Minnesota Moves to License Interior Designers

Published November 8, 2013

There’s no accounting for taste in Minnesota — unless, of course, the government says so.

Minnesota, like Florida, Louisiana and Nevada, wants to license interior designers.

Manicurists, packagers, mobile home installers and travel guides in Minnesota can’t do their jobs without a license. Neither can high school sports coaches, auctioneers, title examiners and skin-care specialists.

The designers are next on the Legislature’s palette, despite critics’ claims that licensing — by design — largely protects and benefits elite designers who work for big firms.

Minnesota already requires occupational licenses for about 130 job classifications. The trade-off for increased regulation costs Minnesotans about $3.5 billion in higher prices for products and services each year, as well as 15,000 fewer jobs, according to University of Minnesota research.

Other states mandate licenses for fortune-tellers, bartenders, music therapists, gaming cage workers, travel agents, upholsterers, shampooers and florists, for example.

Raises Unemployment and Prices

“The reality is that occupational licensing reduces employment growth, contributes to unemployment and increases costs to consumers,” said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice in written testimony at a recent House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee hearing. “The main groups that win under licensing are those who are licensed.”

State law already authorizes certification for interior designers who have at least six years’ education and experience and pass a national exam. While giving consumers a benchmark to compare designers’ qualifications, the voluntary process doesn’t prevent uncertified people from practicing interior design in public spaces.

“If this bill passes, anyone will still be able to call themselves an interior designer, but they will not be able to use the title licensed interior designer or practice licensed interior design,” said Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, a Minneapolis certified interior designer and licensing supporter. “They will still be able to practice a wide scope of interior design that does not require licensure.”

An estimated 1,100 Minnesotans call themselves interior designers, though the number of certified interior designers remains unclear. Since 1992, the responsible state board has posted just seven complaints against certified interior designers, most involving lapsed certification.

Supporters Say License Brings Respect

It’s about respect, supporters of the license say, not necessarily throw pillows and pleated drapes.

Interior designers are the only unlicensed profession lumped under the Minnesota Board of Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience and Interior Design. Moreover, supporters contend making Minnesota the fourth state to license interior designers would improve their working relationship with local building inspectors.

“They are the only group that aren’t licensed in this entire area that’s covered under the AELSLAGID professional and related fields board,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and author of House File 1052 [7]. “So Mr. Chairman, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for this group to say, we already are, we already have these abilities under the law and we think it should be a license because that’s what it rightfully should be based on this quasi group of rights that we already have.”

Certified interior designers would be grandfathered in for a $150 fee, but even established interior designers with years of experience would have to serve an internship under a certified competitor or architect to get a license.

“I still can’t call myself a certified interior designer even though I’ve passed the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam because I haven’t practiced so many hours under either an architect or another certified interior designer that has just the same qualifications as I do,” said Kelli Mickelson, owner of BrynnAlden Interiors in Cottage Grove. “So that’s one big reason I don’t agree with licensing because I think that piece of it is not justifiable to me.”

Opponents Say It’s Anti-Competition

A long list of design, interior decorators, food service and other trade groups oppose licensing on behalf of thousands of Minnesotans in the construction industry. For them, licensing amounts to anti-competitive regulation that squeezes out members’ ability to earn a living, including many who are not classified as interior designers but provide similar services.

“These are the people that design the cafeterias in hospitals, schools, nursing homes. They design restaurants, the kitchens and dining rooms. These are small biz owners with a very, very specific knowledge and education and their own certification,” Patti Morrow, president of Interior Design Protection Consulting, said at the hearing. “If you pass this bill these small biz owners will no longer be able to offer these services and you will wipe out an entire industry and for what reason?”

Licensing advocates think otherwise.

“I do not feel as an architect, as a business owner that this is any threat to existing professions, nor do I feel it redefines any professions,” said Bill Hickey, a Minneapolis architect and certified interior designer who supports licensing. “It clarifies the role of interior designers.”

Tom Steward ([email protected]) reports for Watchdog.org, where this article first appeared.