Home Architect program makes renovations a snap TTC


November 22, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

When we were young and foolish, my wife and I thought it would be a great idea to buy an old house and renovate it.

This exercise not only provided us with a superb opportunity to deplete our savings, but also opened up vistas of marital discord that we had only dreamed about before.

Nineteen years, two kids and two houses later, we still enjoy opening up some of those old wounds. We fondly recall the nights we spent hunched over taped-together sheets of graph paper, drawing floor plans, arguing, erasing, drawing, arguing, erasing, drawing, arguing and erasing some more.

When we finished, the final product was so drawn, erased and argued over that our contractor took one look at the mess and said, "Why don't you just walk me around and show me what you want to do."

That was before the invention of the desktop computer. Couples embarking on similar adventures today can still argue to their hearts' content. But a new generation of inexpensive home design software makes it a snap to put those arguments on the drawing board and even render them in three dimensions -- including furniture in every room.

By far the slickest of these is Broderbund's new 3D Home Architect, which sets a new standard for ease of use and at $59.95, represents an incredible bargain.

Running under Microsoft Windows, Home Architect requires some computing horsepower. An 80486 microprocessor is recommended for best results, and you'll need four megabytes of memory and six megabytes of hard disk space.

Unlike similar programs based on traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software with special features for house plans thrown in, Home Architect was built from the ground up for one purpose and takes maximum advantage of the Windows environment.

When it starts up, you'll see a blank drawing screen with a tool bar at the top. The bar contains icons for drawing walls, doors, windows and stairs, and for placing cabinets, fixtures, appliances, electrical outlets and furniture.

You begin by drawing the exterior walls of your house or addition, then adding the interior walls and doors to create rooms. As you draw a wall, the exact length of the segment appears in a box at the top of the screen. You don't have to worry about placing adjoining walls exactly -- just get them in the right neighborhood and the program will join them up for you. No fuss, no muss, no sticky mess.

It's easy to stretch or shrink a wall: the other parts of the design affected by the change automatically adjust to accommodate. You can plop in a variety of doors (swinging, bifold, or sliding), adjust their size and opening direction. Ditto for windows -- and ,, you can specify double hung, casement or a variety of other window types.

In your kitchen, you can place base and wall cabinets, sinks, dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances. For bathrooms, there's a variety of tubs, toilets, shower stalls and sinks. Because the program is object oriented, as they say in the trade, you can pick up any object, move it anywhere and rotate it in any direction with a couple of mouse clicks. While the program does not generate full electrical plans, you can place outlets, light fixtures and switches and show which switches control which items. To get an idea of how your furniture will fit -- or see how much furniture a room will hold -- you can place chairs, sofas, desks, tables, lamps and bookcases.

Using mouse-activated scroll bars or cursor keys, you can move around your plan at will and zoom in or out. A tape measure tool lets you measure the exact distance between any two points, and you can put dimension lines anywhere you like.

When you've completed one floor, you can generate another one using the first as a room-by-room template or as a simple outline.

I tried earlier versions of design software a few years ago, and it's hard to overstate how enjoyable this program is to use, and how easy it is to change things around -- which is the whole point. And that's before you get to the fun part.

By clicking on a wall and choosing the elevation tool, you can see exactly what that wall will look like from eye level, complete with any cabinets and fixtures. To get the real picture, there's a 3-D mode. You can ask an overview of your whole house (complete with renderings of all fixtures and furniture), or place a 3-D "camera" anywhere to view any part of your design from any angle.

This is where you'll need some horses under the hood. On my 486DX/33 machine, which has a built-in math coprocessor, it took 30 to 45 seconds to generate each 3-D rendering. If you're working with a slower 486SX or a 386, you can expect to wait a lot longer.

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