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See it and believe it

Katie Roberts
Mountain Home and Properties

Imagine walking through your finished home before it’s even been constructed.

Sound impossible? Well, thanks to modern, computer-assisted design software, seeing and experiencing a completed home is a very viable reality ” or at least a “virtual” one.

There are many computer-assisted design products on the consumer market today, with prices ranging from $20 for basic programs to nearly $500 for more advanced ones. Ideal for anyone with the desire (and time) to learn the software or anyone who simply likes being involved in home-design, this modern technology provides just that ” and more. According to Peggy Forney, a Leadville, CO resident with a passion for homebuilding, playing with her newest software purchase is like going for a ride in a super sleek, high-powered sports car. In short, it’s a whole lot of fun.

“The first time I used this, it felt like I had jumped behind the wheel of a Ferrari,” says Forney, who is referring to Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Pro 7.0 made by software company Chief Architect (www.chiefarchitect.com). Before the most recent venture of designing her future residence, Forney had tried an older Chief Architect version, which she likens to a “Volkswagen.” The earlier edition enabled her to do very basic, shotgun-style floorplans.

“This newer program has the stability of the clunky, simple software, but the thing that’s different about this is that it’s a grade below what professionals use,” Forney says. “So for what it does and what they charge, it’s an amazing product.”

Creative process

While Forney may feel like she’s sitting behind the wheel of a sporty ride, she and thousands of others are actually tinkering with such software programs while planted firmly in a chair, typically at home, in front of a computer. Without going anywhere to scout out ideas or shop for products, people can spend a few hours learning the software tutorials and then start the creative process. This can include anything from drawing 3-D blueprints of their home and yards/landscaping to making architectural and interior or exterior design renderings. Some programs even offer extensive home-decorating features, such as choosing furniture and window treatments from popular national chains and placing them within the virtual home for a completely finished look.

The technology is so detail-oriented that it typically includes lists of current brand-name products, available colors and current style numbers, so software users know exactly what they’ll get, and even where to get it. Better yet, many modern software programs feature tools that allow users to “walk” through the 3-D home, zoom in and out on various elements, and view the home from various vantage points, such as looking into the dining room from the kitchen, or viewing it from above.

“One of the biggest challenges in interior design is getting people to understand the 3-D space that they have,” says Tracey Egolf of the Breckenridge, CO-based Egolf Interiors (www.egolfinteriors.com). “It’s quite complex to design a building, but if these kinds of software programs are used as a tool to figure out how someone likes their furniture or how to work with their space, it can be very helpful. They’re going to be so much more informed when they go to an architect or interior designer, and it’s going to speed up the process and make it more straight-forward.”

In fact, Egolf encourages clients, who seem organized and enjoy being personally involved in the process, to research their design options using online tools, like Benjamin Moore’s Personal Color Viewer and Hunter Douglas’ imagine Design Center. In fact, even Egolf sometimes uses AutoCAD by Revit, a 3-D, professional-design program. However, she says that even with these high-tech tools, there’s unwavering value in “a good old pencil, paper and eraser.” What’s more, she says, “The thing I would caution against is that any of these things replace the services of an architect, because it takes a fair amount of knowledge to design a house. It’s quite complex.”

Popular programs

Given how easy these programs are to operate, and that the Internet has enabled many to embrace computer technology, design software sales are up. In fact, there was a direct correlation between when the Internet “took off” and demand for Chief Architect products, according to Scott Harris, Chief Architects’ vice president of sales and marketing. Since re-launching its home designer programs with Better Homes and Gardens in 2003, the company has seen 50 percent growth, year-over-year.

“The Internet is a key source in how people find us ” mainly using the term ‘home design software,'” he says. “Further, we see people use Amazon.com for product popularity and reviews to help them in their decision making.”

But it’s also word-of-mouth that’s promoting these programs and bringing new users on board. Forney has told others about the success with her software and why she prefers one brand. It’s not just about value and quality, but because there’s always someone, “a real person,” available at the help desk, she says. With so many companies turning to automated or online customer service, it’s this human interaction that’s become a big reason why she praises the program she’s picked.


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