Code Regulated Interior Design Forecast: Dim With A Chance Of Deregulation

Here I go again…….being a stick in the proverbial mud regarding our collective efforts to advance the profession of certified/commercial/code-regulated interior design via regulation.  AKA, pursuing our right to practice to the fullest of our abilities as peers with, or independent of, other licensed building design professionals.

It has been awhile since the profession of code-regulated, certified, or commercial interior design has scored a win in the legislation/licensure column.  I really cannot recall the last practice related win for the profession…maybe it was Utah SB 116 in 2016?  Two going on three years….correct me if I am wrong….seems like an eon ago in this day and age.

Why is that?  Is this a positive development or a troubling trend?  Does it really matter?

If you are still here welcome to yet another year (2019) and another blog post in which I ponder answers to the above imponderables.  I really wish I could be more optimistic but……..


No I am not on the front lines of any effort to advance the profession on the regulatory level but I do know that the pursuit of licensure is currently our only mode of advancing our professional identity.  Since it is our only form of public messaging we all have a stake in the success of this effort…..even if it is not in our particular state.  I respect those who do invest copious amounts of time and effort to advocate for the profession in the regulatory arena.  This post is dedicated to those volunteers, and those that will follow them, in the hope that they can scratch and claw a modicum of respect and parity for the profession.   Over the past 20 years I have witnessed innumerable attempts by state coalitions, and our professional membership organizations, to both introduce interior design legislation and defend existing laws from deregulation.   Call me crazy but analyzing this process is what I like to do. While I am not directly involved in the battle I still want us to succeed.  Again I acknowledge the effort but also maintain that we can do better.

I  understand that far more bills never see their respective governor’s pen than actually become law and interior design legislation suffers a much maligned history in the legal/political arena.

But that does not mean we should ignore the many ID bills that are tabled, sent to committee, or otherwise scuttled.  We have to learn from these set-backs.

I also acknowledge that each state is different and it is nearly impossible to create a one size fits all approach to regulating Interior Design.

But that does not mean we should not try to at least try to be consistent in our language.

I maintain that we can learn a lot from each of our attempts to advance the profession on the regulatory front. Both successful and not.

As humans, we’re going to make mistakes. It’s what makes us human, and most of the time, the most effective way of learning is from a mistake.
Nash Grier

Ohio, the nation’s 7th most populous state, is the latest example of a state that has pursued legislation to regulate the practice of “certified” interior design .  Ohio HB 504 was introduced in February of this year (2018), sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, it actually made its way through the Ohio House to the Senate in November where it was referred to committee on November 28th.  Which is not a good sign.  I don’t know if this bill is dead or not. Hopefully Rep. Pelanda can resurrect it in 2019.  Stay tuned here;  It is unclear to me if this is a title act with permitting privileges, a practice act or a hybrid of both.  What is clear is that the bill proposes an “Interior Examiners Board” whose purpose seems to be regulating “certified” interior designers.  This seems to be more of a title move to me.

Thanks to the State of Ohio’s thorough and transparent website we can easily monitor and access all activity related to this bill.  There is a lot to learn here since formal opposition to this bill is documented and readily available.

Ohio’s ID bill, like many others, continues to confuse Interior Design and Certified or Commercial Interior Design.  If you are not already aware- semantics are everything with me….or to me….  Unfortunately we as profession continue to flounder with conflicting and confusing terms and titles with which to describe ourselves and our work.  Keep in mind that the Ohio ID bill proposes to regulate “certified interior designers” not “interior designers” so the bill starts out on the wrong foot;


To amend sections 3791.04, 4703.50, 4703.52, and 4703.53 and to enact sections 4703.60, 4703.61, 4703.62, 4703.63, 4703.64, 4703.65, 4703.66, 4703.67, 4703.68, 4703.69, 4703.70, 4703.71, and 4703.72 of the Revised Code to create the Ohio Interior Design Examiners Board to certify and regulate interior designers.

Here is what it should have said;


To amend sections 3791.04, 4703.50, 4703.52, and 4703.53 and to enact sections 4703.60, 4703.61, 4703.62, 4703.63, 4703.64, 4703.65, 4703.66, 4703.67, 4703.68, 4703.69, 4703.70, 4703.71, and 4703.72 of the Revised Code to create the Ohio Certified Interior Design Examiners Board to certify and regulate certified interior designers.

