Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Home Design / Room Planning Software

Back in the good ol' days of design school, there were few options for room planning software, and they were prohibitively expensive.  For architects, Autodesk's AutoCAD is still the industry standard, but the software takes years to learn and relies exclusively on the user's knowledge of design standards and construction practices in order to come to a finished, workable floorplan.  Plus, achieving realistic 3D views takes hours of rendering time.

20/20 Technologies is used commonly by design students, office designers, residential interior designers and kitchen / bath designers in the retail setting.  It's a drag-and-drop system of adding cabinets, fixtures, appliances and the like into a floorplan, with 3D renderings generated with a couple of mouse clicks.  But the software has its limitations and glitches, and is available only to those in the design profession.

With the increasing popularity of do-it-yourselfers combined with the sluggish economy, companies have introduced their own versions of FREE software for the general public to use for their own homes.  People want to make sure that they can visualize what their new kitchen or couch will look like in their home before they fork over their hard-earned dough.  I've been exploring some of these new software options and wanted to share my opinion about them.

Homestyler.com is a web-based software site that is brought to the masses by the good folks at Autodesk (makers of AutoCAD).  


In my opinion, this software site is my favorite for doing a whole home design, because of the photo-realistic rendering capabilities and the many options they have for interior finishes.



Pretty impressive, huh?  There are a lot of really great renderings done by other designers in their Gallery in case you need some inspiration for that project of your own.

The wall builder tool is easy to use, and dropping in architectural details is simple.  You can resize and reposition items easily, as well as copy and paste multiple items in the same room.  

They have generic furniture items, all of which are resizeable so that they'll match the dimensions of your existing items.  They also have premium brands featuring each company's most popular items, allowing users to get the exact look of their Caesarstone counter or Circa Lighting ceiling fixture.

Two more sites that allow users to plan their furniture placement in each room in their home are Urbanbarn.com's Make Room Planner and Better Homes & Gardens' Arrange-A-Room.  I played around with both of these planners and find that the ease of use may be a little higher than Homestyler's, but the options are much more limited.  Urbanbarn.com's Make Room is less photorealistic and you either have to use the generic symbols or products from their own furniture line.  The BHG Arrange-A-Room doesn't have 90 degree snap points for walls or rotating of furniture, which is kind of annoying, because I'm really picky and like to have everything perfectly lined up when drawing out rooms.  Also, you have to drag and drop each individual item, rather than doing a quickie copy and paste function for multiple items.

For kitchen design, I really like Ikea's Home Planner 3D Tool.  


Resizing walls is easy, and changing options on the cabinets is simple.  The good thing about this tool is that it allows you to go easily from 2D plan view to 3D.  It also has tips for placement that those who are not professional kitchen designers wouldn't know (like leaving at least 1" next to the wall for a filler piece so the door hardware doesn't slam into the wall).  However, it can be difficult when trying to reposition a cabinet because of their snap-to-wall function.  Also, they only offer cabinets and appliances for kitchens.

Another kitchen design tool is at Home Depot's website.  The Virtual Kitchen allows users to choose by style, kitchen layout or brand.  You can pick from a pre-designed kitchen layout they have available in their library or create their own.  Fun fact: I designed the kitchens featured in the Martha Stewart Contemporary Perry Street, Casual Display 1, and Traditional Mount Desert photography sets when I worked at MasterBrand Cabinets in Jasper, Indiana.  Good times.

Lowe's Virtual Room Designer lets you design a kitchen, bath or a laundry room, either by starting from scratch or by using one of their pre-designed rooms and modifying it to fit your needs and space limitations.  You can also design your dream deck!  You can bet I'll be using that before next spring gets here.

So I hope my research will help you out next time you need to re-arrange your furniture or plan a dream kitchen.  Each of these tools takes some patience and some practice, but they're helpful and can save you time and money.  I think the time spent learning how to use these is well worth it to make sure that your living room furniture is going to fit BEFORE you have it all delivered to your house!


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