A Look at Home Designer Software by Chief Architect

Product Review of Home Designer Chief Architect Software

software rendering of floor plan in three dimensions, looking down into furnished rooms when a roof is gone
3D Dollhouse View from Home Designer Suite 2015. Chief Architect Home Designer Software

Home Designer® by Chief Architect is a line of software programs for non-professionals. Intended to help the Do-It-Yourselfer (DIYer) create workable home and garden plans, these applications cost less than professional-grade software. Not simplified or simple-minded, Chief Architect products can teach you more about construction and design than a semester course at the local community college. And they are fun to use.

Advertisements promise that this software will "save you from napkin sketching," thanks to an integrated mobile Room Planner app which lets you measure and plan rooms on the go and then import the file into Home Designer.

You might love napkin sketching, but you'll still want to test out the next step in home design. For the inexperienced, try out the middle-of-the line product, Home Designer Suite. You may hit some bumps along the way, but you're sure to find some happy surprises. Here's the scoop on the 2015 version.

Using Home Designer Suite

Every year is a new version, but most applications work the same way. Download files from homedesignersoftware.com or purchase the DVD. Installation is the straightforward 10-15 minute process. Then jump right in.

Create New Plan makes you choose a house style before anything else. This gets you thinking about what "look" you want for your new construction or what style your built house might be.

Of course, the problem with "style" is that very few house styles are pure "Colonial" or "Country Cottage" or "Arts & Crafts." Select one of the style choices, however, and you get a simple illustration along with written content that defines what they mean by the style. For example, Urban Chic/Contemporary is described as "clean and spare."

When you first begin, the software prompts you to make decisions — for example, choose a core catalog for your library, framing defaults, exterior siding. Construction pros understand the need to know wall height and thickness before building. However, if you are impatient, you might feel frustrated by the need to choose style details before getting started.

The house style you have chosen loads an array of default style choices. Not to worry, however — these defaults can be changed at any time. Still, the creative side of you may begin wishing for the "napkin" part of the process — a distraction-free work area to sketch out your inspirations.

Building, Not Drawing

The default work area in Home Designer looks like a piece of graph paper, although this "Reference Grid" can be turned off. The unsaved file is called "Untitled 1: Floor Plan," so you may want to get into the habit of saving your electronic work often, just as you would in any software program.

The cursor is at the crosshairs, beginning at the 0,0 point of an x-y axis. It's all movable, so the new user may reasonably decide to draw a floor plan with a drag-and-drop motion. But Home Designer in 2015 doesn't work like that. The user of Home Designer software does not really draw or sketch a design, but builds and constructs a home.

If you begin with the Build drop-down menu, you will see Wall at the top of the list. Each wall section is considered an "Object," so once each object is placed, you can select and move it around.

The program functions like a builder — it progresses one wall at a time, one room at a time. An architect often thinks more abstractly and conceptually at first — a sketch on a napkin. In contrast, Home Designer functions more like a builder. Using this software, you may feel more like Bob the Builder than architect Frank Gehry.

Results: The "Wow" Factor

The very impressive 3D renderings will amaze you. The floor plan that you build can be viewed in multiple ways — overhead like a dollhouse, different camera views, and even a virtual "walkthrough" along a path you define. This DIY software takes away the mystique of any architect, designer, or construction professional who tries to "wow" the public with a virtual reality presentation.

Anyone can do it; it's baked into the software.

If You Don't Read the Directions First

Remember this, if you're not in the habit of reading instructions before you begin (you know who you are):  (1) Use Build >> then (2) Select objects to move and modify.

In addition to this Build >> and Select method, Home Designer Suite has two more ways to get your project going:

  1. Tools >> Space Planning
    Create "Room Boxes" to rearrange, then select "Build House" from the drop-down menu and poof — the walls and rooms are all there.
  2. Go to the Home Designer Samples Gallery and download a zip file of sample plans and renderings. One look at the floor plans and 3D views, and you'll say, "Yeah, I want to do THAT!" A nifty aspect of these sample plans is that they are not static or "read only" — you can take designs that someone else drew and modify them to your own specifications. Of course, you can't professionally USE them in any official way, because that would be stealing, but you can get a jump start on the learning curve.

Product Documentation Tells All

Every new edition of Home Designer Suite has its own version of a User's Manual and a Reference Manual. A very, very helpful feature of the Chief Architect website is that the company doesn't throw away much — from the Product Documentation page, you can choose your version of Home Designer from a drop-down menu, and a PDF file is available for your product and the version (year) of the product.

