In a time of quarantine renovations and DIYs, do we really need interior designers?

Published September 10, 2020, 5:45 PM

by Johannes Chua

In the controversial 2007 book The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen, he warned us of the inevitable destruction of our cultural institutions—newspapers, music, movies, design, etc.—because of the Internet. For example, amateur singers, with little training and a large amount of luck, can become overnight sensations because of YouTube. Home cooks, with “training” from online cooking videos, are rivaling established chefs. And anyone with an opinion can now self-broadcast, however ill-informed, to a large audience, further blurring the lines between expert and amateur.

Now comes the issue of interior design.

The long quarantine has pushed people to take up new hobbies and projects. Some started gardening, some did cleaning, while others dipped their hands on baking. A majority of homeowners finally pursued their long overdue renovations, from major ones such as changing an entire room or creating a new work-from-home space, to minor tasks such as giving a wall a fresh coat of paint, or adding new décor to a living area.

In a world where everything is documented on social media, “before” and “after” photos of these DIY home renovations during quarantine are met with a wide range of comments, from admiration to envy, from amazement to nonchalance. It is also common to see “innocent” comments disparaging the interior design profession or interior designers themselves “who charge very high.” So it was not surprising, at least for me, to read an online post from another media outlet saying—“You don’t need an interior designer to come up with your dream bedroom.”

That post was met with condemnation from interior designers, who are up in arms from a comment that “invalidates their profession once again.”

I asked a friend who is an interior designer to give me her take on the issue. She told me that the “concept” of interior design is still very vague in the country. It is more than aesthetics and colors or furniture, as to become a full-fledged interior designer (with an IDr. attached to your name), one must finish an interior design degree and pass a national board exam conducted by the Philippine Regulation Commission. This sets the interior design profession apart from culinary arts, fashion design, filmmaking, visual arts, etc. The fact that it has an accredited group, standardized rates, and a law (Republic Act 10350) regulating its practice, interior designers deserve the “respect, protection, and professionalism” accorded to other professions related to building homes and structures.

“Interior design is a legitimate profession. We worked hard to get our PRC license. Interior design work is not easy and will never be,” says interior designer Dianne Versoza.


So what about DIY renovation projects?

No one can prevent any homeowner from doing DIY, especially at this time.

“I think DIY is a correct term. This can be by anyone—interior designer or not. But saying ‘You don’t need interior designers…’ is something else as it undermines the profession. There are also some things interior designers do that DIYers are not necessarily aware of, like standard measurements, ergonometrics, and other technical details. Here in the Philippines, not everyone is aware that you need a license to practice the profession. There are even online courses for free about interior design just for how many months. We are all affected by this even prior to the pandemic,” says interior designer Monet Manzo, noting that a lot of interior designers are losing projects because there are DIYers or other contractors who offer similar services minus the design fee.

On the other hand, interior designer Maricar Lastimosa posted a lengthy response on her Facebook wall, which she allowed us to post a part here.

“There is this trend of vloggers/ content creators bragging they did ‘interior design’ of their home. We get that! ‘Decorating’ your own house is fun and enjoyable. It can also be a rewarding activity. If our client has a knack for it, we even take them with us when we shop,” says Maricar.

‘As interior designers, our deliverables and scope of services are really different from what most people know and understand. We juggle everything that needs to be coordinated to actualize the result you want. Our work requires a level of trust that a homeowner/ business owner is willing to give. And for that we are grateful.’

“Yes, an interior designer ‘decorates’ but DIY decorating is not interior design. As interior designers, our deliverables and scope of services are really different from what most people know and understand. We juggle everything that needs to be coordinated to actualize the result you want. Our work requires a level of trust that a homeowner/ business owner is willing to give. And for that we are grateful,” she says.

The three interior designers agree that the interior design profession is “overlooked” as a lot of Filipinos are still clueless.

“To hear people say ‘we don’t need an interior designer,’ or ‘we did not hire an interior designer,’ or ‘we can do our own interior design’ is not something new. I assume they’ve never actually experienced the service of a professional interior designer,” says Maricar. “This misplaced priority and false assumption, which is now parading on social platforms, would weave a web of problems and regret later on. Admit it or not, this desire to save ends up with homeowners losing more. You should cut on expenditures and not the ‘brains’ that manage the fund. An effective design strategy would’ve been easily provided by your professional interior designer if only you have one.”


So amid this issue, how do we move forward?

This social media buzz allowed netizens to understand what the interior design profession is all about. DIY renovations would still go on as the pandemic forces us to stay indoors. Dire economic situations would still push us to find cheaper and alternative ways to do home improvements.

“Design in general is for everyone and should be universal. I don’t think a misplaced comment would gravely affect our profession as interior designers. Of course, we have our own niche and market. It’s really up to us how we target that market we want to attract. I believe people should funnel their energy or efforts in policing or going after those who practice the profession and really make bad designs that gravely affect ergonomics, safety, and wellbeing of people and the environment,” says interior designer Mark Steven Perez.

But for those who want to elevate their living spaces and allow their rooms to have a professional touch (and you have the budget for it), then don’t be afraid to consult an interior designer.

“Let us serve you and do our share to translate your story into design,” says Maricar. “The process will be collaborative, but you have to accept that when it comes to curating the design plan of an interior space, you can fully rely on your interior designer.”

And to all interior designers out there, this is what Maricar wants to share: “Let us be proud of our work! Let us be proud of the quality of service and the client experience only we can provide.”