The Profession

Interior architect

1. What is an interior architect ?

The interior architect is a building professional, concerned with the living environment in which people will evolve. He generally works on the interior of buildings, old or new, for private individuals or companies. He may thus be required to collaborate with a construction architect (called HMONP(1) in France) or a civil engineer (as in Portugal) and, possibly, a designer or decorator.

The role of the interior architect(2) is to rework the volumes, restructure the space, reconsider the circulation and develop a mode of use in line with their use at a given moment.

The role of the interior architect is also to transform technical constraints into assets and thus find the best solutions to optimise square metres and reduce wasted space (in relation to the purpose of the place). It also means taking into consideration luminosity, acoustics, ventilation systems and choice of materials so that the whole project is coherent and harmonious. The spaces thus treated must become more fluid and functional, more comfortable and pleasant to live in.

Initial training

Interior architects follow a five-year course of study (1st and 2nd cycles including professional internships) which validates artistic, technical and regulatory skills. The training courses include, among other things, plastic research, mastery of design and digital representation tools, knowledge of building law and legislation and mastery of foreign languages.

The interior architect can now develop his thinking, his knowledge and his method by relying on a higher education in “applied arts”, unique in its kind, thanks to the training, then the certification, given by the CFAI(3).

(1) HMONP = Habilité à la maîtrise d’œuvre en son nom propre (Authorised to carry out project management on its own behalf)
(2) See § 4
(3) (“Conseil Français des Architectes d’Intérieur”, or “French Council of Interior Architects”)

2. Framework for intervention

Creating a space within the built environment means respecting the architecture by bringing it to completion. It means analysing the constraints of a building on a different scale from that of the architect: that of the individual. But it also means enhancing its use over a particular period of time : that of the moment.

Thus, the interior architect, at the heart of architecture, identifies the territories and defines the trajectories taken by the human being. Capable of designing an intelligent space, of tackling problems of image or atmosphere, as well as solving the detail of the junction between two materials, he is a versatile creator who ensures the project management of his creations.

Located upstream of the decorator’s or designer’s services, but often joining them at the end of the process, the activity of the interior architect covers, in addition to the fitting out of space, very varied fields : from product or furniture design, to graphic design and signage, via textile design or the study of colour, it is their priority relationship to space that unites all these disciplines.

3. Why call upon an interior architect ?

The interior architect’s first role is to advise his client in order to help him imagine his future living environment and to avoid mistakes that will only become apparent once he is settled.

He accompanies, in a way, his client to help him target his needs and express his wishes in order to concretise them as closely as possible to his expectations.

Another advantage of the interior architect’s intervention is that, in the long run, the client will spend less and save time.

It is important to know that in France, the interior designer also has the necessary skills and insurance for a ten-year guarantee.

While in France, the interior architect is entitled to intervene in the structure of a building, create a stairway between two levels or knock down a load-bearing wall, unlike a decorator who can only intervene in the finishing of horizontal or vertical supports, in Portugal, the administration is more restrictive.

In fact, the interior architect must comply with certain regulatory requirements, such as obtaining prior authorisation from the town hall for specific interventions.

However, in the case of more substantial work (load-bearing walls, interior staircases, fitting out roof space, relocation and complete renovation of water rooms, etc.), he or she will have to call on the services of a civil engineer or an architectural firm to apply for a building permit.

In this respect, the interior architect may have to work not only in a multidisciplinary team, but also in collaboration with architects, engineers and decorators.

His artistic ability and technical knowledge enable him to accompany his client from the sketch phase to the completion of the project, assuming, if necessary and depending on the case, the monitoring of the building site.

It is a professional who is, in a way, mandated by his client to defend his interests, in the face of external stakeholders, and to help him carry out the project.

4. Key stages of an assignment

Before submitting a project to an interior architect, the client (the “client”) will first have drawn up a programme and defined his budget.

The typical assignment of an interior architect is divided into 2 main phases :


The design process is itself divided into several stages that allow for a more and more detailed technical definition of the project :

Preliminary design
Final preliminary design
General design project

During this Design phase, the interior architect will check that the means given by his client are in conformity and sufficient to bring the project to completion.

Occasionally, the interior architect’s mission may be limited to the creation-design phase.

The Execution includes :

Preparation of the consultation file of the work companies
Assistance with works contracts
Management of the works
Assistance with the acceptance of the work

The mission of the interior architect ends when the reservations formulated at the time of the reception are lifted.

The interior architect can also be called upon to provide advice and artistic direction, by mutual agreement according to the objectives and means.

The interior architect profession

In Europe

Although the profession of interior architect is known, recognised and structured in almost all the countries of the European Union, it is not yet so in Portugal.

Thus, in Portugal, the specificity of the profession of interior architect is not officially defined and there is no training for it. It is often wrongly equated with the function of interior decorator or designer.

However, in France, as mentioned above, the profession is certified, after training, by professional associations such as the CFAI, the UNAID, etc.

In Europe, it is certified by the ECIA, with the exception of Portugal.

“ECIA (European Council of Interior Architects) is an European platform to represent and promote the qualified profession of interior architects/designers.”

It brings together the following member countries : Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

ECIA provides the foundation for excellence in the interior architecture profession by setting standards for education and training. The aim of an Interior Architecture teaching program is to develop the student’s sensibilities, knowledge, intellect and skills, all of which should be fused into the ability to design and plan interior space. The inevitable division of a program into areas of knowledge and the subdivision into courses, subjects or topics carries the risk of a fragmentation of the program into separate entities in which the individual outlook and paradigms of teachers of different specialization and background prevails. An Interior Architecture course should be organized in such a way that individual teaching subjects and research activities become interdependent and interwoven.

In the European Charter of Interior Architecture Training the route to acquire the appropriate knowledge and experience has been clarified with the introduction of a three part training structure.

The combination of ‘education’ and ‘practice’ is referred to ‘training’, used to describe the full competence of an Interior Architect gained through both education and practice (revision of the Charter, 2013).

Interior Architecture training should ensure that qualified practitioners have proper professional competence in Interior Architecture, including knowledge of technical systems and requirements as well as consideration of health, safety and ecological balance ; that they understand the cultural, intellectual, historical, social, economic and environmental context of Interior Architecture ; and that they comprehend and complet the Interior Architects role and responsibility in society.

See details of the ECIA on the website :