Real estate

Our favorite home design apps

The designs we create in our heads don’t always look good in real life — take it from someone who knows.

The table we covet may not suit our dining room size and aesthetic, and it can be hard to know whether we’re really ready to take the plunge and paint the walls red. As homeowners we strive — sometimes struggle — to create our ideal environment. With the myriad of options available for furniture, paint colors, and window treatments, and the dizzying array of kitchen and bath possibilities, navigating the marketplace can be overwhelming. When it comes to DIY projects, we’re told that anything seems possible, but knowing where to begin can be daunting for many homeowners.

Fortunately, a multitude of smartphone and iPad apps help make designing and decorating our homes much easier and far more exciting than ever before. From basic room makeovers that just involve redoing the furniture layout to renovating your kitchen to building a home from the ground up, there’s an app that aids the process. The offerings include apps that serve to inspire with endless photo galleries replete with furniture resources; other applications supply detailed how-to guides for every home improvement project imaginable.

There’s an app that serves as a picture-hanging level, another that will provide the measurements of a piece of furniture, and one that offers a 3D-photo-realistic view of a floor plan — a tool upon which some architecture and interior design professionals rely.

These apps are some of our favorites out there:


  • Houzz is the largest database of home design ideas on the Internet. The app is similar to the site in that it features an extensive catalog of photos listed by room. It’s possible to narrow your search with subcategories based on style and location and to type in specific requests such as “moldings,” “counter materials,” and “bath fittings” to refine your hunt further. You can bookmark designs in your own idea book. The app also has lists of products for sale and professionals who can help you realize your design. Have children? Try the app Houzz Kids’ Rooms.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire


  • This clever app allows you to photograph color inspirations that catch your eye and instantly find their match among Benjamin Moore’s 3,500-plus paint colors. It’s easy to access the line’s full-spectrum color wheel to search hues. The app allows you to explore color combinations and group favorites. Of course, the app also lets you locate the nearest Benjamin Moore retailer in a snap.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android


  • Change the wallpaper, paint the walls, and replace your furniture without actually buying them with this app, which lets you virtually redecorate your house with remarkable detail. Start by taking a photo of a room. Upload it, then drop in furnishings from a catalog of real items updated constantly. Walls can be repainted with swipes of your finger. There are detailed product descriptions with prices and availability, along with lists of trends and a trove of how-to articles.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android


  • Online real estate database Zillow launched Zillow Digs as a hub for home remodeling ideas and to give users an understanding of how much specific projects cost. Users can browse and save images relating to rooms, styles, and specific elements. What truly sets this app apart? It provides users with remodel estimates on the kitchens and baths that inspire them. Estimates are based on location and are broken down by materials and labor costs. The app helps you find professionals to do the work, and you can follow, and comment on, other users’ projects.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch


  • In what looks like a hybrid of Instagram and Pinterest, RoomReveal makes it possible to show the progression of your home improvement project. Users simply upload photos and provide a narrative. Not only does the app serve as a personal scrapbook, you can track — and, again, offer your comments on — projects other weekend warriors and design professionals are tackling. The catalog of projects changes daily. Users can also search by room, follow their favorite DIY homeowners, and seek out designers and architects.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch


  • This app is an amazing all-in-one pocket-sized tool kit essential for anyone undertaking a home improvement project. Once you have it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. It features five commonly used carpentry tools: a plumb bob, a surface level, a bubble level bar, a ruler (swipe left and right to measure things longer than your phone), and a protractor that measures angles from 0 to 180 degrees.

  • Cost: $1.99

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android


  • While it’s tough to imagine that a handheld device can serve as a sophisticated starting point for building a house from the ground up, this one does exactly that. Starting in two-dimensional construction mode, users pick a floor plan, draw rooms, and adjust the height or thickness of walls. It’s possible to drop in furnishings and lighting from a database of hundreds of objects and to select door and window styles, floor coverings, and wallpapers. When the design is done, a click of a button can turn it into a 3-D version. Users can experiment with all sorts of redesigns and then take a tour of the new look with a 3D walk-through. The basic app is free, but if you want to save your work and take advantage of more features like an additional furniture pack, you will need to purchase upgrades, which start at $4.99.

  • Cost: Free (basic version, shown here)

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android


  • If you’ve ever found yourself without a tape measure, EasyMeasure could be your answer. The app shows the distance between objects as seen through your phone’s camera lens. When you boot the app, calibrate it; enter your height minus four inches to get to eye level. Utilizing a 3D-camera-overlay grid, the app makes it possible to calculate the distance between furniture in your living room. Just stand at one piece and aim the camera at the base of the other. Want to get the width and height of an object? The upgrade will cost you a buck or two.

  • Cost: Free (measures distance only in basic version)

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android


  • Renovation projects of all scopes will benefit from this photo-centric app. Pictures and design boards (collages of photos) are categorized according to space and style. It’s possible to organize ideas by picking your favorite photos and then cropping, resizing, and rearranging them to create personalized design boards that can include notes and drawings. For example, a design board for kitchen ideas would include “pins” of kitchen remodels you like. It’s a good way to visualize what colors and elements blend well together. One feature offers a directory of prescreened local professionals rated and reviewed by homeowners.

  • Cost: Free

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch


  • This app is from the widely popular home design website A virtual trove of inspiration, the app serves as an online sourcebook showcasing architecture and interior design ideas, DIY projects, and “steal this look,” which offers tips on creating high-style ideas cost effectively. The best part is the top 10-like lists of products, which range from artsy wool throws to modern wood armoires to toilet paper holders.

  • Cost: $2.99 (a basic version of the app, Remodelista Lite, is available for free)

  • Devices: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android

Jaci Conry is a regular contributor to the Globe. Send comments to
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