Home Design Studio - Design your next home at home!

Feb 13, '07 11:18:00AM

Contributed by: robg

The macosxhints Rating:

[Score: 9 out of 10]

Yes, a PotW with a $149.95 pricetag. Off the top of my head, I think this is the most expensive PotW I've ever listed (though someone might prove me wrong by browsing the archives). However, if you're the type who looks at your home and wonders "what if we moved this wall over six feet?" or "I wonder how a sunroom off the family room might look?" or even "someday, I'd love to design a new home," then Home Design Studio (HDS from here on) is a must-have application. As far as I know, it has no real competition on the Mac -- Google's Sketchup might be the closest thing, but they're really not direct competitors. It reminds me most of the old Virtus Walkthrough, which was around in the early 1990s. But HDS goes well beyond that program's abilities.

So what exactly is HDS? Remembering that I'm not an architect or a builder (nor do I play one on TV), I would describe HDS as a professional home design tool that's very usable by rank amateurs (now that's a better description of my skill set). Using HDS, you could design your entire home, starting with the foundation and floor plan, and including all the behind-the-scenes stuff such as electrical, plumbing, roofing, and HVAC. You can even do decks, terrain, and landscaping (and the landscaping can be shown at any age, to see how plants will grow over time). You can apply textures (paint, wallpaper, carpet, stone, rock, etc.) to the plan's walls, floor, ceiling, and other objects, to give your plan a better level of realism. With the click of a button, you can then move through, around, over, and under the 3D space, seeing exactly how it might look if built.

There's a lot of power in HDS for those in the home building business, but what I found most amazing is how approachable the program is for someone with no experience at all. We were contemplating re-doing our master bathroom a while back, and I had used a graphics program to draw a rough floorplan and place some objects on it (all from a top-down perspective). I would then move the objects around to see how things looked. It worked, but was clearly far from ideal. My first time ever using HDS, I sat down and had a rendered 3D version of our master bath done in about 30 minutes. Once it was modeled, I could walk through the 3D space and literally see how things would look after shuffling things around. Amazing. Creating a basic floor plan is as simple as drawing a few walls and placing 3D objects from the large included library.

HDS also includes a number of pre-drawn rooms, so you can literally build the home of your dreams piece by piece, just by dragging the rooms you want into the floorplan. Alternatively, there are 30 or so complete home plans included, which you can then alter to meet your needs. If you're really talented, you can, of course, start from scratch. When you've got the ideal plan, you can print it out and take it to an architect, showing them exactly what it is you'd like to create. Even better, if you're mechanically inclined, you can use the RealModel tool to print templates from which you can build an actual model of your plan.

Given the scope of the program, there's no way I can touch on even 10% of its capabilities in a PotW entry. Sometime in the future, though, I hope to have a more in-depth look at HDS (if/when that gets done, I'll update this entry to link to the longer version). For now, here's an example of what you can do with relative ease. I created the below "dream garage" in about 30 minutes, starting with a blank canvas. It's far from done (there's no terrain, the landscaping is minimal, etc.), but you'll get a good sense about what you can do with the program without a lot of training (I've only been working with it for about 30 hours, spread over a couple of months). Click on either image below for a larger version.

To create the garage, I drew the foundation (and HDS automatically put the walls on top of the foundation), placed and sized the garage doors and windows, drew the floor, driveway, etc., and applied textures to the various areas. I then dropped in a few 3D objects to give it a homey feel (every garage needs a big-screen TV, right?), and was basically done -- the last step was to use the Roofing Assistant, which created the entire roof structure with a few mouse clicks, and decide what type of shingle to use on the roof. I then recorded a walkthrough of the finished project, using the live 3D view. You can watch the full-size version (856x720, 23.5MB), or a smaller less bandwidth-intensive version (428x360, 3.5MB).

Using HDS, it's really easy to quickly mock up some home modification or addition that you might be contemplating. And while $149.95 isn't cheap, if it saves you even one meeting with an architect, it will easily pay for itself. What's more, the program has a 90 day money back guarantee -- so if it's not what you expected, you can just send it back. A downloadable demo would be even better, of course, but a 90 day return period is quite generous.

The other amazing thing about HDS is that it's Punch Software's first Mac app, and they basically got it right. First off, it's Universal, and it runs great on the Intel Macs. It also runs well on PowerPCs; I tested it on my 1.33GHz PowerBook G4, and was quite impressed with how smoothly it ran (the 3D view is the slowest on the PowerBook, of course). The program comes with a real printed manual written just for the Mac version of the program (a true rarity nowadays). The manual is also included as online help, and the interface is pure Mac. There are multiple levels of undo, and the icons used are (for the most part) understandable with a glance. In my time using the program, it's been rock solid -- no crashes at all. Any Windows-centric company thinking of coming to the Mac market would do well to copy Punch Software's approach.

While HDS is amazing, it's not quite perfect, of course. I'd love the ability to create groups of objects, and there's no alignment tool (align a selection of objects to the left edge, right edge, or center of the objects). The toolbar could use some additional customizable buttons (zoom level, for instance), and I wish I could import 3D objects from other programs (you can import Punch 3D objects, but apparently nothing else). Finally, navigating through the 3D live view is a bit tricky -- moving up or down, for instance, is a toggle with the Control key and a mouse button (the first time you do that, you move up; the next time, you move down), which can make it difficult to set the eye at the right height.

Overall, however, these are minor deficiencies in what is an excellent effort for a first-time player in the Mac market -- especially given the complexity and intricacies of home design.

Comments (9)

Mac OS X Hints