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A Career In Interior Decoration

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The home is the center of civilized life, and its influence strongly affects a person's personality, character, ideals and ambitions. If it is to be truly a home, and not just a shelter, it should reflect and express the spirit of those who live in it, and should, at the same time, conform to the elements of good taste and artistic principles. In many cases, people do not know how to go about arranging an interior so that it will be both home-like and artistic. If they realize their inability to do so, they very often call to their aid a professional expert in the arranging of homes, the interior decorator. The profession of interior decorating is a very new one, for the whole idea of the importance of the effects of household environment upon the individuals within it has arisen only within the last few years. As a knowledge of these effects and of the usual incompetence of the lay-man in furnishing his house has grown, the demand for trained experts in interior decoration has increased with it.

The interior decorator should not be thought of as merely a furnisher. In its broadest sense, the work of interior decoration is the interpretation of the individuality of the family or other occupants of the house, and the expression of this individuality in terms of the artistic design and arrangement of the home. The duties which the interior decorator must perform in the carrying out of his work are numerous and varied. The first thing he must do, when called upon to arrange a home, is to find out, by personal observation of the people comprising the family, what their characteristics are and what sort of home they prefer and should have. To do this, he must by nature be observant and sympathetic, and be able to comprehend the life of the particular persons with whom he comes in contact. When the wants and needs of the family have been considered, it will next be his duty to ascertain its financial circumstances and how much money he may reasonably spend upon the work to be done. When these preliminaries have been attended to, he must proceed to, work out the most artistic environment possible to suit the life of that family.

The planning and carrying out of this environing scheme constitute the actual technical work of the interior decorator. Keeping in mind always the function for which each room is intended, he must decorate and furnish a house so that it will constitute a unified and beautiful whole. The finishing of floors, ceilings and woodwork, the designing or planning of wall, floor and window coverings, the designing or selecting of draperies, furniture and bric-a-brac, the selection and hanging of pictures and the choice and disposal of other objects and ornaments in the room are among the duties of the decorator. Often he is given liberty to buy, or have made, new furnishings; and sometimes he is given some new ones and, for the rest, obliged to adapt old materials to new arrangements.

In the performance of his duties the decorator is called upon to design and plan, and to supervise the execution of his plans, and is often entrusted with large funds in order that he may carry out his work properly. This brings us to the business side of his profession. This involves the estimating of costs of materials and labor, the making of specifications and contracts, the buying and marketing of materials and the hiring of workmen. The interior decorator will always do well to consider economy. Extravagance does not necessarily mean usefulness or beauty of result, and the good interior decorator will never be guilty of too extravagant buying in behalf of his client. His work does not consist of supplying goods, but rather the ideas as to the best disposal of whatever articles of furniture there may be in the rooms.

The interior decorator may be viewed from three principal angles—as the psychologist, the artist and the man of business. The highest type of interior decorator will combine the qualities and knowledge of these three types. He will have a keen psychological insight and quick, sure sympathy, which will enable him to judge the people with whom he comes in contact and to understand their characters and lives. He will have decided artistic talent, unerring taste and the ability to produce, by means of selected decorative parts, a unified whole. The decorator should have executive ability also, in order that his orders may be properly carried out by the workmen under his personal supervision, and also that he may be able to render the best possible account of the sums of money expended by him.

The decorator's knowledge must extend over a wide field. He should, in the first place, have a good general education, not only as a foundation for his special studies, but also that he may be properly equipped to meet, upon their own level, the cultured people with whom he will often have dealings. Some study of psychology will prove of help to him in his attempts to judge people and to surround them with an environment suitable to their natures. A knowledge of some mathematics is desirable, that he may have an understanding of proportion and a sense of dimension. A knowledge of languages is also worth having, that he may become acquainted with some of the vast store of literature from which art has gained, and still is gaining, so much of its inspiration. A familiarity with history will enable the decorator to understand some of the many factors and personalities which have influenced art, and will also acquaint him with the artistic expression of many races and ages.

Then he must have a thorough knowledge of the fundamental art principles. He should understand clearly the laws of balance and movement, of perspective and space division and of emphasis. He should know the theories and the meaning of color, and its utilization for effects of light and shade. He should have a clear understanding of the principles of architecture, and a very thorough knowledge of design and decorative principles, of the historic periods of decoration and of their modern adaptation and application. He must be a draftsman and, if he has some knowledge of the various crafts supplying him with material for his work, so much the better. He should know the history of textiles, be familiar with their qualities and value and should have a very extensive knowledge of furniture.

