Architects and interior designers are trained professionals with comprehensive knowledge of architectural principles. However, these two groups study different disciplines. Architecture is a highly regulated field. Above anything else, architects must design buildings that are safe for the occupants. Because residential architects work with the main structure of a home, they have the authority to make changes to it. Interior Designers can recommend changes to parts of a home that do not interfere with its actual structure.

Architect Education

Architects may specialize in either residential or commercial architecture. The former also called domestic architecture, is the design and building of residential properties. These projects include multi-unit residential buildings, single-family homes, renovations, and remodels. Residential architects differ from commercial architects, who use their architectural skills and education to design workplaces.

Residential architects approach heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) and electrical systems differently than other architects. They take into account zoning regulations, building codes, and building materials. All of the same concerns as commercial architects. Most professionals in both disciplines work for construction and architecture firms, real estate developers, and various levels of government.

Residential architects, like all architects, need to earn a professional degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Different types of architecture degree programs are available. Options include a traditional bachelor’s degree, a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture, and master’s degrees. Students who complete a traditional program will need to go on to a master’s program to qualify for licensure, while those who earn a Bachelor of Architecture will already be qualified.

A Bachelor of Science in Architecture will have more courses in math and physical sciences than interior design. Typical courses in architecture will include algebra, calculus, physical geography, and physics. These are part of the core curriculum along with courses as American History, Social Sciences, Philosophy, and Communication.

You can expect the major courses to cover design, drawing, modeling, architecture history, construction materials, and architectural structures. The structure courses will study the environmental conditions, available resources, and technology. Students explore how the design of different structures accounts for gravity, lateral wind, seismic load, and thermal stress. Programs in earthquake-prone areas will examine seismic design and failure, as well as schematic design based on the global bending and shear concept.

Interior Design Education

In contrast to a degree in architecture, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior Design is less concerned with the structural components of the building. True to its name, the profession focuses on the interior of the building. This means that the major coursework involves the study of lighting systems, interior materials, interior design, color, and space. However, expect a course or two on building construction. An example is one that promotes an understanding of the various constructed assemblies, both structural and nonstructural, which, when combined, form complete buildings. You might also learn about the functional and environmental considerations regarding building technology systems.

As with architecture, there is the choice of a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree. The latter program will likely be more detailed in the subjects of construction and be more science-oriented. One example of a course titled Construction II:  Core concepts in interior materials, assemblies, and systems. Includes material properties, environmental and sustainable issues, attachment, detailing, and product specifications. Projects encourage manipulation and assembly of various material systems. Case studies using material samples, and field trips to sites of fabrication. 

Whether you select the Arts or Science route in Interior Design, you should anticipate the ubiquitous subject of Mathematics. It will probably show up in the Core Curriculum and/or as one of your majors. As a major course in the science degree, you might encounter probability, logic, linear algebra, linear programming, the mathematics of finance, geometry, the theory of equations, and calculus.


This is an important consideration when choosing either a degree in Architecture or Interior Design.

Students who want to earn an undergraduate degree to become a licensed architect should choose a Bachelor of Architecture program, which is a professional degree that generally takes five years to complete. Most states also require that prospective architects complete a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board to work as professionals. Those who wish to become paraprofessionals with an architectural firm or work in related careers, such as interior design or landscape architecture, should choose the Bachelor of Science in Architecture program.

Interior Design programs receive their accreditation from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). By selecting an accredited school’s program means that the curriculum meets standards recognized by the profession. It also fulfills educational requirements necessary for your entry into the profession upon graduation. CIDA is an international non-profit organization that accredits post-secondary interior design education programs in the United States and Canada. The voluntary accreditation process uses internationally recognized educational standards to review programs.