Advancing Commercial Interior Design: A Call for Licensing in Massachusetts

Krista Easterly (Photo: Sasaki)

By Krista Easterly, NCIDQ, IIDA, Interior Designer at Sasaki

Massachusetts leads the country in many areas of progressive legislation. But when it comes to modernizing the industry of commercial interior design, states like Iowa and Oklahoma lead the charge, leaving Massachusetts woefully behind.

We interior designers love our work–we sculpt spaces that comfort the sick, welcome the weary, and set the tone for people’s daily experiences. We want to ensure that commercial interior design is a viable career path for the many practitioners who share our passion.

Unlike architects, interior designers lack the title of licensed professional in the Commonwealth, which harms designers, their clients, and the state economy. However, a state bill–SB 185 HB 315, An Act Relative to Advancing the Profession of Commercial Interior Design–seeks to officially recognize commercial interior design as a regulated, licensed profession. Sasaki supports this bill wholeheartedly.

Licensure will give Massachusetts interior designers a competitive edge. We cannot currently sign drawings or contracts, seek commercial work without a registered architect signing on our behalf, or bid on public work beyond furniture selection in Massachusetts. This hampers Massachusetts interior designers relative to counterparts in other states. To compete for state work, interior design business owners often must sell their majority ownership to architects or seek licenses in another state, costing the State revenue.

Commercial interior designers’ rigorous education, experience, and examination qualifies us to be recognized as licensed professionals. We are involved in all parts of the design process, working with clients to develop programs, ensuring regulatory and code compliance, producing non-structural construction documents, coordinating with engineers, and overseeing construction administration. Like architects, we focus on the health, safety and welfare of building occupants. Interior designers shape the places we spend our lives–cafes, libraries, research labs, hospitals. This bill recognizes our expertise, benefiting not just the design industry but all who occupy the built environment.

This bill does not seek to expand the scope of practice of commercial interior design or diminish other disciplines–architects will continue to be the only designers that may stamp structural drawings. Rather, this bill intends to provide opportunities to practitioners in the Commonwealth who have equivalent qualifications to their peers in allied fields, yet lack authority in the design industry. The legal recognition of commercial interior designers will elevate the entire design and construction industry.

“Recognition of the education, knowledge, and skills of the commercial interior designers in Massachusetts will boost the career trajectories of not only those currently in the profession but also those seeking to enter this field.” –Liz von Goeler, NCIDQ, IIDA, Principal and Chair of External Relations at Sasaki.

Licensing commercial interior designers will ensure safe and code-compliant building interiors by holding us to a higher standard. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, and interior designers all possess degrees from accredited programs, conduct supervised work in the field, and pass certifying exams before they become professionals. However, the State recognizes only licenses for architects, landscape architects, and engineers. These disciplines undergo continuing education, and in exchange, Massachusetts provides seats on regulating boards and selection committees, and influence on policy at the state level. Our status as unlicensed professionals denies interior designers a seat at that table.

“As an architect and business owner who has had the privilege of working alongside immensely talented, dedicated, and accomplished interior designers for the past 29 years, I strongly encourage our elected officials to support this legislation. Recognizing the professional practice of commercial interior design in the state of Massachusetts is a positive and necessary step in creating a more equitable and inclusive design and construction industry that celebrates the expertise and contributions of all design professionals.”–Matt Hyatt, AIA, IIDA Principal and Vice President at Bergmeyer.

Passing SB 185 HB 315 is necessary because commercial interior designers deserve to practice to our fullest potential. Massachusetts understands the importance of the interior design profession. UMass Dartmouth, a state school, is one of five institutions in the state that offers a CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) accredited degree program. 816 professionals and countless students in the Commonwealth are waiting to be recognized as equals, given a seat at the table, and allowed to cultivate their careers to the fullest. Sasaki supports SB 185 HB 315 and asks for your support as well.