Google SketchUp is a brilliant tool that DIYers of any skill level should be able to take advantage of.
With work on our living room well under way, it was time to get serious about some of our design decisions. Specifically, the fireplace is pretty much a complete do-over and while we have good examples to work off of due to Jeannie's research and via similar houses on our block, I was still having a hard time visualizing what it should look like.
This was the perfect opportunity for us to try out Google SketchUp--a tool by a company Google acquired last year and then made free for anyone to use. SketchUp is known for effectively balancing power with simplicity and while we hadn't had a reason to use it ourselves we'd read good things from professionals and amatures alike.
In just 45 minutes I'd quickly mocked up the living room, two adjoining rooms, and the fireplace.
Here's a close up of the fireplace detail (still a work in progress--I'll be experimenting with interior design now that I've got the basics in place).
As much as I'm pleased with my own drawings, a quick search of the online "3D Warehouse" of SketchUp objects quickly puts me to shame. The Warehouse makes it incredibly easy to share designs among users, and people have uploaded some amazing drawings: a detailed fireplace (check out the stockings!), a full master bedroom (with a beautiful fireplace), and even an entire neighborhood (albeit with remarkably similar homes).
Not surprisingly, manufacturers like Whirlpool are even publishing their own products as objects in the Warehouse. Google provides a small listing of these objects here. Hopefully this grows over time, as it could be very helpful to users looking to quickly incorporate consumer products into designs.
Luckily Google appears to apply the same smarts to the object search that they do to their regular search service which is important as the Warehouse fills with designs. The good stuff needs to rise to the top somehow.
From my perspective, the range of quality in these designs reflects the true strength of SketchUp--its flexibility. For my own purposes, a quick mock-up of our entire living room was adequate. I drew most of the room quickly, dropped a few pre-drawn objects in like a Craftsman front door, and then spent most of my time focused on our fireplace (the main thing I wanted to visualize). While I could have gone into much more detail for the whole room, I didn't need that. The beauty of SketchUp was that I only spent time on the things that mattered to me. That's a big improvement over other design and layout programs I've used that force you to work with entire rooms.
Given that I've only used SketchUp for a few hours, I'm hesitant to provide any suggestions. It's likely that the things I observe as missing are just features I haven't found yet. That said, I guess these can be taken as things that aren't immediately obvious to me, a new user:
So, there you have it. SketchUp is hands down the best program I've used to mock up projects yet and now that I've tried it out it I'm sure I'll be coming back...including more work on the fireplace detail.