Christine Stuart photo

For the past 25 years Susan Roberts has been decorating the insides of people’s homes, but for at least 20 years she’s been unable to call herself an interior designer.

Roberts said when the state Department of Consumer Protection knocked on her door about 20 years ago and told her she couldn’t call herself an interior designer, instead, she was told that she could call herself a ‘Designer of Interiors.’

The only people who can call themselves “interior designers” in Connecticut are those that register with the Department of Consumer Protection and pass a lengthy and expensive exam administered by a private testing body called the National Council for Interior Design Qualifications.

Standing outside US District Court in Hartford Tuesday, Roberts and her fellow designers said they feel this onerous state law violates their civil rights, which is why they decided to sue the state’s Commissioner of Consumer Protection.

Patti Morrow, executive director of the Interior Design Protection Council, said it gives a “marketing advantage to the licensed few.”

“We’re all independent business owners trying to earn a living doing something we’re passionate about,” Lynne Herrmann, owner of the Decorating Den in Newtown, said. She said the public doesn’t see any difference between those who are licensed and those who are not. “To them it’s the same thing.”

“We succeed or fail based on the merits of our work,” Herrmann said. She said since she’s been a decorator she’s never had anyone ask her for anything except her portfolio.

Clark Neily, the attorney from the Institute of Justice representing the designers in the Connecticut lawsuit, said the American Society of Interior Designers is a national group that has aggressively pushed for licensing legislation in more than 20 states. He said the group wants interior design to become a profession on par with architects and lawyers.

He said the national group is “petrified of people with natural talent.” He said the disadvantage to his clients is that they can’t advertise themselves, even in the Yellow Pages, as interior designers.

Ironically, Morrow said a majority of ASID’s own members do not possess the credentials the organization claims are necessary to work as an interior designer. “They are actually going to effect their own membership if they’re successful,” Herrmann said. “It’s very elitist.”

“Interior design is a dynamic profession that celebrates innovation, creativity, and diversity,” Morrow said. “ASID’s attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all occupational licensing scheme on the profession could not be more contrary to those values.”