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Lifewire / Jeffrey Daniel Chadwick
Complete home design solution
Comprehensive design tool array
Exhaustive object library
Dozens of hours of free training available
Steep learning curve
Home Designer Pro is the home design program you buy when you want total control over every aspect of your plans. It comes at a premium price, but it’s worth it for the committed DIYer.
We purchased Home Designer Pro (2020) so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The first thing to understand about Home Designer Pro by Chief Architect is that it’s the combination of all of the features and tools found in Home Designer line of home, interior, and landscaping design programs. It has everything from floor plans and interior design tools to topography designers and plant encyclopedias. There’s literally nothing about your home’s physical manifestation that can’t be put into this program.
A program this comprehensive is massive and takes a significant commitment in time and effort to learn how to use effectively. However, just because it has the “Pro” moniker, doesn’t mean that you can’t jump in and start using it right away. Just know you have a long road ahead—albeit fun one; if designing your dream home down to the last detail is what you want.
When you open a new design with Home Designer Pro, you’re greeted with a blank sheet of grid paper and several rows and columns of tools. If this is your first encounter with home design software, you will feel hopelessly lost. But if you’re also one of those people who like to jump into software like this without reading the instructions, you won’t flounder around too long. A simple survey of the tool ribbon gives you a pretty general idea of what everything does.
Finding your way around the software becomes easier the longer you experiment with it. Learning this software often feels like the experience of learning a new video game. If you enjoy building digital homes in a game like The Sims, this program will probably come very naturally to you.
Almost all the tools you’ll use regularly are accessible from the main window of the interface. Whether you want to put down a wall, place an electrical outlet or insert a door or window, it never takes more than a couple of clicks to do it. This gives the designing process a very streamlined feel, and once you’re in the flow, creating plans comes quite naturally.
If you enjoy building digital homes in a game like The Sims, this program will probably come very naturally to you.
Additionally, granular tools for each object on the plan can be accessed by right-clicking on them. This makes it easy to change the properties of a wall, center a door or staircase, and calculate materials needed to build a particular room. Making useful options available while keeping your plan front-and-center is one of the things Chief Architect does best.
There are several ways to see what your design will look like in progress. You can switch between the traditional 2D bird-eye view, to a gabled 3D look that will give you a more realistic picture of what it will look like when built. Additionally, you can pick a dollhouse view, so you can see the interior as well as the exterior. There’s also a framing view, which just shows the design’s wooden skeleton. The program even has the ability to create a walk-through video, to show you exactly what walking from your kitchen to your bedroom would look like.
As you create your design, the program automatically keeps a list of all the materials you’ll need to build your plans in the real world. You can generate needed materials reports on rooms, floors, or the entire plan. These material lists not only break down all the physical stuff you’ll need, but also estimate how much it’s going to cost. This is an invaluable tool that helps keep your project in its scope.
However, you should always treat the cost estimate is just that, an estimate. Always double check real-life prices against the estimate in the materials list. Also, note that the cost estimate doesn’t include connector units like nails and staples. And most importantly, the estimate doesn’t incorporate the cost of labor. These will all be nice conversations you’ll have with your contractor.
There’s literally nothing about your home’s physical manifestation that can’t be put into this program.
There’s a lot of knowledge and craft that went behind making these tools. And although Chief Architect does a great job at making them as intuitive as possible, it takes time and commitment to learn to use them proficiently. To that end, Chief Architect offers more than 120 training videos on their website. If you’re new to home design in general, and Chief Architect products in particular, you’d be well-served to watch all of them in their entirety. The company also offers free training webinars for customers for further instruction.
Installation is simple, so long as Chief Architect delivers the correct software. You can buy this software as an online download or have a physical USB flash drive delivered to you. When we received our flash drive, we installed the software, but the included product key didn’t work. We discovered that the company sent us their Home Designer Suite rather than Home Designer Pro.
We tried contacting customer service, but they were closed on the weekend. So, rather than wait for a new USB to be shipped, we downloaded a free trial version of the Home Designer Pro and used the product key we had to activate it. It wasn’t a massive obstacle for us to overcome. But a user that doesn’t know that kind of trick would have been stuck waiting at least a few days for the correct product to arrive.
However, once we got the right software installed and put the key in, setup was a breeze. Standard install takes less than five minutes to complete.
When we tested Home Designer Pro, one of our favorite tools was the Space Planning Assistant. When launched, it walks you through a step-by-step wizard that asks basic questions like how many floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc., you want in your design. It also asks for things like porches, decks, and laundry rooms. When you’re done, the program puts down all your rooms into your plans, making it easy for you to drag and drop where you want each to go. It’s a great way to get an initial floor plan going.
