Interior with exposed beams, clerestory windows, frame display, waiting area

Architects, Designers, Interior Designers

Designers and Architects

Architects, Designers, Interior Designers. What does the one do that the others does not? If I hire an architect to design my building, might I also have to hire a designer to design, say, the kitchen?


The term “architect” has a protected use in many states. It means someone who is licensed to practice…architecture. States have an interest in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the general public. Demonstrated competence in building design regarding health, safety and welfare is the distinguishing legal feature of an architect. States, including Maine, limit the ability of unlicensed building designers to call themselves architects.

Generally speaking, the State of Maine requires commercial and public buildings to be designed by licensed design professionals, such as architects. Certain buildings, such as residences, are exemptt. “Architect,” then, is a legal term.


The word “designer” is not protected in its use. Anyone can call themselves a designer. Many architects, myself included, called themselves designers prior to becoming licensed. Projects not affecting a building’s safety do not require a licensed architect. They simply need a competent designer.

“Designer” is also a specific role in the practice of architecture. All good design is cohesive; the parts respond to a singular vision that knits the project together. The designer is responsible for having and executing that vision. The person doing the code research or writing specifications is not the designer. They are part of the design team, doing other tasks.

Core and Shell

“Core and Shell” refers to the basic components that define the building: it’s envelope, structure and circulation. Core and shell design is almost exclusively the domain of architects. To the extent that a building is a container, core and shell refers to that container’s defining features.

Interior Designer

People sometimes conflate the terms “designer” and “interior designer.” Whereas an architectural vision is frequently a vision for a core and shell, interior design is about a vision for features which are directly visible and relatable to occupants. These include finish materials for floors, walls and ceilings. It also includes cabinetry, interior partitions (not associated with structure or life safety), and lighting. It is a vision of the building’s interior, directly affecting the use and experience of the building from the interior. If core and shell design is about bringing cohesion to a building’s function as a container, interior design means bringing cohesion to everything in that container.

The term is not protected to the extent “architect” is protected. However, many states license interior designers. They pass a test to prove competency.

Architecture and Interiors

In smaller offices working in more rural areas (such as eastern Maine), most commercial space is designed by architects; there simply are not that many interior designers around.

Sealander Architects has two licensed architects. I concentrate on the core and shell components of building design. My partner concentrates on interiors portions. The division of labor makes sense, since there is plenty to know about the core and shell side, and there is plenty to know about the interiors side. We enjoy having competency in both core and shell and interiors portions of the design. There is no clear demarcation over where I stop and she starts. In fact, our work style has me being her critic, and she being mine. The design of buildings is a team effort.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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