Saturday, January 24, 2009

Play House

Putting a room together can be an arduous, confusing process, and any real-life mistake can cost you time—and money. A number of sites make it easy to update and redecorate your space without leaving the house. Sneak-preview new ideas—whether they’re replacement floors, paint changes or new countertops—via the following, free online tools. Keep in mind that some of these require registration and/or a program download, such as Adobe Flash Player. Here's a roundup of my favorites.
This is the most comprehensive design site out there—and the most fun. Create 3D rooms, mood boards, upload and redecorate existing photos, and shop for of-the-moment, stylish products.

PROs: Very hip. Rife with design pro advice, trend reports, and articles on DIY projects and decorating how-tos.
CONs: It’s a British site, so all products are sold overseas, and are offered in British pounds. Why, oh why, hasn’t it made its debut in the states?

Raymour & Flanigan Room Planner

Enter the type of room you’re designing (bedroom, living room), its dimensions (length and depth in feet), and simply drag and drop everything from sofas and recliners, to accent chairs and end tables, right into your space. (There are pages and pages of items from all of the retailers’ collections.)
PROs: Easily move and turn furniture around. Both generic and R&F pieces available. Handy rollover tool immediately reveals product dimensions. Print or email your plan to a local store, to your significant other, or your interior designer. There’s an 800 number that provides live support while you design. Pieces are in full color. CONs: Unable to search for a specific piece by name, must scroll through whole collections.

Enter room dimensions, room type, and get going.
PROs: Search for specific Thomasville products via SKU numbers. Details like structural elements (pocket doors, bay windows) are easily altered, added, and subtracted. Design with generic, black-and-white basic sketches or actual pieces from Thomasville collections. Cloning tool helps create parity.
CONs: Some room choices aren’t available: “Home office” defaults to “Bedroom.”
Choose layout (L-shaped, galley), pick your look (traditional, eclectic), select a style for cabinet doors and hardware (cherry with satin chrome, maple with brushed steel), and decide on appliances, plumbing fixtures, and a sink (single, double). Choose from six different kitchen configurations based on previous selections.
PROs: Kitchens are always a challenge and Lowe’s really breaks it down by fixtures, appliances, and countertops.
CONs: No-frills. A generalized picture of how things might look. Here is a 50-page downloadable kitchen planning guide.
Pick an empty, monochrome room (garage, laundry), browse thousands of products, and just drag and drop them into your scheme. When you’re done, save your work and have others rate your design chops. PROs: Nothing to download. Get insider-tips from well-known pros. “Inspiration” section allows more creativity by providing cues from nature and incorporating interesting textures. CONs: While you can select many different brands, it’s still a bit too consumer-driven and product-heavy. Objects are clunky and somewhat difficult to resituate. Slow to load.

Hunter Douglas iMagine Design Center
Pick a type of window covering (shades, blinds) and alter its features, color, and material to fit your room.
PROs: There is a wide array of colors and textures and a zoom tool so you can see fabric textures up close. Special product features, such as privacy and light control, are labeled clearly and rated on a scale of one to five, from sheer to opaque.
CONs: Unless you’ve searched through the site beforehand, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with Hunter Douglas’ product lines.

Allows you to scan and choose from an assortment of decorative ceiling options, engineered or solid wood flooring, and wall colors for nearly all rooms of the house.
PROs: When choosing floors, Armstrong helps you select the quality that’s right for you (based on traffic, required maintenance, etc.). The company also advises on appropriate materials (i.e. hardwood is not a good bathroom choice).
CONs: Rooms are basic and look a bit pixilated—some imagination is required.

Choose wall shape, type of window or door, and get started.
PROs: Your choices are (happily) limited to lighting, view, airflow, and complementary design (based on the shape of the intended wall) criteria, so you’ll know what you’re doing, even if you’re not well-versed in window-speak.
CONs: Although this is a great primer, you’ll still need an architect or contractor to advise you on which products are best for your setup.

So that does it for the design-based tools. Paint tools are different animals, so I’ll talk about them in my next installment. Enjoy! A.

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