Embarking on a reno? Design it online first

JENN KITAGAWA/The Globe and Mail

When Candice Chan and Jon Sarafinchin decided to remodel their Edwardian home in Toronto’s Corso Italia neighbourhood, Chan taught herself Sketchup. The event producer used the computer program, available as a free version or a paid, professional subscription, to model rooms, try out tiles and play with paint colours. It helped her to develop her contemporary vision for the historic house without excessive real world trial and error.

Now, it’s a tool she recommends to friends embarking on renovations of their own. Exploring the possibilities of decor once meant depending on a professional or compiling online inspiration galleries. Today, a bevy of accessible digital tools are available to help homeowners visually communicate their ideas, whether to their architects and interior designers or directly to contractors and tradespeople.

Sketchup is one of the most popular programs, but there are other options with varying functions. For beginners, try Sweet Home 3D, which costs under $20 and allows you to experience your reno from both a bird’s-eye view and a visitor’s perspective. Prefer a mobile app? There’s Homestyler, which lets you browse other users’ designs for inspiration.

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“Even if you don’t have any sort of skills at all, all of these programs do a fantastic job of skipping past the difficult things,” says Tim Fischer, whose company Lifewire rates the best design software.

Most offer object libraries that allow you to drag and drop furniture and fixtures around your space. For big projects, Fischer recommends ensuring the software features both a roof wizard tool to automate one of the most complicated parts of home design and a cost estimator to help you budget. Welcome to the new DIY: digitizing it yourself.