These tools will rearrange your home without lifting a finger

Floor planning software is as old as computers themselves. Yet it’s one of those sectors that has been marginalised over the years in favour of newer and trendier applications

Floorplanner maps our your house with the minimum of effort
Floorplanner maps our your house with the minimum of effort

That’s a shame because at certain times in your life there are few more useful tools for your PC.

Floor planners take the guesswork out of designing your home and garden. They let you move furniture, plants and even doors and staircases around with the click of a mouse, so that you can experiment with designs which would be impossible in the real world.

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The best of them are accurate to within the millimetre, so as long as your measurements are correct in the first place, you can buy a new sofa or garden bench confident that it will fit where you want.

What’s more, they will show you 3D realisations of your designs, either as a bird’s eye overview as a realistic eye-level walkthrough.

It used to be impossible to get that sort of functionality for free, but that’s no longer the case. Many packages can be used online, with nothing to pay unless you want to start turning out designs in bulk.

The best application I’ve found is Floorplanner, an all-in-one tool which lets you create a floor plan from scratch or trace over an architect’s drawing, and which comes with thousands of off-the-shelf furniture items ready to place in your rooms. Type in the Swedish name of something in the Ikea catalogue and there’s a good chance it’s in Floorplanner’s library.

The process of designing a room or house is similar on all such packages: you draw the walls, then add doors, windows and structural features and colour everything as you wish. Once the basics are done, you can begin adding furniture by dragging it from a display panel at the side of the screen. If you want inspiration, there is a “room wizard” which suggests where furniture might fit, though it’s less useful in practice than in principle.

Floorplanner works in both 2D and 3D modes, and if you’re interested only in the former, you don’t need to worry about styles of windows, doors and walls. But the programme comes into its own when you switch to the walkthrough mode; here you can get an everyday perspective on what you’re designing. There is a catch, though: photo-realistic 3D rendering requires a computer or laptop with decent graphics capability. Less powerful machines will become stuttery as they try to render the different textures. As a workaround, you can use Floorplanner’s companion smartphone app to view your creations with relative fluidity.

The free version limits you to one floor at a time but you can buy individual extra features for around £1 each, charged in US dollars. You can also subscribe to an enhanced version for $5 a month.

Floorplanner’s chief rival is RoomSketcher, officially an office designer but equally suited to domestic applications. Besides flat plans, it offers 360-degree views and interactive 3D walkthroughs. Once again, there are free and paid versions and you have access to a database of fixtures, fittings and furniture.

Sweet Home 3D takes a slightly different approach, in that the programme is entirely free and intended specifically for non-professionals. It can be used online or downloaded to your hard drive, and works on Mac and Linux computers, as well as Windows.

Its interface and 3D module is less polished than those of RoomSketcher or FloorPlanner but that may make it more suitable for older computers.

It’s quick enough to try any or all of these, to see which you prefer. Other, more niche tools like SketchUp may also do what you need, especially if you want to experiment with 3D modelling. They are surprisingly easy to use, and easier still to get carried away.

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