Embarking on the design of a new house or a renovation can be a tricky business, so many decisions, ranging from the relative sizes of rooms to their location; so many choices in furniture, colors, textures, finishes, art, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, doors, windows, finish hardware, window treatments, etc. Some people engage an architect to help them sort things out, while others feel that a decorator is the way to go. How to decide whom to hire is not always obvious.
Typically architects will help you to sort out the size and type of house, the disposition of all the rooms, and what the house will look like on the outside and on the inside. Decorators will generally help you to select colors, textures, finishes, decorative fixtures, furniture, and art. If you were to take the house turn it upside down and shake it, everything that falls is usually under the decorator, while everything that stays is usually under the architect. The best designs come from a close collaboration between the clients, the decorator, and the architect.
A successful collaboration between the architect and the decorator is always one based on mutual trust and deep respect for their individual sphere of influence. Once the Owners have made basic decisions of the house or apartment’s location and program (i.e.: kind and number of rooms, and their relative sizes) then, the architect will proceed to study, the character of these rooms. This is usually done via photographs or visits to specific places. One can imagine that in such an exploration having a decorator is advantageous for obvious reasons. The decorator will pick up issues of color, fabrics, materials, etc.
The architect begins the design process by establishing, with the Owners, the "building type": a center hall colonial, a courtyard type, a Palladian type, a Charleston single-house type, or perhaps a combination thereof. This "type" is as much influenced by the house's location (as in the Charleston single-house) as it is by the climate, region, and relative size of the house. A small cottage will probably not be a good candidate for a Palladian type, just as a mansion is hardly ideal for a center hall colonial.
Apartment renovations are less influenced by types, and more by issues of character. Is the existing apartment building pre-war or post-war? If pre-war, is it classical, classical moderne (or Art Deco), or modern? Is it all on one floor, or two? Larger apartments have entry halls, libraries, dining rooms and tend to have clear separation between the service rooms (kitchens, laundry rooms and other utility rooms) and the served rooms. These factors play a role in the apartment's room distribution and ultimately in its character.
Once the plan and sectional distribution of rooms is established and the exterior facades are more or less known (as would be needed for a house) the first phase of design also known as “schematic design” is complete. It is during that phase that the architect also vets most issues dealing with the local Department of Buildings. The architect then proceeds to draw all the room interiors with all the door and window casings, wainscots, millwork, tiles, cabinets, etc. This sets up the interior "architecture" for all the rooms. In some cases the decorators will have an idea for some or all the rooms which may or may not affect the casings, millwork, and/or cabinets.
It is wise to engage a decorator during this next phase also known as the “design development” phase. In this phase all the issues of character are developed both indoors and outdoors. A decorator is instrumental in helping the Owners select door and cabinet knobs and pulls, tiles, floor, wall and ceiling materials, carpets, curtains, shades, and lamps. In addition, all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, audio-visual, security, curtains, shades, and all the interfaces with other consultants are coordinated during this design development phase.
Construction documents is the last drawing phase before starting construction, while the architect is drawing all the details of the job so that a contractor can build it, a decorator can be instrumental in coordinating and finalizing the finish schedule as well as confirming finalizing the selections for all the interior materials that were established during the design development phase.
Architecture and decoration are but two sides of the same design act. Decoration comes from the word decorum which connotes appropriateness and character. Ornament is related to decoration and in architecture ornament is used to reveal the character of the architecture. In this manner a house( or apartment) in the city and a house (or apartment) at the beach can both have similar rooms and parts but different expressions. Good decoration bridges the Owner's taste and dreams with what is appropriate for the character of the architecture and the particular place, making the result harmonious and beautiful.