Forget hammers and nails. Help for design projects is online. A number of free or fee-based ($15 and up) software programs enable consumers to create floor plans for the home or office.
Even if you're hiring a decorator, the programs can streamline the consulting process and avoid costly misunderstandings by providing a full-color sketch of your tastes.
Here's a sample of design programs that arrange furniture, fixtures and other accents:
• http://www.seemydesign.com/: This free design program guides you step by step. Step one: Select colors from an online paint chart. Step two: Customize a basic grid by providing room dimensions and selecting furnishings from a broad selection of items. Step three: Rotate and arrange the furniture. The program provides floor and fixture selections and names of retail and wholesale outlets that sell the items you select. You can save, print and e-mail your floor plan to a designer or yourself.
• Online "Room Planners'': A few retail chains offer free online programs that let you design a floor plan using furniture from their showrooms. Two such chains are Ethan Allen at EthanAllen.com and Thomasville at Thomasville.com. Within 30 days, Carls plans to introduce an online design program at www.carls.com.
Each program differs, but here are the basic steps. The room planner option is typically on the main page of the website. You will have the option of selecting either a ''prebuilt'' layout or creating your own floor plan. You can then arrange the floor plan with furniture and accessories from the store's showroom. On the Icovia Room Planner offered by Thomasville you can alter walls, redefine corners and resize furniture by clicking on icons or dragging the mouse. (The link to the room planner is on the upper right hand corner of the main page.)
To access a greater range of online design features, Thomasville requires online registration. Registration allows you to save floor plans and to e-mail your designs to others.
Home Depot offers a variety of do-it-yourself home design software at affordable prices. Design packages include a three-dimension floor-plan design program for the entire home for $19.95 or design programs for specific indoor or outdoor projects, including bathrooms, garage doors and decks. Most of the programs cost $15 to $30.
That's my latest column from the Miami Herald.
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