Probably the best way for the interior decorator to obtain adequate training for his profession is for him to study at some art school of good reputation, and then to enter upon a period of apprenticeship with an established decorator of sound training and manifest ability. In this way the student will obtain much needed practical experience in the technical work to be done. There are numerous schools giving instruction in interior decorating. Some of these schools offer day and evening courses, some charge no tuition fees and in others the cost of following the prescribed courses amounts to several thousand dollars. The prospective student of interior decorating may write to the Art Alliance of America, in New York City, to obtain information and advice as to schools offering suitable courses.

The student will find that there are opportunities to enter the employ of another more experienced interior decorator, to work for some large department store or firm of interior decorators or to go into business for himself. The last is seldom possible for the beginner, for experience and reputation count in this profession, as they do in all others. Once fairly started on his way, however, the interior decorator should have no difficulty in securing sufficient clients. The profession being so new, it is not yet crowded and, even were it so, there would always be room for the man of real talent and ability. The very fact that the profession is so young, however, involves some difficulties. The decorator will very often have to contend with ignorance and prejudice. Often people, not realizing the ends he has in view, and not themselves possessed of sufficient good taste or artistic knowledge to arrange for the decoration and furnishing of their own homes, will make the work of the decorator extremely difficult. They will attempt to change his plans, have him carry out their suggestions or will interfere with his work in other ways. The decorator must make use of all the patience, firmness and tact he possesses to induce such people to await the finished results of his efforts and to accept his advice.

In practically every other way, however, there are only ad-vantages to be found in the profession, It is difficult to say what the earnings of the interior decorator are likely to be. As an apprentice, his salary will naturally be a low one, but as his experience and reputation increase he will have opportunities to earn large fees. If he is employed by a firm of decorators, he will probably work on a salary, which will vary according to the standing of the firm and the ability of the individual decorator. If he is in business for himself, the decorator's earnings will depend upon his own ability and the type of clients with whom he has dealings. When a decorator does work for large hotels, or wealthy clients, his earnings may amount to many thousand dollars a year.

The matter of doing interior decorating for hotels and similar places differs somewhat from the arranging of private homes. In the case of a hotel, the decorator cannot express the individuality of one person or one group of persons, such as the family. He must, therefore, always keep in mind the purpose for which the hotel or other institution exists and the sort of people to whom it caters, and attempt to express the spirit of the place, in relation to its patrons, in the furnishing of its rooms. In hotel decorating as in home decorating he must not be merely an assembler of articles of furniture, but should go about his work with the intention of artistically expressing the characteristics of those who frequent the place.

For a man of artistic temperament, who loves to see things beautifully, harmoniously and appropriately arranged, and who enjoys planning and carrying out such arrangement, interior decoration is a profession of many advantages. It offers him an opportunity to be constantly in the midst of beautiful objects and to produce, with their help, interiors which, while artistic, will never be unsuited to those who will have to live in them. It offers him a wonderful chance to study humanity and to express his observations through art. It provides congenial, beautiful and, above all, highly useful work. Some interior decorators feel that, because their work belongs so exclusively to those for whom it is undertaken, they themselves have nothing to show for it. But they may have the satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing very directly to the education of the public, and that the standards of simplicity, unity, individuality and good taste which they set in the homes which they decorate will inevitably influence those who live in these homes. Their work may not be of the kind which lends itself well to public exhibition, but it is a vital factor in the artistic development of the nation and, as such, it will continue to be of ever-growing importance.



Practical Book of Interior Decoration," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1919.

MEYER, FRANZ SALES: "A Handbook of Ornament," Architectural Book Publishing Co., New York, 1917.

PARSONS, FRANK ALVAH: "Interior Decoration: Its Principles and Practice," Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City, N. Y., 1915.

SHACKLETON, R., and E. H.: "Adventures in Home Making," Penn Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1920.

WARNER, CHAS. F.: "Home Decoration," Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City, N. Y., 1916.

WOOD, GRACE, and BURBANK, E.: "The Art of Interior Decoration," Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1916.


Arts and Decoration, Judd Magazines, Inc., New York.

Good Furniture, The Dean Hicks Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. House and Garden, Conde Nast & Co., Inc., New York.

House Beautiful, House Beautiful Publishing Co., Boston, Mass. House Furnishing Review, House Furnishing Review Co., New York.

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