What Is Commercial Interior Design?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Commercial interior design is the process of creating and overseeing the construction or renovation of a commercial space. Involving much more than simply decorating the interior of the space, commercial design will address such issues as the choice of building materials, the layout and placement of interior walls, plumbing and power systems, and even coordinating communications with construction professionals, owners, and service providers. This level of interior design requires the interior designer to have a solid working knowledge of architecture, as well as a sense for creating functional and attractive settings within the space.

Commercial interior design includes the design of office buildings, individual offices and executive suites.
Commercial interior design includes the design of office buildings, individual offices and executive suites.

Interior designers who specialize in commercial interior design often work with clients to develop a plan that begins with the actual construction or renovation of the building. This first segment of the process is often referred to as field verification. Essentially, this step has to do with taking measurements at the work site to determine the exact dimensions of the existing building shell or to determine the measurements for the building that will be constructed. At the same time, ideas about ceiling and lighting options will begin to emerge, as well as ideas about how to best arrange the interior space to meet the needs of the client.

Some interior design stores specialize in minimalist yet comfortable furniture and accessories.
Some interior design stores specialize in minimalist yet comfortable furniture and accessories.

This data is then used to prepare schematics that reflect the current conditions of the building site. Known in commercial interior design as the “as-built” or “as-is” drawings, these basic plans are plotted according to scale, and will be invaluable in developing the ideas for arranging the major construction elements of the interior space. In a sense, creating these starter plans forms the basis for the entire interior design project.

With a working knowledge of how things are currently set up, it is possible to begin planning the future condition of the space. Here, interior designers will begin to adapt the existing floor plan to a new scheme that may involve using some of the existing elements, while doing away with others, and adding new touches and new architecture. This initial space planning is one area in which the designer must understand architectural design in order to make these changes. In addition, a firm grasp of local building codes will also help expedite the planning procedure.

Once the final plans are drafted and accepted, many commercial interior designs will get to work handling the preliminary details for the client. This can include obtaining any necessary building permits, communicating with any current tenants of the building, and arranging the contracts with plumbers, electricians, and construction professionals. Throughout the project, the designer will remain in communication with everyone involved with the project, making sure progress is consistent and any issues are addressed in timely manner.

Commercial interior design can be used to create office buildings, manufacturing plants, and even apartment complexes with equal proficiency. Designers are able to create a pleasing bedroom interior design with the same ease as creating an executive office suite. Designers who choose to work in interior design often find the work challenging, but extremely rewarding, both in terms of personal satisfaction and monetary compensation.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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For those of you looking to be a commercial interior designer, here are a few suggestions from a fellow commercial interior designer.

1) Important: Go to an *accredited* school. A list can be found at the Council For Interior Design Accreditation.

Why? So you can learn the language of architecture, building codes, fire/life safety codes, and ADA codes. Knowledge of these are needed to build an interior that will meet city codes. You also learn about graphics, packaging, and furniture design - all of which are critical when asked to design around a product. Ex. La-Z-Boy hired a design firm to design a chair targeted to women.

Also, so your college degree will be worth something.

2) Become a Registered Interior Designer through the National Council Of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). Why? So you can get the best jobs. The best architecture and interior design firms require it.

Why? So you can demand the best clients if you're self-employed. The best commercial clients are educated about your field.

3)Good to know: Commercial designers work in every industry. Here is a small list that sums up the larger ones: Health care (hospitals, assisted living, etc.); corporate (business offices); hospitality (hotels, restaurants, etc.); merchandising (retail store planning); residential (apartments, condos, etc.)

I hope this information helps someone to start on a firm foundation. Good luck!


Thanks for this article -- I thought it gave a really clear, concise description of what is involved in commercial interior designing, and gave me great insight into commercial interior design firms.

Nicely done.


Can anybody tell me of a good, reputable commercial interior design program from an online interior design school?

I really want to get into doing home and commercial interior design, but I'm not sure where to start -- can anybody help me out?


Now I'm sure there are a lot of good commercial interior designers out there, but you wouldn't know it to look at some of those little boxy offices with cubicles shoehorned into every square foot of space.

I know that there's only so much that even the best commercial interior design companies can do, and I know that the employers have a say in how things get put together too, but seriously -- please think about the people that have to spend 8 hours a day stuck in those little rooms.

Help us out, commercial interior designers!

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