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chris carroll melbourne interior designer in client living room with modern luxe design

The 5 Must-Have Skills You’ll Need to Work as an Interior Designer or Decorator

I’m always asked about where I studied design and how it led me to where I am today. So I thought I’d reveal all to you in this post. I’m also going to walk you through the skills you need to work as an interior designer or decorator, so you can start the journey toward living your best life too!

Since I graduated from my studies at iscd I have to admit, everything changed for the better. I often look back and think, wow – so much has happened! I started a successful home style blog, I authored a book, and I launched my own thriving design business – with staff! On top of that, I also work as a product stylist, content creator, presenter and MC, and have appeared on TV numerous times.

These pinch-me moments would never have occurred without taking that initial first step nine years ago to follow my passion for interiors. So read on as I delve into how it all happened, and how you can get started on your journey as well.

This post is produced in partnership with iscd.

black luxe sideboard from brosa with mustard armchair from horgans in chic master bedroom

1. You Should Be Breathing Design On-The-Daily

If you’re reading this post, chances are you already have this one ticked off. A passion for the industry is important if you want to work in the world of interiors. Because, trust me, after eight years working as a designer it’s that deep-down passion that keeps you going when the daily grind kicks in. And yes, there’s a lot of hard work involved.

I was working as a sub editor before I studied design, but I knew something was missing. I knew I wasn’t living my true passion. I did a complete career change at 30 and it was the best life decision I ever made. I studied while I was working, so if you’re in a similar boat, know that you can juggle both.

If you feel passionate about design but feel (understandably) fearful about switching gears, you need to push past the doubt and do it anyway. Also abandon that feeling that it’s too late to start over. It’s never too late to tap into your true calling, whether you’re 30, 40, 50 or 60!

neutral grey and white bedroom with coastal timber bedside table and grey striped bedding

2. Some Study Under Your Belt is Essential

Now, I know some people work in design having never studied design. Fine for them, but not how I’d suggest you do it. For me, study was key. I needed confidence, I needed that safety net of knowledge to fall back on. I also needed to understand how the design industry worked, because it was a world I was never exposed to.

I started with a Cert IV and then went on to study my Diploma. What I learnt during this time I’d never have learnt on-the-job in the real world. Just some of what you’ll walk away with once you graduate from your accredited course includes:

  • An understanding of colour theory, lighting, materials/finishes and furniture layouts
  • In-depth knowledge of soft furnishings, furniture and spatial design
  • Real-world essentials like project coordination, fees and scheduling
  • Confidence to source and style furniture and accessories in response to a client brief
  • The ability to produce hand drawn architectural drawings, along with client concepts
  • A portfolio of work that’s high-standard and industry-appropriate

The other bonus to keep in mind is that the study is all online, so you can easily work it around your full or part-time job, or family commitments.

formal sitting room with blue velvet armchairs and rectangle marble table globrwest

3. Technical Skills Are More Crucial Than You Think

This is the part everyone underestimates. They think design and decor is all cushion fluffing and paint selections. But believe me, the job is quite technical.

A lot of clients want you to show them the closest visualisation of what a room (or whole home) will look like when it’s finished; two-dimensional, three-dimensional, birds-eye-view, light coming in at every angle. And sometimes a simple floor plan just won’t cut it.

Thankfully, iscd equips you with all the technical knowledge you need to work in the real world once you graduate. Just some of the programs you’ll learn to master include:

  • Photoshop (great for creating mood boards and room renders)
  • inDesign (awesome tool for creating presentations and other graphics)
  • AutoCAD (the king when it comes to creating 3D visualisations of rooms)
  • Hand drafting technical skills (you’ll want these for on-the-go sketches)

Depending on which course you do, the technical deliverables will differ. If you’re looking for a career in product or property styling, for example, you may not need to use the above programs. But if you want to work as an interior designer, they’re absolutely necessary.

globewest black entry table with patterned front and large round black mirror above it

4. An Open Mind (Because Your Direction Can Change)

When I went into my studies at iscd I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do once I graduated, and you don’t need to know either. Truth is, you often get into the course and then realise where your true passion lies. And often for people it changes throughout.

I’ve had friends who went into it wanting to be designers and left with a yearning for colour consulting. Other friends were hardcore product stylists in the making, but ended up swooning over construction drawings. It can change, so be open to unlocking the possibilities.

The sort of jobs you’ll be able to undertake once you graduate include: Interior Designer, Residential Stylist, Property Stylist, Colour/Design Consultant, Magazine/Product Stylist, Surface Designer, and more. Or if you’re like me, you’ll do a mixture of all of the above.

chris carroll tlc interior designers melbourne bedroom styling

5. Hunger and Hustle (You’ll Need It)

Once you graduate the real work begins. It’s exciting, challenging, rewarding and sometimes a little daunting, all rolled into one and sometimes all at the same time.

Throughout your studies your true calling will become apparent. You’ll feel pulled in one direction more than another. My advice: listen to your gut and pursue what makes your heart happy. For example, I love design and decorating and focus my energies there. I don’t love construction, so I tend to steer clear of it.

You’ll also want to get thinking about a business name, building a website, establishing some social media accounts and looking at who you might want to approach for work experience.

Thankfully, iscd has a job board which displays potential work opportunities with a range of reputable industry partners. , So you’ll be exposed to your dream job before you even finish your course!

monochromatic living room with moody abstract art from urban road and round marble coffee table

Want to Get Started on Your Design Journey?

Why not study where I and many other successful industry pros have studied? Check out the links below for all the info you need to take the first step!

Find out more about their Certificate IV in Interior Decoration here.

Find out more about their Diploma of Interior Design here.

Got any questions for me about the design journey? Drop them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you.


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Chris

    It’s something that I think about all day, every day! Only discovered my interest for all things design in the last few years. Given that I’ll be heading into my sixties next year I feel that I have left my run a little late to start studying now.

    I’ve just recently done a beginner course in Sketchup and thought it might be one way to break into the design field. From being a member of your FB group, I see there are many people who need guidance in seeing their renovation come to fruition, and they are totally paralysed in their decision making as they can’t visualise their plans. Maybe they are not able to afford an interior designer, but might benefit from seeing their ideas presented in a 3d walkthrough. Would you agree?

    I constantly wonder how much of your own style determines if you can be successful in this field. Can “style” be taught? I suppose this is a question on everyone’s mind prior to such a career!

  2. Hi Chris,
    This is so timely! I have just completed my diploma in Interior Design through IDI at the age of 47. It’s always been my passion and I’m excited (and terrified) to start my business but it’s been great to read the 5 step process you use and your pricing etc.
    I was wondering what the online portal is that you use to present the product list to the client?

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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