Famous Interior Designers Who Got Arrested

Sorry to leave y’all hanging from my last post… and before I delve into today’s topic about famous interior designers who got arrested, I need to answer the question about our nine famous interior D people.

Which ones are interior decorators and which ones are interior designers?

1. Barbara Barry   2. Darryl Carter    3. Sister Parish

4. Jonathan Adler   5. Nancy Lancaster   6.Vicente Wolf

7. Kelly Wearstler    8. Nate Berkus     9. Elsie De Wolfe


The answer is that they are ALL  interior DECORATORS.

That is, according to the arbitrary tenets of ASID. [4 year degree in accredited ID program; pass the biased, draconian NCIDQ and work for two years for an ASID interior DESIGNER which accounts for about 3% of all interior designers.] In fact a lot of these super-star designers never even went to college or went to college to study something else. Eliminating our three grande dames of design, Elsie De Wolfe, Nancy Lancaster and Sister Parish, here’s the breakdown.

Barbara went to art school for a couple of years and then started her interior design biz.

Darryl was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer. Stopped doing that for interior design.

Jonathan started his career throwing pots. Clay pots, that is.

Vicente makes no bones that he didn’t do a lick of formal study.

Nate actually started working for an interior designer straight out of high school. Then later on, he got a degree in French and Sociology.

I saved the giga-gorgeous Kelly Wearstler for last. Kelly did study interior and graphic design in college. After college, she went out to Cali and tried her hand at acting. Not getting too far,  she took some odd jobs like waitressing…


and uhhhh… posing for Playboy. Indeed, under the pseudonym, Kelly Gallagher. She was the September 1994 Playmate of the Month. Yes, I was a little shocked too, however, I think that Kelly is without a doubt one of the most beautiful women in the Universe and hell yeah— I truly believe that anything to make this world a more beautiful place is a good thing and what could be better than Kelly Wearstler sharing her God-given pulchritude?!

And besides, she needed to pay off her student loans.

As you can see, I put a little dress on her.  After all, this is an interior design blog and I want to make you believe  convey, that I have a modicum of class. Oh, make no mistake. I was plenty tempted, but I figure, if any of you good people are interested in seeing more, [or is it less?] ;] you know where to find her.

Moving on…

A couple of years later Kelly met this dude. Oh wait. Actually, she was decorating his home! Lucky Kelly, she found herself a shrewd real estate developer and hotelier. Brad Korzen. They fell in love, got married had a couple of kids. He started a west coast chain of chic boutique hotels and Kelly did the interiors and to great acclaim. She quickly made a name for herself in the niche area of hotel interior DESIGN. As it turns out, she’s not just a pretty face, with a bitchin’ bod, but one kickass interior DESIGNER. The NY Times heralded Kelly for her retro-inspired-Dorothy-Draperesque designs. And many people including A-list Hollywood celebrities have hired Kelly to DESIGN their homes for them.

Here is a sampling of Kelly’s amazing interior DESIGNS.

photos via






This is Cameron Diaz’s kitchen by Kelly Wearstler.

In addition to the many hotels she designed and being a wife and mom, she also designed a restaurant at Bergdorf Goodman, and designed products for Sferra Bros. Linens, The Rug Co. and most notably fabrics and wallpapers for F. Schumacher & Co.

This one fabric, Imperial Trellis which a lot of you know all too well. It comes in both linen and velvet as well as wall covering  and in a bunch of colorways. It has made millions for  Schumacher.



Here is Kelly today with a newer collection for Groundworks a subsidiary of Lee Jofa. It’s doing very well too. Geeezzz, I wish I could wear shoes like that!

Getting to the Heart of the Matter and [one reason] Why I Will [probably] Never Live In Florida

Okay, this part isn’t news, because it happened about 6 years ago. However, it’s news to me, so maybe it will be to some of you too. Several years ago, Kelly was all set to do the interior design for a brand-new hotel her husband, Brad was developing, The Tide Water in South Beach, FL. Everything was all set and running smoothly until one day…

Kelly received this by certified mail.

Kelly Wearstler: Case No. 2007-067706
Probable cause was found that Kelly Wearstler, Inc. of Los Angeles, California, is not licensed to practice interior design in Florida and contracted to provide interior design services on The Tides Hotel on South Beach in Miami. Ms. Wearstler specifically offers interior design services in the contract and is offering such services through a business entity without a certificate of authorization. An Administrative Complaint seeking fines will be filed and a Notice and Order to Cease and Desist will be issued.

