Internal Fit Out Vs Interior Design


If you’re currently in the process of having a property built, or perhaps you’re completely restructuring an older building, you might have heard the phrases ‘fit out’ and ‘interior design’.

These are both important stages of the building process and crucial for making the space inhabitable. However, there are some key differences between these two aspects, and they should not be used interchangeably.

If you’re confused about these stages, what they mean and how they contribute to your project, this guide is for you. Below, we’re going to strengthen your understanding of the process by looking at internal fit out versus interior design. 

What is an internal fit out?

In a nutshell, the phrase internal fit out is used to describe the processes required to make a space inhabitable. For example, this might include fitting lights, suspended ceilings, partitions, staircases, etc.

This happens when the base construction, also called the shell and core, is already completed by the construction team. Then the final fit out is set up by the occupant and takes place after the interior design phase.

There are two different types of fit out depending on the work that’s already been done, and these are broken down into two categories:

  • Category A: The space is already at a good standard for occupation. In this case, the fit out generally includes tasks like raising floors and suspending ceilings. Essentially, it’s a functional but empty space
  • Category B: In this kind of fit out, there tend to be more amenities, so the space is not empty. For example, the building might already contain staircases, floor finishes, partitioning walls and possibly even kitchens

Depending on which category your property falls into, different contractors may be required to come in and complete the fit out to make the space suitable for use.

What is interior design?

There are a lot of misconceptions that interior design is just about the colours you paint the walls or the art you hang up. This is not true, though this may be contributing aspect nearing the end of a project.

In fact, interior design is all about understanding people’s behaviours and how they want to use the space. It’s about making it functional and aesthetically pleasing.

This is achieved through layout manipulation and the division of space through walls, furniture or objects. It also incorporates comfort conditions like thermal, lighting and acoustic, as well as ergonomics. 

The interior designer will work closely with the architects, engineers and contractors on the project to ensure a functional structure and a safe environment that meetings all building regulations.

This is why the interior design process takes place before a fit out, so that contractors can ensure they install any partitions, amenities or appliances in line with the interior design concept that has been agreed upon.

What are the key differences?

We’ve already begun to touch on some of the key differences between fit outs and interior design in our definitions. But to help make this crystal clear, we have pulled together a list of the biggest differences below. These include:

  • Interior designers take into account the layout and how the room should be structured, but it is up to architects and fit out teams to ensure they have all the necessary construction permits and permissions to fulfil the work
  • The interior design process is about creating a space that is functional. These professionals advise on layout, products and surfaces to create a safe and happy space
  • This also means that interior design is based on personal choices and tastes
  • On the other hand, a fit out is about making the space liveable or usable by installing the practical elements and mechanisms, depending on whether it’s a category A or B fit out
  • Those involved in the fit out have less creative license; they are there to implement the basic fixtures and fittings set out in the interior design plan

As both these stages are important for the completion of a property, and there is some overlap, it’s easy to see why these terms are often confused or used interchangeably.

However, these are two very different functions; both are carried out by very different roles. Therefore, if you’re planning on building or undergoing some extreme renovations, it’s best to understand the different roles these functions play in completing your project.