Watch Out for that Pillow, Wall Street Journal

Watch Out for That Pillow

April 1, 2008; Page A17

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design, completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing exam. And by the way, it is criminally misleading for people who practice interior design to use that term without government permission.

You might stare at them incredulously for a moment, then look down at your calendar and say, “Oh, I get it — April Fool!” Right? Wrong.

These folks represent the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), an industry group whose members have waged a 30-year, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois, where ASID and its local affiliates have peddled their snake-oil mantra that “Every decision an interior designer makes affects life safety and quality of life.”

Legislative analysis by a half-dozen states that rebuffed ASID’s attempts to cartelize interior design — including Colorado, Washington and South Carolina — has failed to support ASID’s claim that the location of your couch or the color of your bedroom walls is literally a matter of life and death. As the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies put it, there is “no evidence of physical or financial harm being caused to . . . consumers by the unregulated practice of interior designers.”

Lacking any factual support for its sweeping public welfare claims, ASID and its supporters often resort to fear-mongering. For example, licensing proponents frequently say the tragic fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas that killed 87 people in 1980 was the result of inappropriate fixtures and furnishings.

The fire was actually caused by an electrical fault and allowed to spread by a grossly inadequate sprinkler system. Investigators later identified 83 different building code violations. Another favorite is the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, in which 100 people perished. Again, that tragedy had nothing to with substandard interior design services. It was caused by an illegal indoor fireworks display and the absence of a code-mandated sprinkler system.

If there were any credible evidence that unregulated interior design presents a genuine risk to consumers, ASID would certainly have found it by now. They have had plenty of time (more than three decades), resources (dues for ASID’s 40,000 members average several hundred dollars per year), and incentive. Furthermore, despite ASID’s best efforts, only three states regulate the practice of interior design. That leaves 47 (including California and New York) where the ravages of unlicensed interior design could be easily documented — if there were any.

So what is really behind ASID’s relentless push for more regulation? Simple: naked economic protectionism.

It is no accident that the credentials required for licensure in ASID-backed occupational licensing bills are the same credentials required for membership in ASID itself. This includes a four-year degree from an accredited interior design college, a two-year apprenticeship, and a two-day, thousand-dollar licensing exam so irrelevant to the actual practice of interior design that many ASID members have never bothered to pass it themselves and simply get a waiver instead.

In vetoing interior design legislation last May, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels explained that the “principal effect” of the law would have been “to restrain competition and limit new entrants into the occupation.” Mr. Daniels noted that interior designers were “hardly the only profession” seeking government protection from potential competitors.

The numbers certainly bear him out. Fifty years ago, only 5% of the American workforce was licensed; today it is nearly 30%. We’re not talking about brain surgeons or airline pilots, either. Louisiana requires florists to be licensed (yes, florists), and in several states — including Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia — only licensed funeral directors may sell caskets, a state-sanctioned monopoly they use to jack up prices anywhere from 400% to 600%, a fact established in litigation by the Institute for Justice in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Until it was struck down by the state supreme court last year, Alabama’s interior design law made it a crime to offer advice about throw pillows and paint colors without a license. To anyone who thinks that law — or others like it currently being pushed by interest groups like ASID in state capitols around the nation — was motivated by a genuine concern for public health and welfare, I can only say this: It’s going to be a rough day.


While interior design legislation is not the most glamorous aspect of being an interior designer, I think this article demonstrates just how important and necessary it is that we educate the public about what interior designers actually do! Ask your local IIDA Chapter how you can help!

Clark Neily is a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice.  The Institute is the main opponent against our interior design legislation.



