"They are very actively investigating the Lafayette area," says attorney and registered interior designer Stephanie Cornay Dugan, owner of Lafayette's Awning & Supply Co., more commonly known as ASCO. "They are issuing cease and desist orders."
Dugan was contacted by the state because ASCO bought a congratulatory ad in The Independent Weekly for the Liz&Todd firm after it won a commercial design award for work on a local orthodontist's office in The Independent's March 2005 INDesign Awards.
"As a manufacturer of a product, if we know what's going on, then we have an obligation to report the activity," Dugan says. In this case, Dugan, who has known principals Liz Dejean and Todd Zimmerman for years, was unaware that their firm did not have a Louisiana license.
"Graduating from a university with a four-year [degree] does not make you an interior designer. Being a member of a professional organization (like the American Society of Interior Designers) does not make you an interior designer. That comes strictly from the state," says Dugan. The licensing requirements in Louisiana include a six-year combination of education and experience and successful completion of the three-part National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam, a rigorous test that costs $700 to $800 and queries applicants on principles and practices of interior design, contract documents and administration, and schematics and design development.
"For lack of a better term, it's a bar exam for interior designers," Dugan says.
"We're looking at people who know better, for the most part," says Baton Rouge attorney Anna Dow, who has represented the LSBID since the mid-80s. Dow estimates "it's probably more than 10 and less than 50" individuals statewide who are under scrutiny for potential violations of the act, which in January 2000 changed from a "title act" to a "practice act," giving the board the teeth it needed to crack down on violators.
Under the 1984 title act, unlicensed designers could not call themselves interior designers; the new act gives the board regulatory authority to prevent them from practicing in certain arenas without a license and is intended to help the public identify which designers are qualified by experience, education and testing. Each violation of the law carries a maximum $500 penalty. Dow says those grandfathered under the previous title act, because of experience, education or a combination, also had the opportunity to be grandfathered under the new statute, provided they completed continuing education hours on building codes.
"Ninety percent of the people practicing interior decorating or interior design don't even know this law exists," says Dugan. "It's never mentioned in any continuing education [classes]." ASCO is in the process of sending a copy of the law to the decorators and designers that buy its products.
Dan Bouligny of Lafayette, who retired from his 50-year interior design practice about a year ago, says Lafayette has a wealth of talented decorators who just need to prove their skills on paper. "All of these people are good designers. They have just missed a step. Eventually, they'll all have to comply," says Bouligny, who chairs the state board and has been at the forefront of the licensing push.
Dow says members of the profession have had ample time to come into compliance. "We require our [licensees] to be familiar with all fire codes, life safety, building codes, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. They have to know those rules just as architects do."
Of particular concern is flammability of fabrics like drapery, toxicity of materials, asbestos and mold issues, along with entrants and exits for fire safety. "It's a matter of health, safety and welfare," Bouligny says.
"Decorators" who range from those with a degree in design to housewives with a keen eye are allowed to only provide residential services, though some restrictions apply. Interior designer Charles Seale of Eunice says the law only allows for surface work, such as painting and moving furnishings; anything that has to do with building codes, like moving load bearing walls, or specifying certain types of lighting, is forbidden.
The LSBID, however, seems to be focusing its efforts on commercial violators.
And unless there is latitude for interpretation of the law, Judy Dunn of Dunn's Designs would be in violation for the work she did on KATC TV3's set. Dunn consulted on the job, painting a couple of walls and bringing in some furniture, and in return gets a mention in the station's credits. "I never even thought about it, to be honest," says Dunn.
Dow says even this type of "consulting" on a commercial job would likely be a violation. "Even if it's just about color," she says.
Not everyone with LSBID, however, is on the same page. "The intention is not to over-police the issue," says Debbie Steinmetz of New Orleans, a veteran LSBID board member. Somebody hanging a picture in an office would not be in violation, nor would any other incidentals not governed by a code, she says.
Dunn, who works out of her Rue Louis IX showroom and calls herself a "home and office accessorizer," was also recently asked to work on another commercial job. When she ordered window coverings, Dunn says ASCO alerted her that this type of work requires a licensed interior designer, so she enlisted the help of Dione Bourgeois, who is licensed by the state. "I have worked too hard to get my business to where it is. I don't want to break any laws," Dunn says.
Additionally, Dunn has a degreed designer on staff who is now studying for the NCIDQ exam. "Whatever I have to do to make it right, I'll do it," she says.
If someone without a license wants to do commercial work, he or she should partner with a licensed designer or architect, who can provide the required expertise and oversight, says Seale, who has offered his services to decorators.
Dejean and Zimmerman, who won the design award as Liz&Todd, have since dissolved their professional relationship. At the time they undertook the commercial job, Zimmerman was licensed in Texas, though that license is now delinquent due to non-renewal. Licensing does not transfer from state-to-state, and he has not taken the NCIDQ test. Texas grandfathered him in, as did the professional organization ASID, which now requires the national test for professional membership. (The Independent's contest requires Louisiana licensing for commercial jobs, and the judge assumed Zimmerman had taken the NCIDQ because of his ASID membership. The firm had also written "Louisiana license pending" on its application.)
Dejean, who has a degree in marketing, is pursuing a solo career and says she will continue to call herself a designer. "I do graphic design. I do event design. I do floral design. I am a designer," Dejean says. "I cannot call myself an interior designer."
For his part, Zimmerman sticks by the decision to do the commercial work (consultation on the job actually began while he was still in Texas), which was for a family member. "I was definitely qualified to do it," he says. He plans to take the NCIDQ test this fall, though he doesn't believe it's necessary. "It's all about money for the state," he says.
Dow says the board is throwing a wide net over the profession and is inquiring into at least two more Lafayette firms. Those doing interior work cannot call themselves "designers" in the context of this specific type of work, even if they delete the word "interiors," she says. The verdict is still out on whether they can use the term "design consultant." Says Dow, "It appears to the board that they're trying to skirt the law. What's wrong with the term interior decorator?"
Monique Breaux, a residential decorator and principal owner of POSH Exclusive Interiors, appears to be in violation of the state statute. Recently featured on HGTV's Designers' Challenge, Breaux, who is not licensed, refers to herself as a designer throughout her Web site and states that she is a member of ASID. She is an "allied" member, the category that only indicates she has a bachelor's degree in interior design. Breaux was unavailable for comment.
Eunice interior designer Seale doesn't waste his time on the name game. "As long as they're doing it within the framework of the law, I don't care what they call themselves. When [a client] calls me 'my decorator' instead of 'my designer,' I don't care. I just want them to call me."
WaPo Watergate editor Ben Bradlee dies; Clintons stump for Dems; Liberians stranded and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.