We should not be proposing any legislation that regulates “Interior Design” in any shape form or fashion.  Regardless of the clarifications included in recent interior design bills that try to define “interior design and “certified interior design” the nuance is hard to grasp and it certainly opens the door to those who oppose any regulation of “interior design”.  This bill, like many before it, is full of confusing and conflicting title descriptors that further cloud the subtle nuances between an “interior designer” and a “certified interior designer”.  Referring back to Utah’s ID legislation the inclusion of the descriptor “commercial” to add clarity to the distinction between interior design and certified interior design seems to have helped in their effort to pursue ID licensure.

For whatever reason the Ohio ID coalition chose not to pursue this title strategy.  Which leads me to our first look at the opposition.


Feel free to read the letters on record here….or just jump ahead to my summary;

Louise Budde, CMKBD

Mark Kresge, CKD, MCR, CRPM

Bill Darcy, CEO NKBA

As pointed out previously whenever legislation proposes to regulate “interior design” the Kitchen and Bath crowd is front and center in voicing their opposition.  In this case it seems that Rep. Pelanda tried to assuage their concerns but of course not to their liking as Louise Budde, CMKBD states;

“While my colleagues and I recognize and appreciate that this legislation regulating interior designers is voluntary, kitchen and bath designers have been harmed in other states where such legislation has passed. Therefore, we request explicit assurance that we are not required to register as certified interior designers and that our current work practices will not be limited by this bill.”

Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, long time opponents to any ID legislation, actually offers a point of conciliation;

“NKBA requests the Committee adopt a simple clarifying amendment to the legislation, consistent with the Sponsor’s stated intent, that would satisfy our Ohio members’ concern about the negative impact the bill will have on their businesses and profession. We propose the amendment create the following definition of “kitchen and bath designer” for the purposes of this act, and that the term “other design professional” be replaced with “kitchen and bath designer.”

“Kitchen and bath designer” means a person engaged in the design of safe and
functional kitchen and bath spaces and in the specification of products for kitchen and bath areas.

With this amendment, NKBA is prepared to move from a position of opposition to a position of neutral on the legislation.”

The take away here is that these concerns from the K&B community point out the importance of ID bill language and how others see it.  Despite the effort to exclude them they clearly feel infringed upon by HB 504.  However, what Mr. Darcy and his influential constituents fail to acknowledge is that the vast majority of kitchen and bath work is done in single family homes, a scope of design work that is rarely regulated.  Let me repeat!  The vast majority of K&B work is not regulated. However, if local codes and ordinances do require a permit for such work, generally a licensed contractor can pull a permit that covers the scope of the K&B designers work.  In other words, regardless of the words used, they simply do not have a dog in this hunt.  If a NKBA member wishes to pull permits for their design work they can contract with a licensed Architect…but they will have to get in line behind Ohio’s certified interior designers.

Point being…if we choose our words carefully we can eliminate this aspect of the opposition.  Properly defining code-regulated interior design service and being consistent with “certified” or “commercial” interior design is a start.

Now on the other opposition front is the American Institute of Architects who do have a large dog in our hunt for practice rights.  A really big dog.



Here are the letters of record from the architecture side of the equation;

Karen Planet, AIA

Timothy Hawk, FAIA

Laurie Gunzelman, AIA

Robert Loversidge, AIA

This is the best representation of AIA opposition I have seen in a while. There is a lot to process here but fortunately for you, I have distilled their opposition down to 3 points of contention.

Karen Planet touches on two points here ;

“I would like to respectfully ask this Committee whether the proponents have met the burden of showing the direct harm the unregulated practice of interior design poses to the citizens of Ohio.  Have you been provided actual evidence of present, significant, and substantiated harm to consumers in Ohio? This is the only basis for the regulation of an occupation. When regulation is deemed necessary, great lengths should be taken to ensure that the licensing board created to govern the occupation focuses on consumer protection, not economic protectionism. The state of Ohio should not be enacting new occupational regulations and expending state resources in order to help create and expand the opportunities of a small group of individuals to help elevate their status.”