Yep! And it wasn’t just Kelly who had this type of legal trouble. The list went on and on. It even included the great Juan Montoya one of Architectural Digest’s perennial Top 100 DESIGNERS  and as I mentioned, one of the esteemed judges in an ASID sponsored student competition.

Here’s his summons.

Juan Montoya Design Group: Case No. 2004-055870
Probable Cause was found that Juan Montoya of New York, NY is not licensed to practice interior design in the State of Florida and contracted to provide interior design services on a commercial project. Mr. Montoya also held himself out as an interior designer throughout the contract. Further, Mr. Montoya is offering such services through a business entity without a certificate of authorization. A Notice and Order to Cease and Desist was issued and an Administrative Complaint seeking fines was filed.

hmmm, ASID didn’t have any problem with Mr. Montoya judging our student INTERIOR DESIGN competition back in 1990, but then he gets into legal quicksand in Florida for referring to himself as an interior designer?

Juan Montoya was practically born with a mechanical pencil in his mouth. He’s one of the most prolific highly respected INTERIOR DESIGNERS in our field. Absurd doesn’t even begin to cover it; unspeakably insulting is what it is, to say the least!

Here is some of his amazing work.



The fabulous designer Jonathan Adler was also stopped in his tracks. Yes, he started out making pottery. But, he learned the business over time, AND like Kelly and all interior designers who take on big projects, there is a team of people doing many aspects of the job. It would never be ALL Kelly or any interior designer, for that matter!

Here is some of Jonathan’s fabulous work which is also retro inspired, but more whimsical than Kelly’s interiors, I think.



 Florida is one of a handful of states which makes it ILLEGAL for anyone to use the appellation “INTERIOR DESIGNER”

—unless they’ve gone to four years of an accredited ID program, taken and passed the aforementioned test, the NCIDQ, AND worked for an ASID designer for two years. Even IF you’ve been an interior designer for 40 years, if you want to practice interior DESIGN in FL, you must follow this letter of the law or you will be arrested.

This happened to many interior designers who for whatever their reasons decided not to be accredited according to the terms set forth by ASID. They were all told to CEASE AND DESIST and were heavily fined. All you had to do to get a summons and a fine was to use the word DESIGNER in your contract. This was also happening at the height of the recession when few could afford such extreme financial reversals.

Alright then, I know what you are thinking. Surely, the government  has their reasons for cracking down on this???

Oh sure. They have a reason. There’s always a reason.

Their reason is that the public needs to be protected.

After all, if an interior designer isn’t licensed, then how could they possibly know what they are doing? They couldn’t possibly have learned to follow code in any other way or hired a team who were experts in all necessary aspects of hotel construction. Therefore, they most assuredly ARE a danger to society and must be stopped! Go back to your pillow fluffing, you rebellious decorator! You can’t follow our RULES, then you will be in some deep spackle.

I dunno… You can walk around the state of Florida with a fully loaded AK 47 assault rifle. [to protect yourself from interior decorators, I suppose], blow someone’s head off in a movie theater for throwing popcorn. But pretty little Kelly Wearstler is a threat to the well-being and safety of millions of Floridians? Forget about those pesky hurricanes. That’s nothing. Kelly and her kind are the real problem. She must cease and desist calling herself an interior designer! How dare she!

Of course, we all know the real reason. It’s perfectly clear. It has to do with the fact that Florida and other states in cahoots with ASID are trying to limit the NUMBER of interior designers who are allowed to practice. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

This is the deal folks and if you’re in the trade already, of course you know this. Interior designers do not actually BUILD anything. My drawings are listed in my contract as “conceptual in nature.” They are interior DESIGNS, not shop drawings! I, like these other people, work with a team of professionals for all renovation projects. I work closely with the contractor and his subs and architect if necessary.

And there’s more. Products used in commercial buildings have something called ASTM compliancy. The info is right there. And if there’s any doubt, an interior designer may contact the vendor. A decorator can do all of that too.

Are things still this bad? I’m not quite sure. It is possible that some of these states have softened their stance. If you want to know more about any of this, here are some great resources and where I got all of my information.




ASID – Backpeddling as Fast as They Can


What totally fascinates me is that Joni Webb of the Cote de Texas blog states that

no interior designer has ever gotten sued because a client hurt themselves as a result of something they specified.

I do not have a way of verifying this statement, however, if true, [and I have no reason to believe that it’s not] it only lends credence to the flagrant audacity of the laws governing what interior designers can or cannot call themselves. The responsible parties are the manufacturer and the contractor. It is up to the contractor to install products that are safe and if they’re not, then he needs to tell the interior designer. Although, it should never even get that far and very rarely does!