One of the most convenient interior design tools found in Home Designer Pro is furniture groupings. These are prearranged furniture arrangements designed for specific room types. So, if you need some inspiration or a jumping-off point for a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and more, you can download the grouping you like and drop it. Everything is easily moved around and customizable. This is a great way to quickly furnish an existing room or build a custom room around a furniture grouping you like.
You can generate needed materials reports on rooms, floors, or the entire plan. These material lists not only break down all the physical stuff you’ll need, but also estimate how much it’s going to cost.
Chief Architect makes it easy to get some inspiration from their library of sample plans. At the time of this writing, there were 31 completed designs on Chief Architect’s website—more are added every year. These plans range from designs for tiny houses and modest bungalows to million-dollar mansion homes. And they’re entirely and easily edited and customized - a great option for people who don’t need to build everything from the ground up.
Part of what makes Home Designer Pro worth its price tag is the intricate level of detail you can apply to your plans. The cabinet designer tools are a prime example of this. These aren’t just placeholder graphics—they’re your future cabinets down to the last detail. Not only can you designate their size and place, but also drill down to precise dimensions such as countertop thickness and overhang, as well as backsplash height and toe kick depth. You even get full control over box construction, so you can set details such as whether the box is framed or frameless, and set door and drawer overlays. It’s hard to find this level of detail in any other consumer-level home design software.
To furnish your new home design, Home Designer Pro comes loaded with object libraries for furniture, accessories, electronics, appliances, lightings and various other household items. Home Designer Pro’s main object library has nearly 9,000 items. Plus, there’s a brand-specific library with more than 46,000 brand-name products that you can download. You also have the ability to craft your own custom products and import specialized objects from other sources. So, there’s effectively no limit on how detailed your plan can be.
When you pay $500 for a home designer program, you should expect it to have everything. Home Designer Pro delivers on that promise by providing specialized designers for unique aspects of your home, such as stairs, fireplaces, decks, fences, and roofs. Each of these design modules could occupy a whole review unto themselves. Suffice it to say that when used effectively, you can use them to tailor high-quality elements that are detailed, precise, and unique to your design.
Planning the interior of your new home is just half the story with Home Designer Pro. This program enables you to design all the ground on your property. It has great landscaping tools that allow you to customize your terrain, put in slopes, hills, and other elevation points. It also has a massive plant library so you can not only recreate what’s already on your property but also experiment with other plants that you may want to add. This home design software even comes complete with a sprinkler designer.
This software also features a growth slider, so you’ll be able to see what those plants will look like years from now.
One of the most useful outdoor tools in Home Designer Pro is the Plant Encyclopedia & Plant Chooser. This allows you to search for plants that are best suited to your corner of the planet. It even features a growth slider, so you’ll be able to see what those plants will look like years from now. The encyclopedia is augmented by a library of thousands of plant objects that you can place in your design.
Despite its hefty nature, Home Designer Pro should function smoothly on nearly any computer bought in the last few years. We tested ours on a 2015 iMac with a 1.4GHz processor and 8GB of RAM. Those aren’t impressive specs by today’s standards, but they’re not awful either. Throughout our days of testing, we never had a single problem with the program stalling or failing to launch, and we never experienced any hiccup that would keep us from designing.
At nearly $500, Home Designer Pro is a hefty investment. That’s because it includes everything Chief Architect has to offer. If you want granular control over every aspect of your home design, then it’s worth the investment. However, if you’re only interested in or only need one component of this Home Designer package, Chief Architect has two lower-priced products that might suit your budget a bit better.
Home Designer Suite only costs $99, and Home Designer Architectural, just $199. These versions are pared down, but you’ll get many of the same powerful tools for planning homes and designing rooms. But you’ll lose access to more granular tools and have fewer items in your object library to use in your designs. Both are worthy alternatives to Home Designer Pro.
Home Designer Pro really has no peer when it comes to consumer-level home design software. That’s part of what makes it so expensive. If your budget doesn’t make room for a $500 piece of software, Total3D Home, Landscape and Deck Suite 12 is a fine option. And costs a fraction of Home Designer Pro. You won’t get all the detail and raw power as Home Designer Pro, but you’ll get more than the basics with everything you need to make a functional plan. And unless you’re the most enthusiastic of the DYI enthusiasts, it will likely suit your creative needs just fine.
A peerless home design software with an incredible level of detail and control.
Home Designer Pro is the software you buy when you’re really serious about planning your new home down to its smallest details. It has everything you need to make floor plans, layout decorations, furniture, stairs, fireplaces, patios, gazebos—everything. All the things your home has, or potentially could have, are included in this software. You’re only limited by your imagination and time commitment.