Here's all you need to know about Home Designer Suite 2020 by Chief Architect. We've done hours of research and tested a range of programs to create our in-depth reviews, which we've reviewed and rated in our comprehensive guide to the best home design software.
Home Designer Suite: What you need to know
Home Designer Suite is a previous favorite of ours, and the 2020 version retains its winning combination of power and affordability. Available for $99 on Windows or Mac.
Home Designer Suite: Price
The $99 Suite is the entry level version: for professional use there are Architectural and Professional versions at $199 and $495 respectively. Expect discounting: the 2019 PC edition is currently heavily discounted and the developers often run flash sales on new purchases and upgrades.
Home Designer Suite: Features
When you run the app you’ll be asked to choose Imperial or Metric measurements and the kind of design you want to create, such as American Casual or Urban Contemporary. You’re then presented with a blank space to begin your creation, the drawing tools tucked away in toolbars at the top of the window and your object library in a sidebar at the right.
It’s a little bit intimidating if you’re new to design software, but it’s laid out sensibly enough and makes good use of tooltips to tell you what each button actually does. If you’re a beginner it’s a very good idea to visit the Home Designer website and download some sample plans so you can get a feel for the different view options; the samples are editable so you can use them to get the hang of things.
While the interface might appear a little frightening at first, it’s actually very easy to use. To build your first structure it’s just a matter of choosing the section you want to add, so for example to draw an exterior wall you’d select Build > Wall > Straight Exterior Wall and then position it by drawing it on screen. Dimensions are displayed as you draw, and unless you specify otherwise your drawings snap to the grid. They also snap to each other, so when two sections of your wall meet the app automatically creates an angled join. The app also includes standard CAD drawing tools and shapes and text boxes.
The Build menu makes it really easy to create almost any kind of structure, with options not just for walls but for fencing, decking and railings too. As you’d expect there are predefined objects for essential items such as doors, windows, stairs and electrical outlets (if you’re outside the US, these might not be appropriate: for example the UK symbols for power outlets are different than the ones the app provides).
Home Designer Suite 2020 also includes an extensive library of predefined objects that you can drag and drop into your floorplan. They’re organised into clear categories – architectural, backdrops, exterior and interior features and so on – and include everything from speakers to spiral staircases, chandeliers to computers. If realism is your goal you can expand the collection by getting extra objects online, so for example you can download particular garage doors, lighting ranges or potted plants. Many of these objects are provided free by the developers or by manufacturers who see them as an opportunity to advertise their products, but some are chargeable: expect to pay $2.99 for a typical collection of lights, cupboard doors or mirrors.
The app is just as interested in what’s outside your dream home as what’s in it. The Terrain menu enables you to create a realistic or fantastical landscape to sit your building in, and you can customise it with everything from plants to water features. The Plant Chooser is particularly good, enabling you to search not just by name but by characteristics – so if you want a particular colour of foliage or want plants that will attract butterflies and birds, you can search specifically for plants that meet those criteria and add them to your plan.
Once you’ve got your design down pat you can use the Material Painter or the Material Eyedropper to make it more lifelike. The former enables you to select the material for a particular feature, such as wooden flooring or tiling, and the latter enables you to copy materials from one item to another – handy if you’re working off a predefined template that uses something you really like the look of.
Your creation is designed on a 2D flat plan, but of course the goal here is to see how your design is going to look in the real world. Home Designer Suite 2020 has multiple ways to render your design: as elevations, as a full 3D image, as a doll house-style display where you can see into the rooms and as a framing overview that just shows the building’s bones.
There’s a great deal of control here. You can adjust the tilt of the camera as well as its positioning, you can adjust the lighting (including sunlight) and you can record walkthroughs for sharing with others. We found the 3D movement a little jerky on our test computer (an Apple computer with integrated graphics) sometimes, but on a PC with a decent graphics card or on a Mac with better graphics it should be much smoother.
Last but not least there are some useful tools for serious projects: a materials calculator that you can use to work out the cost of your framing, fixtures and fitting, a loan calculator that can help you see if you can afford to build it in the first place and the ability to export your plans in industry standard DWG / DXF format as well as in standard image formats and PDF.
Should you buy Home Designer Suite?
There’s a lot here to like, and it’s good to see the developers showing confidence in their product by offering a fully featured trial version for you to test before deciding whether to buy. The app does take a little time to learn, but it’s worth the effort.
If you’re only interested in landscape design, there may be a better program for you in our best landscaping design software buying guide, while if you’re more focused on inside the home, you may want to look at our best interior design software buying guide.