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The Case Against Deregulating Professional Interior Design

The Case Against Florida House Bill 1193 and Senate Bill 474

(Deregulation of Professions and Occupations)

Currently there are bills filed in both the Florida House and Senate seeking to deregulate several professions and occupations each requiring their own individual analysis. I’ll just focus on the Professional Practice of Interior Design. Florida, like 28 other states and jurisdictions, regulates the profession of commercial interior design. This would be a very short-sighted, and possibly grave mistake.

A common misconception is that professional interior designers only pick furniture and choose fabrics and paint colors, like the decorators seen on television. While it is true that an interior designer can create a space that looks aesthetically pleasing, Florida Registered Interior Designers do much more than the general public realizes.

To clarify, one does not need a professional license to practice residential interior design. The regulated aspect is only applicable to the practice of interior design in the building code-impacted scope of public and commercial spaces. Interior design licensing does not preclude anyone pursuing work as a residential interior designer or decorator.

Professional interior designers draft interior construction documents for hotels, places of worship, convention centers, airports, office spaces, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and countless other commercial spaces where significant numbers of the public meet, work, and live. These licensed interior designers affect several construction and design elements that impact the health, safety, and welfare of the public including:

  • Means of egress, space planning, and safe wayfinding;

  • Occupancy calculations;

  • Identification, movement, removal, and/or construction of non-loadbearing interior walls and partitions;

  • the selection of finishes, fixtures, building equipment, and materials that contribute to good health, healing, and well-being;

  • Designing for the aged;

  • Accessibility for the physically disabled in conformance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal, state, and local laws;

  • and many more areas that impact the occupants’ well-being and safety.

Why is this so Important in Florida?

Florida Registered Interior Designers have comprehensive knowledge of building codes. Our building codes were not written “willy-nilly” to create red tape and bureaucracy. The building codes came about because there was an unfortunate incident that required an enforceable code to protect the public from harm.

Florida is a state with a booming economy heavily reliant on tourism, with more than 422,997 hotel and motel rooms over 4,518 properties. These include facilities for year-round or seasonal mixed-use properties with sleeping rooms, restaurants, stores, banquet facilities, meeting spaces, and other areas frequented by tourists and hospitality industry employees.

One of the largest hotel fires in U.S. history occurred on Friday, November 21, 1980 at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Nevada. The fire killed 85 people, most through smoke inhalation, and 650 were injured. The fire spread to the lobby, fed by wallpaper, PVC piping, glue, and plastic mirrors. It spread across the areas of the casino, in which no fire sprinklers were installed, at a speed of 15–19 feet per second. From the time the fire was noticed, it took six minutes for the entire building to be fully engulfed. It was out of this tragic event that many of our fire codes were established.

Additionally, Florida is home to a growing number of retirees and seniors, with 685 nursing homes and more than 3,089 licensed assisted living facilities. These properties, if not adequately designed to prevent accidents, could result in injury or fatality. Sensory and cognitive changes in aging affect orientation and wayfinding, as well as how the physical aspects of the environment can accommodate these changes to reduce confusion and disorientation.

Schools and other public buildings need to be designed to shelter evacuees from hurricanes and new safety protocols must be implemented to protect building occupants with an ever-changing culture. These are just a few examples for why having registered interior designers qualified by the State with proper code knowledge to design such interior environments is critical for Florida’s public safety and economic infrastructure.

The Florida Building Code, local building codes, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, are part of the knowledge base of the licensed commercial interior designer. These codes must be part of the consideration of every element that the professional designer specifies for the interior space which may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Does the floor finish meet the proper slip resistance?

  • Is there an unfettered path to egress?

  • Is the corridor the correct width based on the occupancy load?

  • Does the lighting meet energy load requirements?

  • Do the wall and ceiling materials meet flame and smoke performance?

  • Is the grab bar installed at the correct height?

  • Are there obstructions in the corridor that may impede those who are sight impaired?

This is just some of the critical knowledge that the professional interior designer has in order to protect the safety of the building occupants and why government-issued professional and occupational licenses are issued to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

The economic impact doesn’t just stop at the public level, but deregulation will also impact small businesses in Florida. Florida Registered Interior Designers under current Florida Statute can sign and seal their own non-structural drawings for construction permitting. Deregulation of the profession would mean that the interior designer would then need to partner with a licensed architect or an engineer to review, sign, and seal our drawings for construction permitting. This is an Achilles heel for the independent registered interior designer who may not be under the employ of an architectural firm. This would also be at an additional cost to the consumer because the client would now have to pay for two design professionals instead of one. Deregulation of the Interior Design Profession would take away the ability to perform work independently and places additional burden on these small businesses which are primarily owned and operated by women.

I, for one, do not wish to put the “free market” to the test when it comes to fire and other disasters to dictate the safety within our built environment. To have persons qualified by education, experience, examination, and then licensed through a governmental agency gives consumers confidence in the professionals with whom they are contracting. It also gives them an avenue for recourse when there has been consumer harm. Fair and efficient regulation is a component that is not meant to keep people from working, but an assurance to the public of qualified professional practitioners.

Holly Dennis, ASID, NCIDQ, AIA Allied

FL Lic# ID5707

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