CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Interior designers bring spaces to life

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

You're imaginative and practical. Your technical and research skills are as strong as your people and communication skills. Walk into a room and you can determine if the space works well or simply isn't functional. You've got what it takes to become an interior designer, a career that combines esthetics and structure.
Last year's winners of the ARIDO Awards of Excellence: Heaton Cottage, designed by Fleur-de-lis (left) and Square Restaurant, designed by Anacleto Design Associates.

It's a career that's attracting a growing number of students. "We call it the 'HGTV phenomenon'," says Gary Hewson, President of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO). "Awareness of design has certainly increased and that includes fashion, graphic and landscape design."

"Pay your dues"

TV may have made us more aware of interior designers, but it's simplified what it takes to be successful, believes Monique Le Ray of Le Ray Designs in Toronto. "You can be a brilliant designer, but you have to pay your dues year after year after year to achieve success," she says.

The first step to becoming an interior designer in Ontario is to graduate from an ARIDO-approved interior design program. There are 11 in Ontario, offered at colleges and universities. "Your education offers exposure to residential, corporate office, retail and health care, which may help determine your interests," Hewson says. "Your decision on whether to specialize in residential or commercial tends to evolve with experience."

Upon completion of your education, you must work as an intern member. "ARIDO is the first association in North America to make mentoring mandatory. We're very proud to have an extensive list of interior designers wanting to be mentors," Hewson says.
Holt Renfrew designed by burdifilek won An ARIDO award last year.

After graduating from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now a university) in Toronto in 1988, Hewson worked as a junior designer with a national department store chain for two years. Highlights include designing a 60,000-square-foot floor. He went on to design bank branches for six years, incorporating security measures. Today, he works with Office Source, helping interior designers create functional offices.

Once your education and intern experience total seven years, you're eligible to write a qualifying exam. Upon successful completion, you become a registered ARIDO member -- a prerequisite to work as an interior designer in Ontario.

ARIDO's 2,000 registered members also belong to Interior Designers of Canada, which has about 3,500 members. Every three years, you must complete 36 hours of training to stay on top of any changes to the building code and to build your career through such electives as marketing or design trends.
ARIDO president

Many interior designers are self-employed, while others work for large firms or small firms. "Our industry is very cyclical. It's tied into what's going on in the economy," Hewson says. "Many of our commercial members are busy and some say they're having a hard time finding designers. The residential industry tends to be less cyclical because people understand investing in their homes is a safe investment. As a result, our residential members are very steady."

Together with Interior Designers of Canada and other partners from across North America, ARIDO helped create a new website: It lists the following as keys to success:
  • Artistic and Technical Requirements. You must know how to plan a space, how to present that plan visually, how materials and products will be used and how texture, colour and lighting interact. You must understand structural requirements of your plans, health and safety issues and building codes.
    What's the difference between interior decorating and interior design? Interior decorating is the application of finishes such as paint, wallpaper, fabrics and furniture. Interior design identifies and creatively solves problems to create a functional and attractive space. Interior designers use specialized knowledge of design construction, building codes, equipment, materials and furnishings in order to enhance and protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Visit to learn more.
  • Interpersonal Communications. You must communicate clearly and effectively and listen attentively. Because you work with architects, contractors and other service providers, you must be both a good team leader and player.
  • Management Strategies. You must have excellent time and project management skills. You must be able to sell your ideas to clients, create informative and persuasive proposals and maintain good client relationships.

    "Trust is a big thing in our business," says Le Ray, a commercial, residential and furniture designer for 25 years. "It takes a lot of thought and effort to have a successful design. You have to appreciate your clients and create a design for them, not yourself. That means listening to what they want. You're working on their dreams, whether it's a business, residence or cottage."

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