Home redesign used to be a tedious process, but new mobile apps are making it a breeze.
Transforming a space into the ideal home used to be a cumbersome project involving three-ring binders, paint decks and massive design books. Now, interior-design tablet apps can handle all that, from wall dimensions to color-matching to seeing new furniture in a room before you buy it. The question becomes: which apps are the right ones for you?
Whether you’re doing everything yourself or consulting a pro, here are the tablet apps that experts use to make dream homes come to life.
“The digital world is fully integrated into everything I do,” said Alexis Rubin, owner of Funktional Home, a home organization and interior decorating business serving the Denver area. “When I’m at a client’s house, it’s not unusual at all for us to open up their iPad or computer, or mine.”
Tablets strike a happy medium between portability and effective visuals in the design process. They work better than a laptop for room-to-room collaboration, and photos resonate more on a tablet screen.
Mood boards, those old-school collages that convey an overall style, show up onscreen now. Rubin said she uses the Moodboard app, priced at $9.99, for the iPad to show concepts to clients.
“Say you want to do your master bedroom,” she explained. “I set up a private board with you, and you can click on that item and it will take you right to the Crate & Barrel site, where I’m trying to show you a sofa or a headboard.”
Finding a magazine spread that truly matches your exact design needs is rare, however, and bookmarked links tend to multiply. That’s where Houzz comes in. Every expert I spoke with ranked the site, which has a free app for all operating systems, at the top of their list.
Houzz, based in Silicon Valley, boasts the largest collection of interior design and decorating ideas online: more than 3 million searchable photos.
Rubin called Houzz one of her favorite apps and used it recently for clients who needed fresh ideas about existing sofas.
“I can go in and search black leather sofas, and all these different rooms will come up,” she said. The app allows you to upload your own photos and save ideas by project.
Recording dimensions is another area where apps are making things easier. There are apps that turn smart devices into tape measures, levels and even a plumb bob, such as the highly rated $1.99 Multi Measures app for iOS.
Tablets really shine when you want to record actual dimensions over sketches or photos. My Measures and Dimensions for Android and Apple, which has paid Pro versions, lets users snap a photo and then superimpose arrows, angles and notes on top.
“I use a line to draw in the dimensions, then I pop in the dimensions right on the photo,” said Dineen. “Contractors love that.”
Photo Measures, another app that works across operating systems, functions similarly.
When trying to find the exact hue you want, color apps leverage tablets’ pixel-dense screens. Yet, given that our eyes don’t see all colors the same way, there’s only so much technology can do.
“Being able to visualize color is always a journey,” said Barbee James, who leads the design and consulting firm Details Design Studio in Boulder. She can readily imagine what another color will look like, but noted that most people have trouble.
For straightforward color matching, however, a free app can be easier to check than a fat paint deck. There’s ColorSnap from Sherwin-Williams and Color Capture by Benjamin Moore. Both work across platforms, offering a digital way to explore their paints.
When moving to a new place, I used to get graph paper and make scale cutouts to figure out ideal room configurations. Friends came over and played with the cutouts: “What if you put the couch over here?” Well, of course there are apps for that now, and they don’t cost thousands of dollars the way computer-aided drafting or CAD software usually does.
Dineen said she likes the free HomeStyler app from Autodesk, which specializes in 3D design software. The app has detailed floor-plan options, as well as 3D views. After learning how to use it, Dineen began showing clients what their spaces could look like.
For quick floor-plan generation on an iPad, the $9.99 Interior Design app from Black Mana Studios gets positive ratings. There’s also the $4.99 Mark on Call for Apple devices, which Rubin said she uses.
Designers would love to play with virtual objects in real spaces to see precisely how they would look. While the tech hasn’t become widely available yet, companies are working hard to make this futuristic vision happen.
The augmented-reality startup Augment has been working with retailers like Ikea to help prospective buyers see how furniture will actually look in their homes.
Move the tablet or phone around to view a puffy chair from different angles. You can slide a couch over to center it along a wall just using your fingertip — no graph paper required.
A professional writer and editor, Alyssa Danigelis focuses on the intersection of technology with sustainability, business, media, arts and design. Her interest in technology has led her to cover self-healing power grids, 3D-printed food, wearable computers and robotic couture. Originally from Vermont, she’s a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She lived in New York City for several years before falling in love with sunny Boulder, Colorado, where she currently resides. Her writing has appeared in publications that include MIT’s Technology Review, Natural Health, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Discovery News. Find her on Twitter at @adanigelis. She’s excited about sharing her passion for cool tech with iQ by Intel’s readers.