It's a controversial subject among designers - maybe because we're prideful about what it took to gain the title "designer", or maybe because we've seen too many people use that word as a title and muddy a client's understanding of who they should hire for their project. Either way, there is a difference between a designer and a decorator (or stylist), and it's important for you to know how they differ, especially if you need to hire one for your home. I made a little video to explain the differences, so you can click the image below for a live, moving, non-makeup wearing, lots of hand motions (as usual) version of me laying it out for ya. If you'd rather read, read on....
Design is how a space flows. How do you use your space? Do you like to entertain? For how many? Do you cook out a lot? How many children/grandchildren do you have? Do you have a dog? Are there any drainage issues? Depending on the client's answers, a design starts to form. Where the deck is in relation to the outdoor kitchen, added light here, and raised platform there - to maximize the space and budget - those are design. Design is also how the furniture will be arranged within all of these spaces so that walking around them isn't awkward or uneasy. You like to cook for your guests? Ok, let's make sure that the outdoor kitchen is arranged in a way so that the person at the grill won't have their backs turned to the guests and miss all the fun. These are DESIGN elements, and they need to have long staying power and be practical for your life situation.
Now, lets talk about decor or styling. These are the exciting pretty things that we add to the space. Color, texture, materials. They don't have to be practical. Stripes, metallics, pink, and yellow in one room? Cool. You do you. If the space flows properly, as in, you have an amazing DESIGN, then you can kind of make any style your own and rock it. Sure, there are tricks to the trade like using odd numbers, varying heights, and things of that nature, but in general, you are free as a bird in the style category.
If you are like a whole lot of my clients you do not feel free as a bird. You feel worried that you'll mess it all up or choose something you will hate next month and waste a lot of money in the process. And that's a-ok. 'Know thyself' is a big motto of mine, and if you just don't think you can pull it off, PLEASE hire a designer! The beauty of hiring a designer is you can send photos of what you love or don't love, and the designer will run with it. You DO have a personal style, I PROMISE, but you may need help identifying it.
Now that you know the difference between the two, you can feel more confident in finding someone to help you with your project. Be sure to ask questions before you hire, especially things like experience, education, and photos of previous work. Hiring someone to help you with design or style is an investment, and one you should feel confident with. I've seen far too many clients hire a designer after they trusted their entire design project - like kitchen layout or site plan - to a decorator or a contractor who says he can draw up a plan for you. A trustworthy contractor or decorator will know their limits and tell you that you need a designer to design the layout before they can pick colors or install the plan for you.