It is not unusual to order a piece of furniture and realize, once it arrives, that it is completely wrong for your room. A red couch that looked amazing in the showroom might turn out to overwhelm your small space. And the last thing you want to do is invest in a heavy piece of furniture you have to pay to return.
To help visualize that couch in your living room, furniture sellers and interior-design firms have been rolling out apps and online programs that allow you to try furniture at home using virtual and augmented reality.
To see how well they work, I tried out a few from the comfort of my bedroom and living room — both of which need a refresh, if not an entirely new look. Some were trickier than others, but each one offers a glimpse of the future of online furniture shopping and interior design.
For $69 per room, this online interior-design service offers two surprisingly lifelike 3-D renderings of your space. The process is easy. You provide feedback on the room you want to design, including a rough budget, and take a quiz to help determine your style, selecting photos of rooms you are drawn to. (Because Modsy is an online software program, you can use your cellphone or computer.)
Then, you snap eight photos of your room (one from each corner, and one from each wall) and upload. In 10 days or less, renderings of your rooms filled with new furniture and accessories are offered. If you like an item, you can add it to a shopping cart. A personal shopping service coordinates shipping and delivery.
The style quiz, which determined I was a “mod enthusiast,” was fairly spot on: “You go for Danish Modern design and streamlined furniture, but incorporating some traditional pieces for comfort strikes the perfect balance.”
The 3-D renderings I received were not only surprisingly realistic but also fun to explore, showing each room outfitted with two sets of new furniture to scale and presented at various angles, including top-down and 360-degree views. And while a few pieces of furniture were not my first choice, most of it appealed to me.
The few hiccups I encountered were easily resolved by tapping on a service-bell icon for help with my design and dashing off a note about my issues: a couple of items, including a table lamp I was interested in, were not itemized in my list of products to buy; and I was not in love with the sectional that Modsy suggested for my living room or the art on the wall.
For $199, you can get unlimited revisions and access to a Modsy designer via phone, chat or video. I opted for the cheaper version, which allows for one revised design per room and unlimited use of the “style editor,” which allows you to swap products and adjust layouts yourself.
While using the bell service was a breeze, I found the “style editor” a bit clunky. It was not available on my phone. And when I tried to swap out a piece of art, I encountered a glitch that did not allow me to scroll down to see more options. As a result, I could access only a handful of alternative artworks, none of which appealed to me.
If you would rather create renderings for free, Hutch might be the app for you. Hutch, which made its debut this year for iPhone and Android users, lets you be the designer by snapping a photo of your room and decorating in 2-D.
Within an hour of submitting a photo of your room, Hutch virtually clears out all furniture, children’s toys and clutter so you can fill it with furniture sold via the app. You can create your look by selecting from furniture and accessories sold by Hutch’s partners, or choose from a list of completed designs called “filters” to superimpose a specific look onto your room, complete with a price list.
Don’t like the Deco Inlay nightstand (from Anthropologie) under the “flea market finds” filter? You can easily swap it out with a Marotta end table (from Wayfair). Tapping an item sends you to the seller’s website to find dimensions or to buy.
Although the filters were easy and fun to play with, I was disappointed by the lack of options when trying to create my look. Although I was designing a living room and bedroom, there were no options to customize other spaces, such as a dining area, children’s bedroom or playroom. And although I wanted to put a TV console under the window in my living room, the only categories available were sofas, coffee tables, lamps, art, curtains and rods, bouquets and side tables.
A few of the categories, including side tables, table lamps and chairs, offered only one option: sold by Hutch, all of which were out of stock. And for nontraditional spaces, you might have to use your imagination or try a couple of angles before you find a filter that fits your layout.
When Apple’s latest operating system for iPhones and iPads rolled out, a flurry of new apps came along to leverage the new augmented-reality development platform. Houzz, the home renovation and design site, was among them, with a new version of its 3-D shopping feature, “View in My Room 3D,” which lets you immediately place three-dimensional images of furniture, for free.
Say you are shopping online for a floor lamp for your dining room. A tap of a button below the item lets you view the lamp in your room by accessing your phone’s camera and superimposing a 3-D image of the lamp on the screen.
(Ikea, Wayfair and others rolled out similar features in the App Store with Apple’s latest operating system. Wayfair’s version works on devices supported by Tango, Google’s augmented-reality platform, and “View in My Room 3-D” now is also available to Android users.)
Houzz’s new version comes with a catalog of 500,000 products in 3-D. It eliminates a quirk of the previous iteration, which required users to pinch and zoom furnishings into place — an arduous task in my experience that resulted in inadvertently shrinking items to the size of a pea whenever I tried to fit them to my space. Now the app automatically sizes images to scale.
Seeing those images removes the guesswork involved in figuring out whether that coffee table will actually fit in your cramped living room. You now also can walk up to that coffee table to get a better sense of its texture. More than one item can be viewed at once on the screen, with each automatically added to a shopping list so you don’t have to leave the app to buy.