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Virtual Decorating
Free Sites Take the Guessing Out of Interior Home Design
by Roberta Roberti

Link-Up Digital
March 1, 2006

If you’ve ever redecorated or remodeled, you’re probably familiar with the experience of going to various stores for chips, swatches, and samples. It’s exhausting, and in the end you don’t really get a good picture of what the final results will be. There’s an easier, more efficient way.

Virtual, or interactive, room planners are Web sites that allow you to create model rooms based on the colors and textiles that you choose. They are usually, but not always, hosted by a paint or flooring company, so your choices will be more extensive in those areas. The idea is that you will be able to see what your rooms will look like with those companies’ products. But you are not obligated to buy their products to use the room planners.

The site http://www.andersonfloors.com has the Image Builder Design Center. This is a basic program that will change the color of the flooring, walls, ceiling, and trim. The National Wood Flooring Association’s Design a Room (http://www.woodfloors.org/consumer/design.aspx) is another basic wall-and-floor site where you can save, print, or compare room projects.

The site http://www.mohawk-flooring.com has Mohawk DreamVision. Start by choosing a room type (kitchen, bedroom, etc.) and style (country dining room, contemporary living room); then plug in your preferences. There’s also a decorating guide to help you make choices based on your lifestyle and tastes. They will soon have a program available that will let you use your own photos.

The site http://www.mannington.com has an online version of its virtual decorator that changes the floor and walls of existing room examples. However, it offers a free software download that allows you to use your own photos (other sites require that you purchase a CD-ROM to use your own photos). Benjamin Moore’s Personal Color Viewer concerns only paint color for walls, ceilings, and trim; however, a great feature of this program is that after you’ve chosen your colors from several collections, it offers the option to apply a specialty finish. These would be the techniques you often see used on home improvement shows (you know, the techniques you always say you’re going to use on your next painting project but are afraid to actually employ). Take a look at what your chosen colors would look like sponged on, ragged off, or streaked, and then get a summary printout. It’s really fun, and it can be found at http://www.benjaminmoore.com.

If cabinetry is going to be part of your home redesign, there are a couple of sites that change cabinet styles and colors. Congoleum (http://www.congoleum.com) has RoomVision, which allows you to change the floor, walls, countertops, and cabinets and lets you save the decorated rooms in a project folder. There is a fee to use your own photos, but rather than receiving a CD-ROM in the mail, the photos are uploaded onto the company’s server. You will receive an e-mail when the photos are ready for you to decorate online. My Color Designer by Corian also changes countertops, cabinets, and walls, and it comes with a price estimator to help you figure out what the cost of your project will be. It is located at http://www.corian.com.

The focal point of the Virtual Decorator at Bali (http://baliblinds.com) is the window shades. You can change not only can the style and color of the shades, but also the color of the chairs, sofas, trim, and walls to coordinate with the shades. When you are done decorating, get a printable summary and e-mail the finished room to a friend. This is the only site that allows you to choose the element you want to change by clicking directly on it in the photo.

Daltile’s Design a Room (http://www.daltileproducts.com/designtools.cfm) is a bit high-reaching for what it actually is. Since Daltile is a tile company, that is the central element, although it does allow you to change the walls and trim. The nice thing about it is that you can choose tile patterns as well as different grout colors. (Who knew you could get green grout?)

Better Homes and Gardens (BHG; http://www.bhg.com) has the best of all worlds. Choose from Color-a-Room, Color-a-Home (exterior appearance), Design-a-Closet, Plan-a-Garden, Arrange-a-Deck, and Arrange-a-Room. The Arrange-a-Room feature allows you to designate the size of your room and, from drop-down menus, click and drag architectural structures, furniture, and fixtures, such as windows, doors, fireplaces, radiators, outlets, sofas, tables, and toilets. (Ever wonder what a bidet would look like in your living room?) Ditto for the Arrange-a-Deck, only there it’s doors, stairs, barbecues, etc. Your room dimensions can be dead-on accurate, and you have the ability to rotate and size all the elements.

Related decorating features on the site are videos, decorating galleries, slide shows, newsletters, message boards, and blogs. The Room of the Day showcases a different theme or style each day for inspiration. There are even home plans available just waiting to be customized. All this is under the House & Home tab. The only bad thing about BHG is that I get really annoyed with their infernal animated pop-up ads. Small price to pay for the return.

Similar to BHG’s Arrange-a-Room is Pure Contemporary’s Interactive Room Planner at http://www.purecontemporary.com. Create a room with specific dimensions and place structures and furniture where you like. The Home Decor Organizer allows you to keep a detailed list of the decor in your rooms. For example, if your living room has an ottoman, you would indicate here that the upholstery was leather, the finish was wood, the style was Colonial, etc. I was wondering why anyone would want this when I came across this description: “Use the Home Design Organizer to remember those project details you can’t afford to forget ... and toss those tattered notes and old paint cans.” I understand now. The login system is not quite as user-friendly as I would have liked—I had various problems registering.

One thing that struck me is that as detailed as the programs might be, not one of these sites allowed me to change the color or style of curtains. Some will let you change the lamps, pillows, and even comforters (BHG and Bali). But curtains—essential accessories and often a focal point of a room—are oddly ignored.

Other than that, these sites will give you a good idea about where you would like to take your designing/decorating ideas. There are other interactive room designer sites, but the ones I’ve mentioned are both free and easy to use. One more thing: Turn off your pop-up blocker, as most of these programs will come up in a different window and will be identified as pop-ups.


Roberta Roberti is a freelance writer in NYC. She specializes in food writing is awaiting the publication of her cookbook, What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking, The Vegetarian Way.

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