Starting an Interior Design Business in Canada

by Thom Tracy

3 min read

Impeccable taste and an eye for colour serve the aspiring interior designer well, but you need more than raw talent to be an interior designer in Canada. You must become certified, manage the business side, and grow your customer base.

Licences

Indoor spaces can have a major effect on the health, safety, and overall well-being of the occupants, so before putting out a shingle, the budding interior designer first must demonstrate a level of knowledge and expertise by completing the Three Es: education, experience, and examination.

Education

As of January 2017, you must complete a four-year undergraduate program at an institution approved by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation in every province but Québec. While the Interior Designers of Canada sets national requirements, nine regional divisions set regulations at the provincial level, so it’s a good idea to check with the organization’s website to find your local governing body for the information you need for qualifying institutions and other requirements in your province.

Experience

Before you can operate under your own licence, you must complete 3,520 hours of supervised work experience, and at least half of those hours must occur after you graduate from your accredited program. To get full credit for your internship hours, your supervisor must either be registered with a provincial association, a licenced architect with interior design experience, or have successfully passed the national qualification exam.

Examination

You must pass all three sections of the Council for Interior Design Qualifications certification test. You can take the first section, a 100-question written test, any time after your graduate, but the other two sections, a 150-question multiple choice test and a day-long comprehensive practical exam, are only available once you complete your work experience. Once you pass your exam, you’re well on your way to building your own dream design business.

Growing Your Business Through Social Media

Once you have your licence, you still need customers. For years, building a client base involved starting small and slowly building your network through hard work and word of mouth. There was no easy way to get your work noticed. As of 2017, there’s a thriving social media community focused around interior design on sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram, each offering an unprecedented opportunity to bring attention to your design skills without begging your friends and family to let you renovate their living rooms. Canadian interior designer Shannon Acheson of AKA Design first planted the seeds for her business when she began blogging about renovating her own 70 year-old home. By using her own home as her canvas, she was able to hone her skills and advertise her work without having to find clients first. By documenting her own projects and results in her DIY blog, she was able to build a following that she channeled into a thriving interior design business.

Building Your Brand

Like any business, it’s important to create an identifiable brand by focusing on your strengths. Whether you have a thing for shabby chic or a flair for cozy country interiors, focusing your design efforts helps you create a reputation for your unique design aesthetic. Having a clear focus also helps you improve your specific skills and build a reliable network of suppliers and other professional resources in your areas of expertise.

Keep Everything in Writing

It’s easy to get swept away in paint samples and fabric swatches, but running an interior design business isn’t all artistic choices. You also have to negotiate rates, draw contracts, and manage a range of suppliers, tradesmen, and other vendors. Using software tools, such as an accounting program, and writing down every agreement protects everyone involved and helps you keep costs and project scopes under control. Starting a new business can be intimidating, but if you take each step one at a time, through the Three Es, growing a customer base, and managing the day-to-day operations, your dream of an interior design business is within reach.

References & Resources

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