Ahhh yes the old burden of proof argument.  Note she did clarify that we are obligated to provide legal precedent that the UNregulated practice of interior design is rife with safety related lawsuits.  Unfortunately for Ms. Planet it is the regulated practice of interior design that we are talking about here…..and it is regulated for a reason. Tricky semantics me thinks.

She also urges the Ohio legislature not to expand opportunities for qualified and certified interior designers who are well qualified to legally own their limited scope of interior design work.  The implication being that only licensed architects and contractors can own this work.  Seems like the ultimate example of “economic protectionism” to me.  Careful what you argue for Ms. Planet.

Finally it is Timothy Hawk who reiterates the national AIA’s position that Architects are the only profession so qualified to legally own the design of code regulated interior space regardless of scope, newly built or renovation of existing space.

“All of the many, complex systems that exist in a building are interwoven, and the architect is the responsible professional who takes comprehensive responsibility. It is simply not possible to isolate a portion of a building as if one aspect doesn’t impact everything else and can be safely considered independent of all other elements.”

Good grief.  This continent (yeah that’s right- the entire freaking continent) is chock full of speculative office, retail and hospitality space in which certified interior designers whose expertise lies in the design of code compliant space while closely coordinating its interface with building systems create construction documents entirely independent of an architect.  That is until those drawings must be signed and sealed by a licensed design professional in order to get constructed.  What that means is that a highly qualified interior design professional, unless working in one of the few jurisdictions that grants permits to licensed ID’ers, must surrender his, or her, work to a registered design professional…typically an architect.   I will let you in on a dirty little secret…many of these licensed architects did not participate in the creation of these construction documents which is technically required.  At best they give them a cursory review to make sure the occupants will not be doomed. Yes I understand that is ultimately the firm that is liable and many architects are happy to keep certified interior designers under their umbrella….or thumb depending on your perspective…I digress.   This is just one example of this professional charade that I know occurs regularly across the U.S.  Of course we cannot frame our argument in this manner but you get my point.  Most certified interior designers have resigned themselves to this fact and really do not consider how this limits their career potential.  Obviously the interior designers in Mr. Hawk’s firm have not fully consider the career limits he has tacitly placed on them in his letter.

Getting back on point.  The AIA is clearly taking a protectionist stance here.  It is time to call their hand.  Apart from consistent language regarding “code-regulated”, “certified” or “commercial” interior design we also have to present a consistent depiction of our scope of work which will help dispel the architects argument, concisely stated by Mr. Hawk that;

“………….the language in this bill is problematic because it is nearly impossible to carve out the interior of the building and separate it from the rest of the building.”

Well the cynic in me responds;

“How hard is to understand that the interior of the building is on the inside of the architecture?”

But I do agree with him to a point.  While the line between interior space and base building structure and life safety systems is challenging to define it is not impossible.  We just have to be mindful of how we present this demarcation and we need to be consistent when including it in all ID legislation.

So we are down to the 3rd arm of our opposition triumvirate.  Unfortunately it is us.   Whaaaaat? you say.


Many of us think the U.S. is over-regulated and those of us who invest time and energy into pursuing certified interior design legislation have an increasingly hard sell in this regard.  The press is full of anti-regulation sentiment and I have addressed this hurdle many times in previous posts.   The following letter of interest sums up the anti-regulation contingent’s concerns- quite succinctly I must add;

Greg Lawson, The Buckeye Institute

Unfortunately I do not have a pithy response or recommended work around for this larger political concern. We just have to focus this licensure thing into a right to work effort that will expand opportunity and consumer choice. Work which we are well qualified to perform.

Suffice it to say that if we are going to overcome these points of opposition we have to be much more strategic, painfully consistent, and unified in how we describe our abilities and our rightful scope of work.

P.S. Just in case you do not agree with me that “interior design” does not apply to what we do, and how we do it, I offer this tidbit of societal perception.  This is why we need to stop trying to regulate “interior design”;


2 responses to “Code Regulated Interior Design Forecast: Dim With A Chance Of Deregulation”

  1. Micene Fontaine Avatar
    Micene Fontaine

    Always interesting to read your thoughts on the matter. Thank you for keep on eye on all these moving pieces and for keeping us posted.


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