Giving the home a makeover the apps way

It's now easier to become a DIY decorator, thanks to the many software applications and other tools on the internet

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:13am

Ask the uninitiated to undertake a design project solo, without the aid of a professional decorator, and the immediate response is inevitably: "Where do I start"?

Although the field of interior design continues to grow, more homeowners are going it alone.

And thanks to a burgeoning number of software applications, new websites and other tools, it is now easier than ever to become a do-it-yourself decorator.

But first, there are a huge number of online options to trawl through.

"The No 1 consumer challenge in home decor and furniture buying is that there are simply far too many choices," said Barry Abraham, the founder and chief executive of, a site set up this year to simplify life for DIYers.

Abraham is billing Pure Home as "the of the design world" - essentially using the same algorithms of dating sites to match users' tastes with product and style recommendations.

Visitors to the site are offered a number of preferred looks - among them eclectic, industrial, coastal, Mediterranean, masculine - and any one of those leads to more specific options. For example, click on Romantic and be directed to Modern Urban, Metallic Beauty or Gothic Inspired. Underneath those sub-categories are dozens of products to achieve that aesthetic, from large furniture to tableware.

Many of the 25,000 products on the site are available through only Pure Home, which ships internationally.

The No 1 challenge ... is that there are simply far too many choices
Barry Abraham,

Other recent innovations aiming to make DIY design less intimidating, especially for first-timers, include MagicPlan, an app that removes the need for measuring tape; just take a picture on the smartphone or tablet and the app measures the room and delivers an instant floor plan. It is so popular that it is currently responsible for 20,000 floor plans a day. The app is free, although the company does charge to export it in pdf or jpg format, for up to US$2.99 per plan.

Also proving invaluable to the DIY contingent is old-timer Houzz, which acts almost as an online scrapbook of design ideas: there are more than 3.2 million photographs from around the world of rooms, outdoor spaces, aesthetics, price points, size and countries.

So for those looking to create a mid-century bedroom at a budget for a metropolitan city space, a photo of just that - done by someone in Phoenix - turns up listing the name of the paint, where the furniture is from, how the bed was created - essentially giving everyone the tools to have the same look themselves.

Autodesk, a company that makes 3D design software, has its Homestyler application, which helps people create floor plans and room layouts, and allow them to see what their spaces would look like with new furniture, lighting and appliances before they commit to buying.

Functions also allow users to share possible ideas with friends through social media, and to elicit opinions from them or others in a Homestyler online community. A newly launched feature for the app can even conceal existing furniture in a space, making it easier to visualise when redone.

Even if working with an interior designer, some of the new applications can help move things along. Shandra Ward, a principal designer of Signature Designs in Houston, Texas, has asked clients to use MagicPlan to take measurements of rooms and has directed them to sites like flor. com, which helps them choose their own carpets and even request samples to match a particular colour or pattern to a space before buying. Colorsnap, an app by paint maker Sherwin Williams, allows users to "paint" walls in a photo.

"A lot of people don't know how to choose paint colours," said Ward. "Especially if they are going with something bold. This way they can see how a room would look with that particular colour stain in it."

Abraham said interior design professionals had had to change how they worked given how buying behaviour had changed.

"People used to spend an afternoon going from store to store with an interior decorator, but that has changed. The whole process has been simplified.

"We'll never replace interior designers - some of our largest orders are from designers - but we do have to create a user experience that is completely different.

"It's not just about a two-dimensional shopping experience at the lowest prices, but bringing pieces together, like a human interaction."

Still, sometimes it is still necessary to have a design professional on hand.

"All these apps can sometimes confuse people even more," Ward said. "It really depends on the person, if they are a true do-it-yourselfer, if they really get it. But there are always little things to know - whether a certain colour will fade in the light in a particular space - that people can forget to consider."