Renovation software can be a lifesaver


Friday, December 28th, 2007

Home Hardware’s computer program can take the stress out of remodelling your home

Joanne Hatherly
Sun

James Cook uses Home Works software on a computer at a Home Hardware store. Photograph by : Ray Smith, CanWest News Service

Everybody loves to try before they buy. Consider taste-test tables set up in grocery store aisles, or the mandatory road-test for a car.

But renovating a house is a bigger undertaking than sipping on a can of Coke or test-driving a car, so it can be challenging for homeowners to stretch their imaginations to visualize the effects of a makeover.

Would the living room look better with ceramic tile or hardwood floors? How about the front door: Should it be a craftsman, colonial or mission?

The computer revolution changed all that, so that now with the click of a mouse, the phrase “what you see is what you get” is becoming reality.

At the end of 2006, Home Hardware introduced HomeWorks, a home-imaging software package that allows consumers to piece together a digital do-over. It paints, installs doors and windows, refloors rooms, sets up new columns, re-surfaces the driveway and more.

Andrew Pantelides, a national product manager at Home Hardware in Montreal, says the software was designed for contractors and as an in-store retail tool, but they quickly saw it “had legs” for the customer’s in-home use.

They linked it up with more than 30 national suppliers so the package uses manufacturers’ windows, doors, flooring, interior and exterior paints, landscaping, siding, roofs, screens, masonry, stone pavers, railings and more.

It might be the most comprehensive digital remodelling package on the market. Other retailers are picking up the trail, as well. Browse the Rona website that features virtual walk-throughs on home plans and downloadable landscaping plans. (rona.ca).

Before HomeWorks, the best-known digital imaging application for the home was introduced through paint manufacturers’ websites where browsers could digitally repaint virtual rooms. Benjamin Moore has its Personal Colour Viewer; Glidden had [email protected], Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer, and Behr Paint Your Place.

Increasingly, manufacturers have posted these packages on their sites as free downloads. Upgrades that allow shoppers to use photos of their own homes can be purchased for less than $20.

Other home-related manufacturers and retailers followed. Now consumers can digitally tinker with landscaping, design their own closet organizer, and figure out how to make over kitchens and bathrooms.

The programs have grown more sophisticated while they’ve become simpler to use. Daryl Stanley at Victoria‘s Floor Covering International retail started using a digital flooring program in October. He still bumps around as he navigates the program, but in a short time, he has become adept enough that the program has changed his sales calls.

“I used to draw diagrams for customers,” says Stanley. “Now I can show them whatever it is they want — tile, hardwood, carpet, luxury vinyl. If they want to see what Brazilian cherry will look like in their living room, I can show it to them.”

He notes, however, that consultation is still a big part of the selection process. “I don’t think any program can make it perfect, and there are still things to discuss.”

Those things include lifestyle, traffic and decorating preferences.

How easy — or hard — is it to use HomeWorks? The proof, in this case, is in the computer’s disk drawer.

Ross Bay Home Hardware owner-manager Greg Hellyer invited a reporter to navigate the program with James Cook, 23, a staffer who had never used it.

The program loads quickly into the store’s computer. Cook wanders through the options and opens a detailed illustration of a craftsman-style house complete with porch. He scrolls through paint choices — the variety is as wide as the stock on the store’s shelves. He picks a brand and then a style, which opens a sidebar of colour choices.

The program is brand specific — those 30 to 40 big-name suppliers Pantelides mentioned — and provides a product list that users can take to the store, which means when they order a specific paint colour, that’s the colour they will get.

Cook cautions, however, that colours on a computer monitor do not always look the same on the wall, so customers should check the paint colours in the store.

The software designers planned ahead on the HomeWorks program: It not only provides images of products available through the store, it also lists regional availability. For example, when Cook selected a particular type of masonry, the system advised him that it was only available in Eastern Canada.

“What that tells you is that we would have to order that in,” Cook says.

Use the Internet to download updates, so the user won’t select items that are no longer stocked.

Before Cook shuts down the program, he stumbles over one unexplored key.

“Ah, the tutorial!” Cook says as a detailed how-to list pops up. “Ordinarily, it would be a good idea to look at that first.”

PLANTING IDEAS

Nothing “greens” a home better than a few well-placed plants. For most of us, that means using the trial-and-error method — purchasing the plant, selecting a pot that dovetails nicely with our home’s interior look, and then stepping back to measure the overall effect.

It’s simple, and for the most part it works, but what about when the pot in question is more than one metre tall and hauling it to your home produced enough back strain that you dread the idea of returning it? What if your plant acumen is somewhat on the low side and you’ve lost some money when you put those shade-friendly plants under a south-facing skylight, thus scorching the leaves to an autumnal brown?

A little digital enhancement might go a long way in making this process easier. Such a service — its roots well-established in hotels, businesses and malls — is creeping into the residential market.

Joanne Craft, B.C. vice-president for Initial Tropical Plants, says residential clients are taking advantage of the technology that allows them to show how a home would look with a variety of plant selections.

“It’s created a huge ‘wow’ factor with our clients,” says Craft.

The process is as simple as a consultation, taking photos of the home and digitally enhancing them to show the plant selections in the exact location.

No more brain-strain while you try to imagine how that palm tree would look in your foyer.

“With digital imaging, clients can make that decision very easily,” Craft says.

Getting others in the act is simple, too, by e-mailing the images around for those second, third and fourth opinions. Most of the homes taking advantage of this service fall into the “mansion” category, says Craft, but she can see its appeal to the mid-range market, especially with the growing interest in home interiors.

Plants are, after all, the ultimate organic green accent.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 



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