I agree, that for those designers who want the accreditation, then fine, they can if it works for them. I have no problem with them calling themselves “certified” interior designers. Does it make them better designers? Not necessarily. In fact, I have seen some shockingly bad results from many a “certified” interior designer.

I randomly and quickly went through the first portfolio I could find on the ASID website and I came up with these photos which are vignettes of the total photo. They are of course, not credited. If they are your work, sorry, but these are not well-designed spaces. There are many, many technical and aesthetic errors.

And yes, I realize that this is horribly unprofessional, but I am trying to make a point and do not feel that I can convey that without showing you what I’m talking about. So, please allow me this one indiscretion.


shockingly poor fitting slip cover. Hope the home owners don’t trip and hurt themselves on the piece dragging two inches on the floor. In addition, the colors are hideous. The slip covers are greenish-gray and the rug is purplish gray. If only there were some pillows which could liven things up. That would really help!


And MUCH better window treatments than that schemata hanging totally off-balance. The pig is a nice touch as are the stuffed animals. This is no way a professionally designed room! There was a kid’s toy truck on the coffee table. Also, really. Can we have some more attractive window gates put up?




Which is it? Ikea or Country Kitchen? It’s not that you can’t mix contemporary with country, but this looks like two different kitchens! There is just way too much disparity in the design here and on top of it, the photography is shockingly bad.

The “interior designer’s” entire portfolio is like this. This person is a card-carrying member of ASID.

My main aim isn’t to disparage someone’s work. Yes, it’s exceedingly tacky of me to take a colleague’s work and tear it down but in this particular case, it’s to make a valid point. This is not even a matter of taste. My taste does not run towards Kelly’s, Juan’s, or Jonathan’s work especially. I wouldn’t hire any of them to design my home because there are other IDs whose work is far more aligned with my own personal taste.

However, I can appreciate their work because their interiors are brilliantly designed and executed. The ones by the ASID designer are anything but. Yet, in the eyes of ASID, those three phenomenal professionals are interior DECORATORS and will get arrested and fined in some states if they have a contract stating that they are doing interior design work. This interior designer is free and clear to design anything [she dares] anywhere. In addition, according to ASID, she should be able to teach all of our “decorator” superstars a thing or two. And for two years, it would have to be.


There’s A LOT more to being an interior designer than knowing codes. It’s like saying that a ballerina can’t call herself a ballerina unless she has a college degree in ballet. Well, none of them do!

I don’t have all the answers either, but all I know is that this kind of autocracy stinks and reflects poorly on our profession. I think for folks wanting to hire interior design help, you need to look at their work and talk to some of their previous clients, perhaps.

Alright. Thank you. I’m done with this topic.

Please have a wonderful weekend! I’m very excited. Going with my BFF to see Mark Morris Dance Co. tomorrow night at Lincoln Center.

Respectful replies are always welcome. All others will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding and I very much enjoy hearing your feedback.





21 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel,
    I will say that in design school (a 4 year accredited interior design program) we were instructed in professional practice class that there was a famous case of an interior decorator (btw, anyone can call themselves an interior decorator but interior designers are folks that graduated from a 4 year accredited school, have at least 2 years working for a professional office and since I graduated are now required to pass the NCIDQ exam) misrepresenting themselves as an interior designer and specified a chandelier that was entirely too large and heavy to be hung over a glass dining table. Well, you can imagine what happened during a dinner party. That was supposedly the impetus for more stringent regulations as to what you call yourself professionally.

    1. Hi Annie,

      Unless the designer hung the chandelier, I see this as being an installation issue. The size of the chandelier is another issue and she should have known better whether she had passed the NCIDQ or not.

  2. The same article could very easily be written about the landscape architecture profession – particularly when it comes to the residential area of practice. I hate it! And I have a BLA, and have passed all the (stupid expensive) tests! It’s ridiculous. Why? Because after five years of university education to earn a BLA (yes – it’s literally called a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture) that I’m STILL paying off too many years later and many years learning the profession – I am finally practicing in my own. But, what do you think ASLA, TBAE or CLARB (oh yeah – there are threee of these groups I pay every year) are doing to protect me from the “Chuck-in-a-trucks” or “expert gardeners” (who know a lot about plants but jack squat about much else) I find myself competing with? Ummmm…I guess nothing because those folks are EVERYWHERE! And yet I could not call myself a landscape architect until I passed all FOUR tests. One was about grading and drainage – you know, in case all the civil engineers die- we need to know how to do that. One was about construction methodology – you know – in case all the architects and structural engineers die – we better know how to do that too. The other two were about design and contracts and specifications and blah blah blah. You know what wasn’t on any of the tests? Horticulture! Hahahahahahahahahaha. Government.

