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The Essential Guide to Commercial Interior Design

Restaurant seating made of concrete

Interior design is both an art and a science, improving the inside of a building to make it more attractive and useful for those using the space. Interior designers are responsible for planning, researching, coordinating, and managing these projects. It is a complex field that requires experts to wear many hats, including coming up with innovative designs, managing construction projects, and making sure the final product meets all safety and code requirements.

Residential vs. Commercial Interior Design: What’s the Difference?

There are a few key differences between residential and commercial projects. Residential interior design is primarily focused on creating livable spaces for private homes, townhomes, and apartment owners. The goal is to make the space as functional and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Commercial interior design is more complex, involving both business or building owners and their customers or employees. The goal is to create a space that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also practical and conducive to the business’s needs.

For example, when designing a hotel, the interior design process involves much more than just creating livable spaces for hotel guests. The design must also take into account the needs of the hotel staff, the hotel’s brand, and the overall experience that guests will have while staying at the hotel.

Commercial spaces also tend to be much larger than residential ones. This means that commercial designers need to have a strong understanding of spatial planning in order to create an effective layout. Since they are often built for business, hospitality, or industrial-related purposes (and since they are much larger), commercial interiors are often subject to stricter code requirements, such as fire safety and ADA compliance. Commercial designers must be well-versed in building codes and regulations.

The Different Types of Commercial Interior Design Projects

There are a few different types of commercial interior design projects:

  • Retail interiors
  • Bar and restaurant interiors
  • Hotel interiors
  • Healthcare interiors
  • Educational interiors
  • Industrial interiors
  • Library and museum interiors

What Does a Commercial Interior Designer Do?

Hiring a company like I-5 Design Build for an interior design project involves more than just choosing someone to pick out furniture and décor. A commercial interior designer will work with you to create a space that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also operational and conducive to your business’s needs. A restaurant and bar owner, for example, is faced with multiple challenges:

  • Accommodating the maximum number of possible guests for the space, but not so many that the restaurant feels cramped.
  • Strategically placing the bar so that it is visible and accessible to guests, but not in the way of waitstaff or the kitchen.
  • Creating a layout that encourages social interaction and conversation between guests.
  • Creating and sticking to a theme while adding elements of that theme throughout the space in a cohesive way.
  • Ensuring that the design meets all fire safety and ADA compliance regulations.
  • Mapping out the restaurant so that the kitchen, bar, and dining area flow smoothly.

By using mathematics, psychology, and a keen understanding of human behavior, a commercial interior designer would partner with this restaurant owner to create a space that meets these requirements in an alluring yet functional way.

 Hotel lobby in a concrete building

Stages of the Commercial Interior Design Process

The commercial interior design process follows six stages:

  • Planning
  • Site inspection
  • Program management
  • Construction management
  • Design execution
  • Project closeout


The first stage, planning, is when the interior designer creates a space plan and concept design based on the client’s needs. This is the pre-design phase where the designer works with the client to determine the goals and objectives of the project. A few topics of discussion in this phase include:

  • What are the goals of the project?
  • Who are the end-users of the space, and what do they need to achieve?
  • What is the budget for the project?
  • What is the timeline for the project?
  • What is the preferred design style and how should it releft the company’s brand or image?

This stage also involves creating a mood board, which is a collection of images, fabrics, and other materials that will be used to help communicate the desired design aesthetic.

Site Inspection

After the goals and objectives of the project have been determined, the next stage is to conduct a site inspection. This is when the designer visits the space and takes measurements. They will also take note of any existing features that can be reused or repurposed in the new design. They will also take note of:

  • The existing conditions of the space
  • The building’s infrastructure
  • Any code restrictions that need to be considered

They will cross-reference this information with the budget and timeline to ensure that the project is achievable.

Program Management

After the site inspection is complete, the designer will develop a program document. This document outlines the project requirements and includes information such as:

  • A floor plan of the space
  • A list of furniture and equipment that is needed
  • A list of finishes and materials that will be used
  • A lighting plan
  • A signage and branding plan

This document is then used to create a realistic and achievable budget and timeline for the project.

Construction Management

The construction management phase is when the design is brought to life. The designer builds a team of contractors and construction workers who will be responsible for executing the design. This team is responsible for:

  • Constructing the space according to the plans and specifications
  • Ordering and installing all furniture, equipment, and finishes
  • Completing all punch list items

Design Execution

The designer oversees the construction process to ensure everything is built according to the plans. They will also make sure that the furniture, equipment, and finishes are being installed correctly. Once all of the construction is complete, the designer will conduct a final walk-through of the space to ensure that everything meets their standards and the client’s expectations.

Project Closeout

After completing the project, the designer will work with the client to create a maintenance plan. This plan outlines how to care for the space and keep it looking its best. They will also provide the client with a user manual that includes instructions on how to use all of the features in the space.


Commercial interior design is a process that involves six distinct stages: planning, site inspection, program management, construction management, design execution, and project closeout. By following these steps, you can create a space that is both appealing to the eye and practical for the people who use it.