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How to be an interior decorator


We’re excited to welcome yet another expert to HomeTimes’ panel of experts in all things residential property and home-living related. Spiandi Dickson is an interior decorator with years of experience and a keen eye for style. She is a part-time lecturer at Inscape Design Company and runs her own system-driven interior design company – Cotton and Yarn Interiors.

She has this to say about her business: “At Cotton and Yarn Interiors we like to work with structure and keenly take note of attention to detail and the delivery of superb quality and customer service. To us quality and superb productivity standards are vitally important. There is a follow-up process that ensures consistency and accuracy of all aspects.  Cotton & Yarn Interiors is deadline driven and always prioritise client jobs in terms of urgency.”

How long have you been working in this position, what qualifications did you need to enter the field?

My Interior decorating journey started 16 years ago when after school, I studied B.Consumer Science Interior Retail Management at the University of Pretoria. During my final year I did my thesis on Upholstery and Soft Furnishings.  I also did a 1-Year Interior Diploma at the Pretoria School of Decorating.  Throughout these first four years of studies, I was exposed to a lot of different aspects of the Interior environment and how to apply attention to detail from the creative and creating aspects to the final product.

Career path to date: After I completed my studies I worked for Wetherlys Furniture.  I started as a visual merchandiser, and then got promoted to branch manager, regional visual merchandiser and later in my career to furniture and accessories buyer for the brand. During that time, I worked thousands of hours doing everything related to the retail home ware sector, including visiting overseas home ware and furniture fares as well as buying home ware from other countries.I then began lecturing Interior Design diploma ll at Damelin Educational  Institution.  During this time I was exposed to the educational aspects of interior decorating and design. After working for Damelin, I moved on to the supplying side of the furniture retail environment, were I worked for a company that imported 100 containers of accessories and kitchenware for Mr. Price Home on a monthly basis.  I worked for this company for a full year.  During this time I was taught everything about the furniture imports business. I then moved back into the educational side of the interior decorating and design industry.  I am still currently lecturing part time at Inscape Design College.

I now run my own business – Cotton and Yarn Interiors which was established in 2012.  Cotton & Yarn Interiors is a one stop shop, where we have no limitations. Cotton & Yarn interior specialises in the manufacturing of custom-made furniture, interior space planning, curtains and blind manufacturing and skill orientated interior decorating workshops.

To become an interior decorator the minimum requirement would be a Higher Certificate in Interior Decorating studied at an Intuition that have an NQF level of 5.  This is a certified qualification by the education department.  In my own opinion the best learning school is working in the industry as an interior decorator and through exposure to different aspects of the interior decorating business.

What experience or qualification do you believe helped you most in getting to this position?


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Skill orientated education is much more beneficial due to the fact that interior decorating consist of applying the basic principles practically in any interior space.  My suggestion would be to study at any institution that offers more skill orientated workshops, Higher certificates, Diploma and degree programs.  Working for an interior decorating retailer would be very beneficial due to the fact that you are taught all the basics regarding sales and management of a business.  You also get exposed to dealing with different clientele and working around deadlines – with a lot of focus on customer service and delivering quality products.

What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your job?

For me the most challenging aspects have been working around deadlines and delivering customised furniture of good quality to clients, while needing to rely on suppliers and their manufacturing skills and timeliness.

As for most rewarding, diferent aspects of my career provides me with different kinds of reward.  As an interior decorator it is very rewarding to see how your design plan and creativity comes together at the end when the project is completed.

As an Interior decorator / designer facilitator it is very rewarding to see that interior decorating students understand the lectures and apply the knowledge and skills in the final portfolio that is handed in at the end of each year.  It’s even more rewarding to assist most of these students in becoming interior decorators and starting their own interior decorating companies.

What advice do you have for a young person thinking of entering this field of business?


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Before you decide to become a decorator you have to answer a few questions, if you can answer yes to all the below questions you will be able to survive in the field.

  • Would you be able to work over weekends and after hours?
  • Would you be able to project manage the contractors and suppliers from the start of the project until the end?
  • Are you a fast thinker, able to think on your feet?
  • Will you be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way to being the best that you can be?

You will need to realise and accept that all of this does not happen overnight. You need the time, sometimes even years, to gain experience.

All the above boils down to, that the best experience is gained working in the retail sector of interior decorating. You learn how to work with different kinds of clients and at the same time how to do sales.  The sales and business aspects go hand in hand with decorating and selling a product to a consumer.

Where do you think your industry is heading, in terms of compliance, qualification requirements and standards?

Being a lecturer at Inscape Design College I often get asked this question. In general, people are of the opinion that interior decorating and design is an easy career path, believing that all you need is creativity. This is where most of the young students make a mistake. Only when beginning with your studies do you realise how hard it is. The course is very practical and the application of basic theory needs to be applied in almost every project that you do.

Interior design and decorating is, believe it or not, a science.  The science is based on using the correct design principles, elements, processes and colour schemes not even to mention the different interior styles in one interior space.

In terms of qualification requirements my advice would be from practical (lecturing at Inscape Design College) and theoretical experience (Studying at a University) – to rather go study at a college or institution that focus more on the practical application and skill oriented educational methods.

As a decorator you have a wide variety of job descriptions, varying from manufacturing and supplying lampshades and scatter cushions to re-decorating and using space planning methods to create a new environment or home for your client.  The sky is the limit when it comes to the different career paths that you can explore when trained as a decorator.

Are you doing now what you thought you would be doing at this stage of your life when you were 20 years old?


Spiandi Dickson, interior designer and owner of Cotton and Yarn Interiors

My goals that I set for myself at the age of 20, were already reached at the age of 28. I had to set new goals and currently I am in the process of working to these new goals of which one is to one day not only be a successful well-known decorator and business women, but also have my own skill orientated interior decorating college.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash flow is reality!

Did you have a mentor supporting you in your early career. How important do you think this was in you reaching your professional goals?

Throughout my career I had different mentors that taught me a lot about not only decorating but also about the business aspect of the interior world.

Any career move or mistake you wouldn’t make again? What was the impact of it on your career?

I registered my company in 2012 and, during the first 6 months of trying to establish the upcoming new company, I got anxious and went back to working for a corporate company for another year.  The biggest mistake that I made was to go work in the private sector again.  One thing that I have learnt up until now is that if you apply your mind and really want something, it will happen!

We’re excited to add a dynamic and creative mind like Dickson’s to our expert panel and look forward to learning from her. If there is an interior design concept you are particularly interested in and want to learn more, or a space in your home that you are having trouble with, please let us know here, and we will ask for Dickson’s expert knowledge and advice.

Meanwhile, if you want to get a hold of Cotton and Yarn Interiors for a special project, make contact with them through their website or Facebook page.



Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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