Bill attempts to resolve job dispute between architects, designers

ANNAPOLIS — ANNAPOLIS -- Heated negotiations over the past two days have brought architects and interior designers the closest they have ever come to resolving a four-year turf battle that both sides say threatens their livelihoods while the economy is weak.

Legislation submitted yesterday by Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, attempts to end the dispute by defining the areas of work allowed to each group.


But the designers are still waiting for a legal analysis of exactly what the bill would allow them to do before they will offer their unqualified support, said Linda Lamone, who represents the Maryland Coalition of Interior Designers.

The dispute revolves around the designers' desire for legislative recognition. The bill would create a State Board of Certified Interior Designers, along with qualifications for the use of the title.


One of the central limitations in the bill would be on the extent to which designers could work with non-load-bearing walls, work that in the last decade or so many have performed under the rubric of "space planning."

The debate is particularly important to both sides now because, withthe slump in the commercial real estate market, fewer new buildings are being constructed and more older buildings are being redesigned. Designers argue that their costs would rise dramatically if they needed an architect to approve all substantial redesign plans.

"We don't want to prevent architects from doing interior-design work," said Allan Shaivitz of Allan Shaivitz Associates Inc. in Baltimore, who is president of the designers coalition. "But what hurts is when they try to take away our livelihood" by preventing designers from doing space-planning work, he said.

"Over the years, interior designers have moved into roles that could beconsidered to have encroached on the work of architects," said Phillip W. Worrall, an architect with Greaves, Worrall, Wright & O'Hatnick in Baltimore and an officer with the Maryland Society of Architects.

The two groups reached an agreement on the issue last fall, but an attorney general's advisory opinion issued at the request of Montgomery County designers threw a monkey wrench into the deal. The opinion basically said that the law allows only architects to draw design plans, even for non-load-bearing walls.

Mr. Dembrow's bill, drafted at the designers' request, would allow them to draw up plans to move a non-load-bearing wall unless it was "anintegral part of the mechanical, electrical or structural systems."

Ms. Lamone said her group is waiting for another advisory opinion from the attorney general's office to determine exactly what "integral" means in that definition. "The proposal that the architects came up with may be problematical."

Mr. Dembrow said he thinks the bill would be "a major accomplishment for the interior designers and at the same time provide protection for architects and the public."


But he warned the designers not to overstep their bounds. "If they want to go into the field of architecture," he said, "the sponsor of this bill will not support that."