capsule review

Home & Landscape Design Studio for Mac 14.1

At a Glance
  • Punch! Software Home & Landscape Design Studio for Mac 14.1

    Macworld Rating

Home & Landscape Design Studio for Mac 14.1 is a 3-D program aimed at home owners who want to design or remodel a home or landscape. This updated version creates a much richer experience for Mac users, than the previous package. New features such as QuickStart home layout, built-in green building tips and materials, and an expanded object library including Google 3-D support, will have users designing quickly and easily right out of the box. Home & Landscape Design Studio (H&LDS) tries to provide you with results similar to a professional CAD (computer-aided-design) application with the ease of use and quick learning curve of a consumer-level design program.

Timesavers

One of this version’s new standout features is the QuickStart part of the SmartRoom technology. It works like this: At the start of a project, you drag and drop rooms onto a grid as simple rectangles. Want a kitchen? Grab the kitchen box, place it, size it, and move on to the next room. When you finish this rough layout, the program automatically creates a floor plan with labels and dimensions. But the plan is not simply 2-D; it is 3-D as well. So you can view your creation in 3-D, add an automatically generated roof, and view a photorealistic rendering of the project. Click the Continue button to move back to the 2-D design space to refine and modify your drawing.

This process works great on fairly simple designs (not too many twists, turns, or alcoves). However, when creating designs that are more complex, or after tweaking the walls of your design, it does not always work perfectly. For instance, the automatic roof creation function would often get confused after wall edits and come up with something odd, impractical, or just plain impossible.

Another timesaving new feature is the included library of templates. Instead of designing a kitchen from scratch, you can go to the template library and choose a pre-designed kitchen. Then you can decorate your kitchen with your preferred colors and materials. With templates for most rooms in a house, you can quickly plug in pre-organized rooms with minimal effort to create an entire home. You can edit templates for dimensions and content, but each element making up the template must be edited individually for good results. So, if you find templates that satisfy your vision when designing your space, then this process works great. Designing a custom kitchen or other room from scratch, or by modifying the included templates, is much more time consuming.

Fast photorealistic views

One really fun element of H&LDS is the real-time 3-D. Once you have the basics of your design down, try opening the 3-D window and watch the design update. Adding 3-D objects to your 2-D design will cause them to appear in your 3-D model immediately. Adding color and textures to finishes in your design will bring it to life and give you impressive photorealistic views. You can move through and around your design to see how rooms will feel, what the view will be from windows, or how spacious that bathroom really is. Punch! has improved the program’s performance for this release. Even on an older PowerBook G4, the 3-D rendering engine had no problem keeping up with the 2-D design window in real time.

If you are working on a landscape plan, adding plants to your landscape can be a little frustrating; they are so small and unimpressive when first planted. H&LDS solves this problem by letting you “grow” your landscape by up to 20 years so you can see how foliage will look when it’s mature. The program includes a fairly large library of plants and trees, although you will inevitably find that specific plants you would like to use are missing.

Going green

New for this release are “green” features that include “green tips” and green library objects. The tips consist of a list of general guidelines for green building. For instance, one tip is to include storm water collectors to be used in air conditioning, but there is no instruction on how to implement this in your design. The same green tips could easily be obtained online with more useful detail.

In my review of version 11, I encouraged Punch! Software to add more brand-name manufacturer products and materials to future versions and for this version and they have; the new version’s 3-D library includes items from many manufacturers, the most significant being a new group of Green objects for making more environmentally sustainable selections. These include finishes such as bamboo flooring and EnviroGLAS counters and objects such as wind turbines and solar collectors.

In addition, H&LDS now lets users import SketchUp objects from Google’s 3D Warehouse. This gives you access to thousands of objects from furniture to entire buildings. These objects are created by SketchUp users, so quality, scale, and usefulness may vary.

This 3-D rendering of a garden and building is typical of the results you can get easily and quickly.

Construction tools

There is a new cost estimation tool for H&LDS. Estimator will help you determine the construction cost of your creation using a spreadsheet that is broken into sections such as foundation, flooring, and landscaping. Each section automatically shows the items and material quantities from your project that H&LDS has calculated for you. The catch is, you have to provide your own unit costs. For instance, if you have added a concrete patio, you will have to find out and fill in the cost per cubic yard of concrete in your area, including labor and delivery.

Also new is a Framing Editor that allows you to design your framing elements such as beams, floor joists, roof joists, and more. Note that no contractor will commence a construction project without a design executed by a certified engineer or architect. However, the H&LDS framing 3-D view automatically shows you what your house framing might look like, and is very cool.

Still quirky

Home & Landscape Design Studio is definitely a fun program and can engage users in the excitement of designing. The tutorial videos are extremely useful for learning new tools. Keep the inch-and-a-half thick user’s guide handy, though, as you will run into situations that are difficult to solve through intuition alone. For example, creating a multiple story house is a snap but adding a staircase and cutting away the upper story floor will prove much more difficult. Once you get comfortable with the basics and start having fun, you will soon run into frustrations as you try to make your model more detailed and more dimensionally accurate.

Practical applications

Home & Landscape Design Studio users will likely fall into two categories: They’re designing a new dream house or dream landscape or remodeling an existing house or landscape. If you are starting from scratch and are willing to stay within the limits of the QuickStart features, the provided object libraries, and the auto-generated features, you can get astounding 3-D rendered views of your creation with a minimum of effort and time, especially when compared to more expensive and complex professional CAD and drawing programs. However, if you are drawing an existing home plan into the software, be prepared to spend a great deal of time tweaking walls, doors, and windows to get them to the correct size and positions. Specifying exact wall sizes requires a special wall tool. Changing the size of a wall and placing it exactly where you want can be challenging. Angled walls and other non-standard wall features are difficult to replicate in the software.

Home & Landscape Design Studio is marketed as a way for you to design your own home, and Punch! even includes a way to send your plans to a printing service where you can pay for prints. It also provides a way to contact contractors through a Web site referral service. The problem is that your drawings will not be exact enough to build from, or even to get a building permit. The drawings will lack information needed to satisfy local building codes and show construction methods necessary for producing construction documents. You would still need to employ a professional architect or designer for that. However, your drawings will be an excellent way to communicate your ideas to such professionals.

Macworld’s buying advice

Punch! Software’s Home & Landscape Design Studio for Mac 14.1—at about $150—is an excellent value for what it does well: create quick and impressive 3-D views of your dream home or landscape design that showcase your vision for your property. Staying within the bounds of the QuickStart process, the templates, and the provided objects and materials make this process a blast. But coaxing the program to the level of customization and accuracy demanded by construction documents or to create some of the impressive and detailed renderings used in their marketing, while technically possible, will prove a time consuming and sometimes frustrating experience.

[Greg Miller is an architect and an interactive software and Web developer specializing in new media for the architecture, engineering, construction, and publishing markets.]

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Impressive renderings with little time and effort
    • Template library includes pre-designed rooms
    • QuickStart features

    Cons

    • Entering existing plans and creating more detailed models can be time consuming and frustrating
    • Green tips are not detailed enough
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