  3. Oh boy do I know this well!!!
    I have danced almost my whole life. Ballet guild at 14 (no life) point shoes and hrs of practice. Wonderful costumes designed by an amazing woman who inadvertently taught me how to design costumes using muslin, a live body and a picture in my brain of what I wanted this dancer and fabric to do, to say and flow and fall… I could go on I love FABRIC!!! BUT LET US..FAST FORWARD
    a few yrs, received my AA in visual arts… Taught ballet for studios… Owned a studio, which means choreographing ballets, music, lights, custumes (because no way was I ordering those cheap things out of book), making programs and we are talking 70s -80s, little block letters at printers, splicing reel to reels for music ( OH DERN now the ASP whatever POLICE where suing small studios over music) anyway….Got married… decided to work for a paint company, who by the way, are awesome. SW. Color, fabric, people’s homes, Showcase Homes, friending amazing decorators, happy happy happy.
    Then interior Design women became upset because we did not have a degree but were doing well…….. Sooooooooooooo, ASID appeared…..and was way to stop anyone who did not have a 4 yr interior design degree. I get it. Student loans are a bummer.
    ASID Test are so??? I have no words to express how..well.. Lame, okay let’s say not helpful!!!! The cost to be a member is crazy!!! They have changed their turn and now you can now have a two yr. degree and pay them a crazy amount yearly and keep up with their test, and magicly call yourself a designer.
    To tell you the truth when I went on my own,my sweet clinets could care less what I called myself!! They called me Pam and called me back and gosh I love them. I was up front because in Al. It is very dangerous to call yourself an Int. Designer and not be Asid or the other one or 4yr degree yada yada
    I’m a decorating consultant and know a darn more than my clinets that’s why they call me!!!
    ASID test are interesting but a waste of time!!! I have learned more spending time studying what I need to kn!!! And…And … Okay I’m getting mad and need to sleep, BUT…… Why give them a yearly crazy $$$ fee 🤔

    1. Hi Pam, (again. lol)

      Yes, it’s a racket for sure! And another ballerina amongst us. I was bitten by the ballet bug at 14 and never recovered. Once bitten, always smitten. And actually, if anything it’s even more-so. The dancers these days are just beyond amazing!

  4. SOS, people its Florida government! ITS the “cancer” overtaking our entire government in our, (or used to be our, anyway!) Country!

    Like speeding fines high sales taxes (and property, gasoline, bpoating/mooring fees and overzealous enforcement of “overnight camping” (terrible abuses like this in boat magazines) on boats in Fla) etc. just more creative “taxes” I’m afraid.)

    I am a 46 yr contractor/company owner. In the 1989-1999 decade, we specialized in Storm reconstruction, going to USVI (and being licensed there as they offered a test IF liscenced in other states and had proof).
    In 1992, we were caught up and Islands were getting back to almost “normal” again, so we shipped our Backhoes and equipment to Miami, for Hurricane Andrews work/clean up, as I had friends and co contractor owners needing IMMEDIATE emergency help, ASAP.

    All was well until infrastructure was back in place, mostly. Then we started getting these type notices, which led to outright ARREST and court date with a 5000 per DAY fine if ANY work was commenced or continued! even.

    We had current, in hand, ALabama Liscences for: (UNLIMITED GC, with key employees holding MASTER electrician and Plumbing licences, NOT RECIPROCATED and NO WAY TO GET ONE W?O a school term (like the designer story told on here)!
    We also had our USVI/Puerto Rico/US Territory Unlimited COntractors Licences, electrical, and plumbing. We were the only EPA accredited and Licensed contractor working in USVI, and one of a few (5) in PR. We had certifications for UST install and servicing, and also for Waste treatment construction, facility repair and maintainance. We did 2 resorts there, and won bids/jobs with Brown and Root, and completed a plant Morrison and Knudsen left that was in a coastal wetland (it caved in on their excavation, many times during attenpts at excavation of the site).

    Anyway, after 3 yrsworking on storm damaged buildings and facilities in USVI/PR, and after 20+ yrs in USA in Southeast and ALabama, we return to USA, and after Florida gets power and water on, starts running off any contractor not a permanent Fla resident, BEFORE Andrew destroyed South Fla!