6 responses to “Watch Out for that Pillow, Wall Street Journal

  1. I believe that Clark Neily was describing an Interior Decorator’s duties not an Interior Designer. Please learn the difference before writing such a ridiculous and un-researched article. As for many others and me, we are very thankful that there are Interior Designers that go to college and learn many federal, local, and other regulations. My grandmother lives in an assisted living home that hired an Interior Designer to make sure her health and safety was a priority, not just the color of the wall or the pattern of the pillow. These Interior Designers need to be compliant to building codes and ADA regulations. They did this by such designs as a raised toilet, handle bars, special tub, flooring to prevent slipping and falling, It is also good to know that the building was designed with materials that are harder to catch on fire and are know to not give off toxic fumes when caught on fire. The lighting was designed, knowing that elderly need more light and not just the fixture size or color but the function and reasons when and where to use them appropriately. There are great decorators out there that can help you find that perfect pillow for your couch or help choice a color of paint for your home but they are not requesting licensing. Clark Neily needs to do much more empirical research about his theories before coming up with this ridiculous hypothesis of an article!!!

  2. Interior Design Firm

    Clark Neily has done plenty of research and a lot of it can be found in their white paper called “Designing Cartels”.

    ASID is trying for a Practice Act again in California and here’s the list of OPPONENTS:

    -The Institute for Justice
    -Interior Design Society
    -Western Home Furnishings Association
    -Lumber Association of California and Nevada
    -Architects Registration Board
    -California Legislative Coalition for Interior Design
    -thousands of independent interior designers

    Students: ASID is threatening your future trying to put out of business companies that could be your future employer.

  3. legislation would not restrict interior decorators from choosing paint colors, selecting throw pillows, or placing furniture. it would restrict them from working in the code restricted world where they do not know anything about flammability, toxicity, ASTM standards, etc. it would also restrict them from doing construction documents and detailing non-loadbearing construction, etc etc which they have no experience with…..this author is way off base and is part of the problem that interior designers face….it is people like this that truly DO NOT understand the educational background of the interior designer. i’d like to ask Mr. Neily why one must pass the bar exam to be an attorney. i can read case law as good as any……(certified interior designer, new york state)

  4. Interior Design Firm

    Students need to realize that the so called “decorators” that you are trashing may be your next employer. Be careful what you ask for and really study the issues. Don’t just take what your professors, ASID & IIDA are saying at face value. The professors are only interested in promoting their own academic careers so they keep filling classrooms with tuition paying customers.

    Never mind Mr. Neily. Why are so many other trade groups including the NKBA opposed to legislation?

  5. Michael Dudek

    “Students: ASID is threatening your future trying to put out of business companies that could be your future employer”

    Fortunately my students know the difference between interior decoration and interior design. They understand that they must earn their status as a professional interior designer and in so doing they constantly hold themselves to a higher standard. Two traits of a professional that the anti-legislation group seems to think is their birthright.

    ” The professors are only interested in promoting their own academic careers so they keep filling classrooms with tuition paying customers.’

    That is absolutely hilarious……You nailed it DAMN my cover is blown.

  6. “Never mind Mr. Neily. Why are so many other trade groups including the NKBA opposed to legislation?”

    Yes thank you for allowing me the pleasure of ignoring Mr. Neily’s effort at decorator obfuscation. I am forever indebted to you and your effort…….NOT!

    The NKBA and all of the other building trade organizations that you claim as allies in your effort to deprofessionalize interior design see this as nothing but a good ole fashioned turf war. It has nothing to do with the distinction of professional skills and knowledge and it has everything to do with profit…..even though those fears are unfounded.

    Kitchen and Bath designers (NKBA certified or not) are not interior designers. Call yourself a Kitchen and Bath designers -no harm no foul. Residential re-designers are not interior designers. Call yourself a residential re-designer, or better yet redecorator-no harm no foul. Decorating den franchisees are not interior designers. Call yourself a decorator-no harm no foul. 95% of the fools parading as interior designers on HGTV are not interior designers. Call yourselves interior decorators-I still won’t watch!
    The bottom line for the anti-legislative interior designer wanna-be’s is that the rules of the game have changed and they are not happy. I understand….no really I do. The profession of interior design is upping the ante and lots of decorators have made a conscious decision to not hold themselves to a higher professional standard (education, experience and examination). This is a free country. You can choose to help us advance the profession or you are also free to start your own damn profession…I DON’T CARE! Just stop degrading mine!

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