Commercial vs Residential Interior Design: What's the Difference?

Considering a career in interior design, and wondering what types of spaces you'll help create? Or how residential buildings differ from commercial structures, in terms of design challenges and goals?

Both types of design involve collaborating closely with architects, construction and contracting professionals—and follow similar stages of development and construction. However, when it comes to function, usability, and client requirements, these two fields of design are quite different!

In this post, we look more closely at those differences, and the distinct creative and technical talents you'll need to pursue either career path.

Residential Interior Design: meeting personal needs

As the name suggests, residential design focuses on living spaces. Single dwelling homes, apartments, condominiums, cottages, large estates, and everything in between.

Interior designers who specialize in this area work closely with clients to ensure the home reflects their personality, preferences, and lifestyle (as well as meeting safety standards and building codes).

Space within the home is carefully mapped out to meet the needs of daily life. Residential interior designers may even specialize in a particular area of the home, such as the kitchen, bathroom, home office, or custom appliance design.

You'll have a hand in selecting and designing a wide range of elements, including ceilings, wall and window placement, lighting, technology needs, trim work, appliances, exteriors and landscapes, and much more.

And as eco-friendliness becomes increasingly popular in residential design, you will likely find yourself sourcing many "green" building materials, and incorporating ways to save energy, water, and other valuable resources into your interior and exterior design proposals.

Take a look here for 5 of the most popular green building materials right now.

Commercial Interior Design: working with public spaces

Commercial design encompasses a very wide range of structures: stores, restaurants, banks, bars, hotels, offices, cruise ships, shopping malls, etc. Within this category of design, you also have cultural institutions, such as museums—and government or private institutions, such as hospitals.

Commercial design is far more diverse than residential design, and offers many different "niches" in which to specialize. Each type of building—from boutique to library to courthouse—has its own distinct functional requirements and goals.

For example, restaurants and retail spaces must meet marketing needs. This often means integrating branding colours, creating strategic areas for product displays, and integrating eye-catching elements to attract interest and encourage spending.

A hospital, on the other hand, will need elevators, cafeterias, sterile environments, extended parking options, and a host of other functional elements aimed at serving the needs of patients and health care professionals.

In general, commercial interior design takes into account the needs of the public—as well as the specific goals of the client. Structures are larger, and typically far more complex than personal living spaces.

What do residential and commercial design have in common?

Some designers work in both residential and commercial design.  Both applications demand the same, foundation skillset—the theory and technical skills taught in interior design training. These competencies include:

Precision sketching: to develop and share plans for interior architecture, furnishings, textiles, finishes, etc.

Digital imaging: to enhance and "bring to life" hand-drawn concepts with tools like Photoshop, and by applying  photo-retouching, scanning, special effects, filters, and masks.

Computer-aided-design (CAD): to create two dimensional floor plans, and for drawing, editing, and view manipulation 

3D modelling programs: to create 3 dimensional drawings, life-like environments, and digital "walk throughs", typically used for client presentations and personal portfolios

Building codes: thorough knowledge of provincial and national building codes to ensure structures are compliant, and safe for use

Communication: the ability to create and adapt designs based on client needs, and coordinate with architects, engineers, and construction professionals to bring concepts to life.

Interested in learning more about starting an interior design career? Looking for a top-rated interior design school in Montreal?

Consider Herzing's Interior Design Training Program, which takes just 18 months to complete, and includes an 8-week internship.

Visit the program page to see a complete list of courses, get admission information, browse career paths—or chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!

Learn More about Interior Design Training at Herzing

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