homeowner has chosen a competent builder and
other participating team members. Typically, residential designers are available
for consultations with the homeowner and their entire team throughout the
There is no standardization of costs for architects or residential designers, so each professional creates their own fee schedule. However, it is generally recognized that architects tend to be the most expensive option due to their extensive education, training, and licensing, sometimes doubling and even tripling the cost compared to working with an experienced residential designer.
* FUN FACT
Did you know that the world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was actually NOT an architect? Though he was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time” he was technically a building designer.
He never graduated with an architecture degree, was never a registered or licensed architect, nor did he even complete high school! He was granted an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1955, 4 years before he passed away.
This is beautiful evidence of the ability of true artists to find their calling without needing to adhere to regulatory institutes or agencies.
Residential Designer vs Interior Designer
Residential designers and interior designers work together closely and compliment one another’s work. The residential designer designs the construction drawings that are the blueprint for the interior designer to work from. Together, they create functional beauty that brings you a deep sense of love and adoration for your home.
The interior designer uses their artistic abilities and education to add the finishing touches by utilizing color palettes, sound, decorations, artwork, lighting, window treatments, functional décor, and furniture selections and placement.
Jurisdiction of Interior Designers:
In the US, only 3 states (Nevada, Florida, and Louisiana) have passed legislation that require mandatory registration for certified interior designers.
Education of Interior Designers:
The well qualified interior designer must also be well versed in building codes and structural considerations in order to create safe and functional spaces that work with the architectural design.
A bachelor’s degree in interior design or architecture is typically required and something to consider when selecting and working with an interior designer.
Professional Organizations for Interior Designers:
The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is the professional organization that serves members of the interior design profession.
The Council of Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) is the certifying organization that mandates the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam for certification.
Credentials & Certifications for Interior Designers:
The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) is a three-part exam developed and administered by the CIDQ. An interior designer must have completed an interior design or architecture degree and have at least 2 years of professional experience to take the NCIDQ.
Working with an Interior Designer:
Interior designers are an integral part of a design team and are usually involved with the building project from the very beginning, working closely with the residential designer and builder. Often times, the interior designer is on-site during construction, working with the builder’s construction team and providing support for the homeowner.
An exceptionally talented interior designer will also have the ability to fine tune exterior construction finish details and assist the client with tying the exterior finishes together. This is a rare exception to the standard. Finding an interior designer with this skill adds great value to the team and to the beautiful end result for the client.
A talented interior designer can pull together finish solutions that make a half million-dollar home look like a million-dollar masterpiece while assisting the client in completing the project within a specified budget.
The Pippin Way
Jenny Pippin, of Pippin Home Designs, is a Residential Design Specialist, a Fellow and Professional AIBD Member, and a Certified Professional Building Designer with over 34 years of experience and countless accolades and awards.
Jenny Pippin works collaboratively with and for her clients along with the other selected team members (link) to achieve the masterpiece you deserve for a custom home designed specifically and exclusively for YOU!
Selecting Pippin Home Designs as part of your home design team is the IMPACT (link) your dream home needs: a forever home that will be loved, cherished, and able to grow in value as the years pass.
Jenny Pippin, along with her partner Wes Stearns, pour their heart and soul into each home they create for their clients.
Our Award-Winning Homes with a View are always You-Inspired for Joyful Living!
Give us a call or email us today!
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