If you read the Reference Manual first, a first-time user may better undersand the focus on objects instead of concepts in the software environment created by Chief Architect.

The environment is built on object-based design — "object-based design technology means you place and edit objects, rather than work with the many individual lines or surfaces used to represent them." The environment is 3-D drafting, "a three dimensional coordinate system...using the X, Y, and Z axes. The current position of your mouse pointer displays in the Status Bar at the bottom of the program window. Architectural objects take up space in all three dimensions and their height, width and depth can be specified....In addition, the location of objects can be precisely defined using coordinates..."

How Easy is Home Designer Suite to Use?

When the video says, "It's that easy," well, it's not that easy. For the uninitiated DIYer, a half-day's worth of fiddling and training is recommended to become even semi-productive. Even after a full day of fiddling, front porch columns may go through the roof or stairways may end up as high as a rooftop.

Although there may be easier ways to draw a floorplan, Home Designer software really gives a professional look to even the simplest of floorplans. While designing the floorplan, it's very easy to switch to a different view, such as a 3D overhead called a "dollhouse." When viewing the outside of your design, you can easily place your new home in a stock photograph setting or it's even more fun to choose your vegetation from a list and do your own landscaping.

The online Support Center and drop-down Help menu are phenomenal. Help documents are constantly being updated, including:

The newbie might want to start with a quick tutorial and then reference the online User's Manual and the Reference Manual.

5 Reasons to Use Home Designer Software

  1. It makes you think about design, how elements/objects fit together, and how standard sizes and shapes of appliances can dictate interior design.
  2. It may save you money when you use an architect that charges by the hour. If you can conceptualize your ideas using the language of the professional designer or architect, communication will be faster and your expectations can be better thought through.
  3. The many standard features will keep you busy for weeks. The uninitiated will not outgrow this software anytime soon.
  4. Not only does the software integrate with the Room Planner app, but users can import photos of their own homes for landscaping and remodeling projects.
  5. Great support. Affordable price.

Other Considerations

Once you get the knack of using the software, it's just too easy to make complicated designs. Walls and juts are easy to add, but there's no on-screen calculator to show you the immediate construction costs of what you are doing. Beware of sticker shock!

Three-dimensional renderings include a snazzy ability to record a virtual walk-through. However, you will not be able create the simple yet elegant line drawings found in the work of professional architects. For that type of elevation drawing, you'd need to move up to the Chief Architect product line created for professionals at chiefarchitect.com.

Too many options can be paralyzing. Take your time and build your knowledge.

Green initiatives and Green Building Software Tips are available online for the Chief Architect professional software. It would be nice to see these tips directed to the everyday consumer, too. Chief Architect, Inc. offers two lines of software products: Home Designer for the Do-It-Yourselfer consumer and Chief Architect for the professional.

Both product lines are by Chief Architect, and both are described as Home Design Software. Which program to purchase could be confusing, so check out both the Home Design Software products and the Chief Architect product comparison.

Chief Architect has been making professional architectural software since the 1980s. The Home Designer line builds on years of experience with a complex interface. The heftiness of the manuals and the need for so much support suggests the possible need for a more intuitive user experience. Fortunately, the documentation is excellent. After a day of tinkering and discovering what is possible, anyone's imagination should soar. Home Designer can be challenging to master, but well worth the effort.

Cost

The Home Designer family includes multiple products that range in price from $79 to $495. Students and academic institutions can license the products when adopted as a teaching tool. Trial downloads are available, and Chief Architect backs all products with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

If your home projects focus on remodeling or interior design, Home Designer Interiors might be a better purchase at $79.

Internet access is required for installation, license authentication, deactivation, video, and library catalog access. Internet access for license validation is required once every 30 days; for Home Designer Pro, license validation is required once every 14 days.

Sources

  • Chief Architect Home Designer Suite 2015, User’s Guide, http://cloud.homedesignersoftware.com/1/pdf/documentation/home-designer-suite-2015-users-guide.pdf
  • Chief Architect Home Designer Suite 2015, Reference Manual, p. 21, http://cloud.homedesignersoftware.com/1/pdf/documentation/home-designer-suite-2015-reference-manual.pdf
  • Rendering examples by Jackie Craven

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.