With smartphone apps, design assistance is always at hand

By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; VA05

Design-related apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad could be a dream come true for enthusiasts seeking to satisfy their itch for decorating and inspiration on the go.

But just how helpful are these programs?

To find out, we searched the Apple App Store and tested apps that focus on home design, home improvement and, of course, paint. Below is a list we compiled of apps we recommend, plus a few we think should be avoided.

After hours spent downloading, test-driving and virtual decorating, we decided that for design inspiration and simple utilities, such as looking for a handyman, setting up home-related reminders and having an unexpected need for a ruler or a level, these apps can definitely come in handy. But when it comes to paint, we found that in most cases, the less you rely on your portable electronics, the better.

If you have a favorite home-related app not mentioned here, tell us about it at localliving@washpost.com.



For iPhone, Touch and iPad; free

Carry the cable network around with you for viewing past episodes or clips of home shows. The app includes photo galleries and a guide to which show is running when and which one you are missing right now.


For iPad; free

Scroll through more than 40,000 images of interior eye candy on this app. Photo searches can be narrowed down to a handful of cities, including Washington. Browse images by style, room and location, then save your favorites in a virtual idea book for easy access.


For iPhone, Touch and iPad; $3

This is a virtual design sourcebook with what seems like unlimited decorating inspiration. Features include daily postings on "What's New and Noteworthy in the Design World," My Design File (a place to save all your favorite images or posts in one place), Steal This Look (an image of an interior space followed by a resource list with links) and 10 Easy Pieces (the 10 best products from more than 100 categories). Viewing the images on the iPad's bigger, higher-resolution screen is a far superior experience to that on the smaller devices. If we could pick only one design app to download, it would be this one.

Moodboard Pro

For iPad; $7

This app helps you organize ideas for your next decorating project using images pulled from Web sites or your digital photo library. (You can add text, tape and thumbtacks for special effect.) Share your completed inspiration board on Facebook and Twitter or e-mail it to friends, family or clients. It takes time to gather images (the app's occasional crashing doesn't help), but it's a fun and creative way to visualize a project before you begin.


Paint Swatches

For iPhone, Touch and iPad; $2-$3

If you're looking for an app to help pick paint colors, download this one. Featuring paints from Behr, Benjamin Moore, C2, California Paints, Glidden and Sherwin-Williams, this app allows you to browse colors, pick palettes and organize projects and color schemes by room. You can save them, e-mail them and order swatches and samples from your device. As helpful as this app can be, take heed of the warning on the opening page that says colors on the screen may vary from the real thing.

Fast Paint Calculator

For iPhone and Touch; $1

Quickly estimate how much paint you'll need by plugging in room dimensions. If you enter the price per gallon of your paint, you'll also get an estimate of how much your project will cost.

Ben Color Capture

For iPhone and Touch; free

If you take a picture of a color that inspires you, this Benjamin Moore app will try to match it to one of the company's paint colors (and offer coordinating shades, too). We wouldn't rely on this app for a precise match, but it should point you in the right direction (and toward a local Benjamin Moore store).

Sherwin-Williams Color Snap

For iPhone, Touch and iPad; free

This app's color-matching feature offers the same so-so results as the Benjamin Moore app. The better bets are the Sherwin-Williams store locator with GPS, access to the entire line of Sherwin-Williams paint colors and the feature that picks coordinating colors for your chosen shade.

ColorChange and Paint Tester

For iPhone and Touch; $3-$4

The premise of these two apps is the same: Take a picture of a room and apply color to the walls in the image to see how it looks before you paint. The idea is great, but the reality isn't. It's difficult to pick the paint color you want, and the virtual painting is messy. The resulting "repainted" room image is ultimately not very helpful. A better investment would be to buy sample pots of real paint to test on your actual walls.


Home Stuff

For iPhone and Touch; free

Locate repair companies, handymen, design professionals and other home improvement services that are nearby by plugging in your Zip code. You get mapped locations for each business and can call them directly by tapping the phone icon. (Search results are powered by Google.) While this app could be a good resource, nothing beats a personal recommendation from a friend or neighbor when it comes to hiring a home pro.

ServiceMagic Home Improvement

For iPhone and Touch; free

This is another app that searches for home improvement professionals near you, such as plumbers, electricians, housekeepers, painters, locksmiths and landscapers. It differs from Home Stuff by also offering articles, advice and photo galleries for popular home projects.

House Keeper

For iPhone and Touch; $2

This reminder system will alert you by text or e-mail (or both) when it's time to address recurring household tasks, such as changing your AC filter (every 30 days) and water filter (every two months), and swapping the baking soda in your fridge with a new box (every two months).

Interior Design Glossary

For iPhone and Touch; $1

We thought this would be a useful tool for anyone embarking on a home improvement project, but the first two design terms we searched for ("cove molding" and "stair riser") turned up "no match." Skip this app. Search for unfamiliar words on Google instead.

Ruler Plus

For iPhone and Touch; free

Good in a pinch if you need the dimensions of something but don't have a tape measure on hand. If the object you're measuring is more than two inches long, simply hold the device against the object, then move the device to the right (and press "+") to advance the numbers on the ruler. It's not as cumbersome as it sounds, but you'll be happier if the item you're measuring is on the small side.

iHandy Level

For iPhone and Touch; free

This app turns your device into a level. (Be sure to calibrate it before first use.) We can see its being helpful if you don't feel like rummaging around in your toolbox for the real thing, but when we tested the app side by side with a real level, the results were inconsistent (though off by only a few degrees).



For iPhone, Touch and iPad; free

A portable Craigslist. Browse, post and e-mail to buy from anywhere you happen to be.


For iPhone, Touch and iPad; free

A blessing and curse for the eBay addicted. Never lose another auction again because you're nowhere near your computer to bid as the final seconds tick down.

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