Let's start with what the IKEA Home Planner can't do. It can't help you design a room that isn't based on IKEA furniture and related products. And it can't design for every conceivable kind of room. It limits you to just three rooms: an office, a dining room or a kitchen; there are also separate apps for bathrooms and for specific storage ranges. You can ignore the categories to design any kind of room you like, but the available products to put in it are limited to those three categories – although make sure you look under the Office section as that includes armchairs and sofas as well as computer desks.
Those limitations are going to rule IKEA's app out for many people, but if you're an IKEA kind of person there's a great deal to like here: so much, in fact, that we've chosen it as one of the best interior design software apps 2020. The app is extremely easy to use and it takes considerably less time to plan your room than it does to put things together from flat packs. And, as it's browser-based, you can use it on any of the best laptops or home computers.
IKEA Home Planner review: Features and design
Before you can furnish your space, you'll need to create that space in the first place. To do that, you begin in 2D view with a range of basic floor shapes. Select the one you want and you can then resize it to suit. If you choose one of the indented shapes you can adjust the indent.
Once you've got the basic shape of the room you can then decide how to floor it, with a choice of wood, tile, stone, granite, carpet or laminate. You can select colors for the walls and the ceiling, add doors and windows, plus even decide what you'll be able to see out of the windows – such as cityscapes at night or rural meadows. You can even choose what color to paint your skirting boards and add a few floor, table or hanging plants.
The room designer also gives you models for fixtures such as plumbing and gas pipes, radiators, ventilation and electrical items, and you can switch into a 3D view at any time to see how it all looks.
Once you've got the basic room set up, the next step is to start adding items of furniture to it. Those items are organized by room in much the same way that the main IKEA website is organized: click on the room type you're working on and you'll see a selection of categories. For example, under Dining you'll find tables and chairs, stools and benches, cabinets and sideboards and appropriate lighting. Click on a category and a scrollable list of thumbnails will appear at the bottom of the screen, then click on an item to add it to the room. It's easiest to work in 2D for this, but you can add your items in 3D too.
When you add or click on an object its name, description, dimensions, price and description will appear in the right hand side. Where an item has multiple options, such as a sofa that's available in a range of fabrics and colors, you can select the appropriate option at the bottom of the screen. Of course, you don't get non-IKEA items here, so if you want to mix in other elements, we suggest something like Roomstyler 3D Home Planner, which is also free.
Once an image is in place, you can click and drag on it to reposition it or use the faint arrows that appear around it to rotate it. Just like in the real world you can't rotate items if there isn't enough room to do so, but you can override that with the Move and Rotate in Confined Spaces icon which temporarily suspends the laws of physics.
The app will warn you if the object's final position won't work, for example because it's intersecting with a wall or another object. That's particularly handy when you're combining lots of little things such as kitchen storage, or if you're working with very confined spaces where there's no wiggle room. To the same end you can also open closed items – such as cupboards – to make sure there's enough room to open them fully.
You can't move around your room using the mouse but there is a collection of navigation buttons in a toolbar immediately below the room image. In 3D mode they include rotating the whole room left, right, up or down; switch to 2D mode and those controls pan instead.
Ikea Home Planner review: Results
Once you've got everything just-so you can print your design or save it as a PDF. You can also view a shopping list of your selected items and their prices, although unlike on the usual IKEA website you can't check stock levels and find out exactly where in the warehouse you'll need to make your trolley.
Should you use the Ikea Home Planner?
We were surprised by how good the IKEA app is. If you have a fairly normal-shaped room you don't necessarily need to be planning an IKEA binge to get some use from the app, which enables you to experiment with various color schemes and textiles irrespective of the furniture you intend to put in it. For non-IKEA fans you can take a star off our rating, but if you're considering some IKEA furniture it's an excellent way to visualize exactly how it'll all look. Of course, it is limited to IKEA. Our top pick overall, Virtual Architect, has a wider range of choices for pretty much everything, but it isn't free like this one.