    We lost a pile on the poor homeowners job, as he had to pay a LOT more and ended up waiting almost a year, renting a condo in downtown Miami, until someone else did the work. The ended up hiring some undocumented and of course unlicensed, cuban refugees and San Salvadorians to finish the drywall and paint the home after we left.
    Brilliant, FLorida!!
    Their GREED is what causes this type stupidity..Jebby (Bush boy) was Governor then, so BE AWARE!!! Is this the policy YOU want in the USA for President?
    WHat poor country will be next we MUST ATTACK! If like last time,IRAQ, unprovoked, )!so Military PAC’S get to make $$ from.
    By selling guns and bombs etc!

    DEFINITELY NOT voting for Bush, though even Obama caved to their power and necessary influence to get reelected and get ANYTHING passed in congress, unfortunately…
    Sad, IMHO, the country has sunk to this level…

  5. Great informative article. Thanks for putting it all together. Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    I’m not a decorator or designer, as anyone who sees my place knows, but one thing I do think I know is that the deep pockets who buy the services of designers are the ones who could get this law changed or neutered.

    Let them raise a ruckus when they want to build a fantabulous building and can’t have the designer they want, and the people who make these laws will be more likely to back down in order to get those fabuloso enviable buildings working and paying taxes.

    in this, as in all else, as you know, money talks. Seems to me it’s about time for it to start shouting at the legislature.

    Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.

  6. Thank you for this read- it came as I prepare to RE-take the NCIDQ again… tomorrow. Oddly I had no problem passing the Practicum and the second time- the “professional” multi-choice section, but failed the “fundamentals’ section twice. I have 15 years under my belt and have gotten awards and accolades, but cannot pass this horrible, oft non-sensical, ridiculous test. I hate it. But, now it’s like I have to beat it. Reading this however reminded me, that I am no less of a designer based on this alone. Thanks for a little bit of encouragement in the “big picture” realm! xo

    1. Hi Jenni,

      Thanks for the great comment! I can understand where you’re coming from completely. I have a lot of ID friends who took the test and passed it and I respect them enormously. It’s just that it’s not always an indicator of abilities. Gosh, there’s so much that goes into being a good designer. And so much of it can’t be taught. We wear a lot of different hats!

  7. I earned my BS in ID from UT Austin, passed the NCIDQ, was an ASID member for 28 years and served as the Texas Chapter President, until I realized I was on the wrong side of this issue. This is really a political issue. Do you believe in smaller, less intrusive government? If yes, then not only is it important to KNOW the facts regarding ID laws, but you must get involved, especially if you are practicing and want to continue to do so. Support organizations that do not support restrictive ID laws, like NKBA, DSA, IDPC, and IDS. “Like” The Institute of Justice on FB as they sued Texas (Texas Board of Architectural Examiners) for trying to limit use of the phrase “interior designer” to only those registered with the state. IJ won, and it changed the laws across the country! When called upon to walk the halls of your legislature do it, and take someone with you. Those of us leading the charge can’t do it alone.
    FAQ: ASID collects mandatory “legislative fees” that are returned to the states, who give that money to coalitions/lobbyists to pass bills that hurt half its membership.
    FAQ: Only 3 states and DC have “Practice Acts” which completely restrict design in code related spaces. Some have “Title Acts” which restrict the use of certain phrases by interior designers. But ASID and NCIDQ won’t stop until there are laws in all states, limiting competition, preventing free markets from working as intended. Please get involved. Thank you!

  8. Hi Laurel,

    I’m a residential interior designer from CA.

    For what it’s worth, I have 30+ years of experience, graduated from a 4 year CIDA accredited interior design program, am an Allied Member of ASID, but have never taken the NDICQ examination.

    One of my favorite clients recently retired to Delray Beach, FL, and asked me to help with the interior design of their new home.

    According to the FL Department of Business and Professional Regulation, commercial, but not residential interior designers are required to be licensed in the state of FL.


    Many thanks for the thought provoking post…

  9. Great read! Thank you for sharing. Saw the link on FB and also saw some of the comments and had to sort of chuckle b/c the “naysayers” of course were ASID/NCIDQ. Its always a touchy subject- but thank you for putting it out there!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Amanda! As I had said in the first previous post, I have enormous respect for any of my colleagues who’ve gone to all the trouble and expense to take the NCIDQ exam. I tried looking at the local ASID’s bylines. It was pages long. Just like the contract they suggest we use. However, they completely turned me off years ago when I was an allied member.

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I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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