New 3-D architectural software makes renovations come to life

New 3-D architectural software makes renovations come to life

cenario: You’ve decided to stay put in your present home so you allocate thousands of dollars toward a major renovation. Most likely it’s the kitchen and/or bathroom that’s getting the makeover, or maybe you’ve decided to add a family room. After months of planning, lots of dust and disruption, it’s finished, so you stand back, take a good look — and hate it.

In today’s marketplace where consumers are opting to stay in their houses rather than sell them, that’s not such an odd occurrence. Yet, it is an unpleasant one that can be avoided if you find a construction and design firm that uses three-dimensional imaging to facilitate the renovation process.

Architects and many construction firms have used CAD (computer-aided design) for years to help clients visualize how new construction or renovation will appear. It was an incomplete process, however, as CAD is only two-dimensional. A computer software program called Chief Architect has revolutionized the way some contractors design and build homes, additions or major remodeling projects.

“It makes it much easier for clients to make decisions,” said Joel Kristianson, co-owner of Crimson Design and Construction Inc. in Naperville. “Chief Architect takes away all of the distortion inherent in hand drawings.”

At first glance, some three-dimensional renderings produced by Chief Architect appear to be actual photographs — that’s how realistic the program is. As users become more familiar with the program, the easier it becomes to work with and the better the visualizations produced. But the real power behind Chief Architect is the improved communications between the construction company and the client.

“We really weren’t able to present any design before this,” said Don Domanus, production manager of Mega Home Improvement in Algonquin. “We simply gave our clients a signed contract.”

Both Crimson Design and Mega Home Improvements have used Chief Architect for about three years, tentatively at first due to the economy and the program’s learning curve.

“We started doing interiors first, mainly because we weren’t doing a lot of additions and exterior renovations because of the economy, and then started doing exteriors with the program about a year-and-a-half ago,” Kristianson said.

Here’s how three-dimensional visualization works. Physical measurements are taken of everything — walls, floor space, door openings, the exterior elevation, you name it. From there, CAD drawings come next. But afterward, this is where the special work occurs. Chief Architect turns those CAD drawings into a three dimensional design. But that’s not where it ends Do you want a certain style of cabinets? You have it. Do you want a special countertop? You’ll see it. What about how the proposed addition will affect your roofing? No fear, you’ll see that, too. In other words, what you can envision, Chief Architect will produce.

Those who work with Chief Architect say one of its best features is the software’s ability to download styles from a wide range of manufacturers, such as Kraftmaid for cabinets and Daltile for tile choices. In other words, you can visualize virtually every product under consideration.

How important is this? Well, for some customers it means the difference between doing the job and not doing it. Dan and Melanie Bell of Naperville had Crimson Design renovate their kitchen and most of the first floor of their house early in 2011. Dan, who has limited patience with the renovation process, was extremely pleased with what transpired.

“Crimson was very diligent about the design plan and specifications,” he said. “What I originally thought I would like looked terrible,” Dan Bell said.

What the Bells liked is that they were able to see several iterations, particularly of the kitchen, which Dan had painstakingly thought he had envisioned. The difference for Bell is that he felt he was dealing with a design company and knew what he was going to get. For his efforts, Kristianson indicated he usually develops three to four iterations of a particular design. Doing more than that confuses the customer with too many options.

Having a customer able to envision what the renovation will look like, however, is truly invaluable to the contractor. “It really does take it a step above someplace like Home Depot with design because they can’t show color and pictures,” Domanus said.

Visualization really is the key here. Want a particular cabinet style? You’ve got it. Want to see what paint color will work on a wall? You’ve got it. The program has myriad possibilities. A room can be seen from a 360-degree perspective. A designer can also engineer a virtual walk-through of a property if needed. Determining what elements will look like is sometimes next to impossible with a simple CAD design. The beauty with Chief Architect is that with every year that passes, additional manufacturers are adding their style libraries to the program, making it easier for builders, designers and remodelers to show their clients exactly how their choices will appear.

Kim Harbauer of Downers Grove found this aspect particularly useful when Crimson renovated their 1950s ranch-style home. The original home encompassed only a single floor and three bedrooms, yet with Chief Architect, Harbauer and her husband Pat were able to see what their new kitchen would look like, as well as a bumped out family room and a second-story addition that encompassed three new bedrooms and a bathroom.

“The second story looks like it was always there, not something that was just added on,” Harbauer said. “I couldn’t visualize where we were going to drop the stairs to the second floor, but with this I was able to do so. I also think it helped me visualize how my kitchen was going to look and that’s important because the kitchen is where everyone gathers.”

One aspect of building and remodeling that is particularly difficult to visualize is the selection of tile. While kitchen designs do employ tile at times, particularly for backsplashes, the area where it’s crucial is in the bathroom. While Crimson Design has found Chief Architect to be less than stellar when showing bathroom renovations, Mega Home Improvements has found the program helpful in that regard, particularly because of the tile aspect.

“You’re able to show three different aspects with Chief Architect — floor level, regular height and overhead where you can see everything from the top,” Domanus said. “This really helps us show how things will look in a bathroom from the tile to something like toilet options where there are regular toilets and elongated models.”

In many respects, being able to show clients what they’re buying into makes the project more fun — both for the client as well as for the firm designing the renovation. While Mega Home Improvement didn’t have such extensive design abilities before three-dimensional design, Chief Architect has diminished design and prep time and has actually cut down on cost for the total renovation package. It also cuts down on guesswork, even for the workmen actually building the remodeling job.

Yet, here’s something that’s often lost in this serious day and age. Three-dimensional imaging makes renovation fun.

“It makes the design process more fun even for us because it gets the client excited about doing things,” Kristianson said.

  Pat and Kim Harbauer remodeled their Downers Grove house using computer-aided design, including the family room. Bev Horne/
  Pat and Kim Harbauer remodeled their Downers Grove house using computer-aided design, above right. Here, Kim Harbauer shows her new family room with Anne, 9 and Brendan, 7. Bev Horne/
The Harbauer’s added a second story to their 1950s ranch home. A computer program gave them 3-D representations, above, of all aspects of the project.
Above left, the Bell’s kitchen before its redesign. The Chief Architect software allows homeowners to see what a room with different cabinets, counters, floor and tile selections will look like before the work begins.
A computer-generated plan for the Bell kitchen renovation.
  The new kitchen at the Bell home in Naperville was remodeled by Crimson Design using a computer-aided design program. PAUL MICHNA/