Architecture & Design and Focus

State’s design industry struggles with lack of certification

September 4, 2015
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It was a grueling, three-day examination process that Autumn Fuchs wasn’t required to put herself through.

Michigan is one of 24 states that do not require interior designers to take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam to become professionally registered, but Fuchs, the owner of Grand Rapids-based residential interior design company Fuchsia Design, didn’t care.

She wanted the distinction and took the exam in September 2014.

“In some ways it’s a bad thing (that Michigan doesn’t require it) because anyone can call themselves an interior designer. If you wanted, tomorrow you could wake up and make a business card and just say, ‘I’m an interior designer,’” she said.

“In an industry where there’s a lot of competition, it’s important to me that I do everything to stand out. And working in the high-end design industry, it should be important to clients that the interior designer is just as qualified to do the job as the architect or contractor.”

Fuchs’ company, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, specializes in new construction and deep renovations. Before branching out on her own, she worked as a design associate at Jeffrey Roberts Design and as an interior designer at Stone’s Throw Living.

Fuchs received a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Central Michigan University.

She said it was important to her career that she be NCIDQ certified.

“I’ve been in the design industry for about five years now, and it was always a goal of mine to have my own interior design company. In the design world, it’s equal parts what you’re able to design and your creativity and skill set, but also finding the right people you trust who can execute those designs,” she said.

“Starting a business is like holding on to a ledge. You’ve just got to let go and trust you’re going to land on your feet. Hitting that one-year mark for me was really a big sense of accomplishment. I felt like I could breathe for a little bit.”

It took Fuchs about eight months to prepare for the NCIDQ exam. She started studying in February of last year, received her approval that May, and then dedicated the entire summer to studying for it, taking time every night and weekend to prepare.

“In order to even be qualified to take the exam, I graduated from an accredited interior design school. I had to log 3,520 hours under a licensed designer,” she said. “After having done that, I could apply to take the exam. It’s similar to applying for college. There’s an application.”

The NCIDQ exam starts with a 10-hour drafting exam.

“Here are the seven exercises in the drafting exam: space planning, lighting design, egress, life safety (emergency lighting, smoke detectors and fire ratings), restroom design, custom millwork, and systems integration where you receive mechanical, electrical, plumbing and lighting plans and must identify eight conflicts among them and then recommend solutions,” she said.

“While taking the exam, one must take into account ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines, building codes and sustainable design and know how to properly integrate those requirements in order to pass.”

She said the process was draining.

“It was terrible. It’s a very stressful exam,” she said. “It’s been compared to (medical) board exams.”

Last December, she learned she had passed.

Now that she’s received her certification, she’s confident the quality of her work will grow, as will her business.

“For me, it’s important that I’m building relationships with builders and professionals in the industry,” she said. “Now that I’ve passed my exam, they can trust the work done in our office. In the high-end market, this should be something that’s important to builders — that they should be able to trust their designers.”

Fuchs is conflicted as to whether Michigan should change its ruling and require all interior designers to be NCIDQ certified. She sees both sides of it.

“I know there’s a lot of talented interior designers that have not passed the exam, so it’s hard for me to say they should be required because then they wouldn’t be able to practice. But I do think there’s a lot to be said for a designer to take the initiative to take the exam when it’s not required,” she said.

“To me, it’s not important that it’s required or not. Taking it for myself is what’s important.”

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