Apps for the home

Interior and architectural designers are finding that technology is changing the way they interact with clients — and more of them are using and sharing apps as part of the design process.

An app (which stands for application program) can run on any size computer. But in new parlance, the term generally refers to small, specialized programs for smartphones and other mobile devices, often available free or for no more than $7.

Ron Marchetti, owner of Ashland Sterling Gate Design, has found that using SketchUp, a 3-D modeling app, enables him to work with clients anywhere in the world. Although his final drawings are done with AutoCAD professional software, he can use SketchUp to share designs with clients over the computer.

"It enables people to look at their structure in three dimensions instead of flat," says Marchetti. "I can send them my design, they can request changes and I can email them right back. The program is quite intuitive and user-friendly."

Marchetti says it recently simplified working with a client who had a new baby but was able to sit at her computer with the baby in her lap while she and the designer exchanged ideas.

"Houzz is the one I think is the best, and it's free," says Carolyn Allman of C. Allman Design Group in Medford.

Allman recently took a class in the use of apps in the interior-design business. "They have thousands of pictures, and they add more each week. You can search for rooms or styles or products. Then you can save them to your idea book. I think it's a great tool."

Allman also likes that she can put her finger on something in a room photo, and in many instances a price tag pops up, taking her to a page with more information about the item, including price, who makes it and where it can be purchased.

The app also contains articles on various design topics by professionals with links to their websites.

"I've only been using my iPad about a year," says Allman, "but it is amazing. People used to tear photos out of magazines and bring them to a designer. With this, it's constantly being updated, and it is so much more efficient. You can save everything in your personal file and not have to tear up magazines."

Both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams offer handy apps for matching paint colors. The apps allows photos to be taken of any item, uploaded and then matched to the closest paint color available.

Mark On Call is an app that grew out of designer Mark Lewison's book "What Would You Do With This Room?"

It allows users to take photos of any finishes, fabrics, wall coverings, rugs or flooring, upload them into the program and scale them into photos of rooms they want to decorate. It is a great tool for previewing the effect before purchasing. The app also allows users to scale and preview furnishings.

An app called Home Sizer calculates square footage of a building or property and has features that help estimate building costs. It also has a mortgage calculator that can help with quickly downsizing a room or house if estimated expenses are getting too high.

The Home Depot app searches a database of more than 235,000 products for potential purchase. Other stores have or are developing similar apps, which eliminate the need to run from store to store looking for that perfect faucet or cabinet knob.

Maybe the strangest app, although many people love it and use it regularly, is the Flashlight app. At the touch of a fingertip, it turns the entire smartphone screen into a bright flashlight, illuminating dark corners under sinks or inside closets.

Whether it's rearranging art on the living-room wall or building a new house, the new catch phrase really is: "There's an app for that."

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